Chicago Cubs: Jose Veras

Cubs' success in bullpen forces Veras out

June, 3, 2014
6/03/14
6:30
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – For once, a professional sports team did what a fan would have done given the situation the Chicago Cubs faced with their bullpen. Instead of shuttling another young player back to the minor leagues, they decided to give embattled reliever Jose Veras his walking papers by designating him for assignment. They’ll try to trade him, but either way his days in a Cubs uniform are over.

“When we sat down and made the decision, ultimately, we have a lot of young guys that are playing well,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. “We wanted to stick with those guys for now.”

It’s a testament to a developing young bullpen that the Cubs simply let Veras walk despite owing him four months of a $4 million contract he signed this offseason. Doing what’s right for the rebuild trumped all else.

“It sends two different messages,” manager Rick Renteria said. “One is that you guys have done a nice job and we’re going to go with you.”

The other is if you aren’t performing as a veteran you’re going to eventually find your way off the team. Hoyer said credit Brian Schlitter, Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon for forcing the issue. They might not be household names just yet, but that’s the crux of a bullpen which has produced a 1.94 ERA over the last 18 games. Veras served a purpose helping some young players along, but from the very first day of spring training his stuff didn’t look right. And it caught up with him.

Hoyer was asked if he would ever sign or pay big money to a closer again as the last two seasons they’ve had quasi-expensive failures to start the year in that role.

“You hope you don’t have to,” Hoyer responded. “I would never say never, but I would hope we could develop our own relievers. And develop our own closers. It makes that task a lot easier.”

They’ve done that in a short amount of time as Rondon has come out of nowhere to take the job. Ramirez also has a live arm and could see a save opportunity along the way. The rebuilding of the team needs bullpen arms to make it, as well as the big named prospects. And even though the players in the bullpen can change from year to year, the Cubs are trying to develop a core there as well.

On Tuesday, they made a move any paying customer would be proud of: ate a contract and gave some young players a chance to continue in their roles. That makes up for the signing in the first place.

Veras back to where he was: struggling

May, 21, 2014
5/21/14
9:43
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Just when you thought it might be all right to allow Chicago Cubs pitcher Jose Veras back on the mound in a high-leverage situation, the reliever self-destructed in a 4-2 loss to the New York Yankees in 13 innings on Wednesday.

After the Cubs blew a 2-0 lead for Jeff Samardzija in the ninth, Veras was called upon to pitch the 13th in a 2-2 tie. Since coming off the disabled list, he had gone 1 2/3 innings without giving up any damage. That changed Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJose Veras, Brendan Ryan
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsCubs reliever Jose Veras yielded what was to be the winning run to Brendan Ryan and the Yankees on a wild pitch in the 13th inning Wednesday.
“I just fell behind the first hitter and I got myself in trouble,” Veras said. “It’s just an outing. I didn’t do the job and we lost the game.”

Neither he nor his manager wanted to compare Wednesday’s struggles to his early-season problems, when he compiled a 15.88 ERA in April. But Veras looked about the same on Wednesday, giving up three hits, one walk and a very costly wild pitch that scored the eventual winning run.

“I don’t want to compare it to previous, because obviously he’s had a couple of outings for us where he did a nice job,” Rick Renteria said. “And this one, in particular, he wasn’t able to hold it. We’ll see where we’re at.”

Where we’re at might be a similar position to where the Cubs were with former pitcher Carlos Marmol.

Veras already has had the obligatory disabled list stint to give him a mental break. The only thing to do next is trade him or designate him for assignment. The Cubs did the latter, then the former to Marmol in late June 2013, so the blueprint is there.

Maybe Veras has some time to right the ship, but he’ll need to prove he can pitch more than a clean inning before being used for anything more important than mop-up duty.

“It’s crazy,” Veras said. “That’s why it’s baseball.”

Samardzija and 1.46 ERA let down, again

May, 21, 2014
5/21/14
9:17
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- It’s probably getting comical for anyone not associated with the Chicago Cubs or pitcher Jeff Samardzija.

Once again, his teammates couldn’t complete the deal after another great outing from their starter. And so the Cubs fell 4-2 in 13 innings to the New York Yankees on Wednesday after blowing a 2-0 ninth inning lead.

The man with the lowest ERA in baseball is still winless after 10 starts.

[+] EnlargeJeff Samardzija
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports"With modern technology, every game gets seen and watched," Jeff Samardzija said of his winless record in 10 starts and the league's lowest ERA. "I don't think it's any secret what I'm doing."
Going back to last year, Samardzija has now gone 13 consecutive starts allowing two or fewer earned runs. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that’s the second-longest streak since the league started compiling earned runs in 1913.

“I feel terrible,” Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney said after the game. “The guy went seven scoreless again. He’s the best pitcher in the league right now. American League, National League, Japanese League. It doesn’t matter. I think he’s proven that.”

The usually sure-handed Barney contributed to the loss with a rare throwing error that allowed the tying run to score in the ninth. That came before reliever Jose Veras imploded again, throwing a wild pitch to allow the winning run to cross the plate in the 13th.

Despite Samardzija’s 1.46 ERA, the Cubs are 1-9 in games he has started. Samardzija gave up four hits in seven innings on Wednesday without giving up a run.

“[I feel] real bad,” Veras said. “He’s throwing unbelievable games, and we can’t hold it for him. The bullpen feels real bad.”

So once again the defense, bullpen and an offense that couldn’t add on runs let Samardzija down.

But his head remains high, maybe because he knows the baseball world sees what he’s doing and simply could care less about his 0-4 record. It really only means he’s pitching for a bad team.

“With modern technology, every game gets seen and watched,” Samardzija said. “I don’t think it’s any secret what I’m doing.”

Is that a nod toward the public notion that Samardzija is on the trade block this season? Maybe that’s why he isn’t showing frustration after so many outstanding starts where his team has let him down. And maybe he knows he’s auditioning not for the job he has but for the one he wants.

“I feel great,” Samardzija said. “It’s still early. I look forward to being strong in the second half and improve on my second-half numbers from last year, which weren’t too solid. This is a good way to do it. I know come the second half of the season I’m going to feel really good.”

That must be music to the ears of contending teams that are in need of pitching. The second half is where the pennant race heats up, and it hasn’t been the strongest time of the year for the Cubs ace. His ERA was over 5.00 in the final three months last year.

For as much as he’s speaking to reporters after he pitches, perhaps he’s also talking to potential suitors for his services.

For now, Samardzija is willing to back up his teammates, including a bullpen that has blown three saves for him and three for the rest of the pitching staff. He’s also willing to forgive a defense that’s given up six unearned runs in his 10 starts and an offense that’s averaged two runs of support per contest. How does he explain it all?

“Chain of separate events I’d say,” Samardzija said with a smirk. “It’s just the way it’s gone.”

Rapid Reaction: Yankees 4, Cubs 2 (13)

May, 21, 2014
5/21/14
6:13
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Here's a quick look at the Chicago Cubs' 4-2 loss to the New York Yankees in 13 innings on Wednesday afternoon:

How it happened: Jose Veras gave up two runs in the 13th inning as the winning run crossed after a wild pitch. Jeff Samardzija's winless streak continues after Hector Rondon squandered a 2-0 lead in the ninth following seven shutout innings by the Cubs ace. Samardzija, who surrendered just four hits and lowered his ERA to an MLB-best 1.46, has not won since Aug. 24, 2013, a span of 17 starts. Mike Olt put the Cubs on the board with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the fourth inning. The Cubs added to their 1-0 lead when Emilio Bonifacio put down a bunt to score Ryan Kalish from third after Kalish tripled pinch-hitting for Samardzija in the seventh. But the Yankees loaded the bases with no outs off Rondon in the ninth inning before Ichiro Suzuki grounded into a fielder's choice, but Darwin Barney's throw to first was wide, allowing the tying run to score from second base.

What it means: Heading into the ninth inning the Cubs had been playing their best baseball of the season, winning three straight games. They got situational hitting they weren't getting over the first six weeks, with Olt being the best example. He has driven in four runs over the past two days with a base hit, two sacrifice flies and a bases-loaded walk.

Samardzija: If it was closer to mid-July, Samardzija would be in line for a starting nod in the All-Star Game -- that's how good he has been. His ERA is easily the best in baseball, and he hasn't slowed down, going seven innings or more in seven of 10 starts.

What's next: The Cubs hit the road for 10 games starting with a four-game series in San Diego. Righty Jake Arrieta (0-0, 2.70) takes on Eric Stults (2-4, 4.50) in Game 1 at 9:10 p.m. CT on Thursday.

Trade value soon to be a storyline

May, 16, 2014
5/16/14
12:59
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Jason HammelJustin K. Aller/Getty ImagesJason Hammel should be a valuable trade chip for the Cubs in July.
CHICAGO -- With nearly a quarter of the season complete, it's time to start thinking about who has potential trade value for the Chicago Cubs. The next quarter of the year will see an increase of scouts around the Cubs as contending teams look for veteran help.

We know Jeff Samardzija, Friday's starter against the Milwaukee Brewers, will be highly sought after, as it's just a matter of whether he brings back an A-plus or A-minus type prospect. Scouts say how he pitches in July will make that decision, considering his second halves the past two seasons haven't been great. They want to make sure his arm is as lively as it can be at that point in the year if teams are going to give up a top guy in their farm system.

Recently, general manager Jed Hoyer indicated trade talks won't start up again until next month, so there's still time for plenty of things to change, but let's examine three other players who could be on the move.

Jason Hammel



He had his worst outing as a Cub on Thursday against the Cardinals, lasting only 5 ⅓ innings while giving up five runs. But it only raised his ERA to 3.06. He's been solid so far and being healthy is reason No. 1.

Hammel
"Today was probably the best physically I felt all year," Hammel said after the game. "Obviously, the way the game works, it just doesn't work out sometimes."

At times, Hammel has been electric -- like when he struck out the side in the first inning Thursday -- but he's given up some hard-hit balls and a few home runs. The good news is he's kept walks to a minimum, despite two that came back to bite him in the second inning Thursday.

"It's a kiss of death to strike out the side in the first inning as a starting pitcher," Hammel joked. "Everyone knows that."

His WHIP is still just 0.91 after walking two and giving up five hits. Teams are going to love that kind of control. He's a big, physical presence who can fit nicely in the middle to back end of a contending team's rotation. He can fetch the Cubs a B-plus/A-minus type prospect if things keep going in the right direction. That was no sure thing when he was signed last offseason.

Nate Schierholtz



There's little doubt he'll finish the season in another city unless he struggles so mightily that no one comes calling. After last season's career-high 21 home runs, he looked to be a good fit from the left side for a number of teams. And he still might be. But after grounding out with the bases loaded in the eighth inning Thursday, his batting average fell to .198. And he has no home runs.

Schierholtz
"Getting on base is more important," Schierholtz said. "Those [home runs] will come. I've been feeling better lately. ... I came in [Thursday] with a chance to tie the game up. In that situation, I expect to succeed. When it doesn't work out your way, it's obviously frustrating."

Schierholtz has been having better at-bats lately -- one produced a triple recently -- so maybe he is getting closer to coming out of it. And if teams think he can simply get back to last season's production, there will be some interest. Either way, the Cubs are looking at a C-plus kind of prospect in return for his services.

Jose Veras



Yes, Veras is back after a stint on the disabled list. He faced one batter Thursday and induced a double-play grounder. That's a huge step in the right direction, even if he threw just a few pitches. They got over the plate for light contact. He needed that.

Veras
"It's a good start," Veras said Friday morning. "I got my fastball over the plate and down and got a ground ball."

Manager Rick Renteria said he'll continue to "find spots" for Veras to build confidence. It remains to be seen if he'll get a chance to close again.

More than likely he will. Veras was traded midseason last year by the Houston Astros to the Detroit Tigers for a decent prospect in outfielder Danry Vasquez, but at that time, he had 19 saves and a 2.93 ERA. It's a far cry from his 14.21 mark going into Friday's game.

He will be looked at closely over the next quarter of the season, considering he's a veteran who was recently in a pennant race. Command has been his big problem. If he gets that back then he becomes a commodity to trade, though the Cubs won't get a huge return unless he's closing again and piling up the saves.

Bryant producing but staying patient

May, 15, 2014
5/15/14
12:15
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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ST. LOUIS -- A rainy night off for the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday was also a night off for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies as their game against the Jackson Generals in the Southern League was postponed as well.

A rainout is about the only thing that can stop Cubs prospect Kris Bryant from hitting these days. The No. 2 overall pick in last year's draft has been on a tear.

[+] EnlargeKris Bryant
Tony Farlow/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesKris Bryant is tearing it up at Double-A Tennessee, but don't count on seeing his bat at Wrigley Field any time soon.
"I've gotten a lot of good pitches to hit lately and I've done what I'm supposed to do with them,” the reigning Southern League hitter of the week said by phone Wednesday night.

Bryant has 11 home runs to lead the league after hitting four last week, then adding another one Tuesday. It was a blast that Cubs pitcher Jose Veras saw in person as he finished his rehab stint with the Smokies.

"He hit a homer to center field that was like 400 feet, and the wall like 40 feet high," Veras said. "He hit it over that like nothing."

"He's unbelievable. This kid is unbelievable. He hit like six bombs when I was down there."

The accolades continue to pour in for the 22-year-old Bryant, so the question on everyone's mind is when will he be promoted to Triple-A Iowa? That's the next step as his .324 batting average, .620 slugging percentage and OPS of 1.045 are screaming for a promotion to the next level.

"Right now it's not something we've talked about," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday. "I think it's important to know what ballpark you're going to [be at] every day, who your teammates are. We drafted him, then to Boise, then Daytona, then the Fall League, then Tennessee. It's probably important to have a few ups and downs before we have that discussion."

So the Cubs want Bryant to have some stability. That's just fine with him considering the Smokies have been on a run, putting up huge offensive numbers. Another top prospect, Jorge Soler, returned from injury and has started off strong, but it's Bryant who stirs the drink on offense for them.

"Going from spring training to the Tennessee Smokies has been awesome," he said. "The fan base is great. I'm having such a fun time so far. ... It's good to have guys behind me. Good to have Soler back in the lineup. The team here is pretty special."

And they think he's pretty special too.

"Everybody loves him," Veras said. "Unbelievable teammate. He's humble, he's a leader of the team."

Veras must have used the word "unbelievable" 10 times in the span of a few minutes to describe Bryant. Whatever that "it" factor a player needs to become special, Bryant seemingly possesses it. Hoyer likes the story of his first days as a professional.

"This guy went 0-for-5 with five punchouts in his first game in Boise, and right after that he hit in like 16 or 17 games in a row and got [promoted]," Hoyer said. "That's the kind of thing that would shake a lot of people and I feel like he has confidence in his own swing."

Many around Bryant say he is his own best hitting coach. He admits to needing help, though. Asked when his biggest struggles came since being drafted last June, he said it was during spring training. He hit .111 in 18 at-bats with two home runs and struck out 11 times.

"It was definitely spring training," Bryant said. "Just finding my timing. A lot of guys reassured me it was just spring training. That's what it's about. Learning."

Said Hoyer: "He was showing up first thing in the morning to get through that."

Bryant seems to have the ability to adjust quickly. He was having a normal start to this season at Double-A and then he took off.

"Having a more solid approach," Bryant said. "Realizing how pitchers are trying to get me out and not letting them do that. ... I think the first couple of weeks was definitely a learning process."

It's the same thing he'll eventually go through at Triple-A and the big leagues. The ability to quickly adjust might make him a special player at the highest level in the world.

"He's going to face a lot more good pitching along the road," Hoyer said. "He'll have some downs along the way and hopefully he can fight through those."

It's exactly what top prospect Javier Baez hasn't been able to do so far this season at Iowa. It was Baez who stole the headlines with prolific home runs in spring training, both in games and during batting practice, but the script has been flipped during the regular season.

"It's kind of hard to hold that kid back," Bryant said of Baez. "He has an incredible amount of talent. I hear he starts out slow, but there is no doubt he'll finish where he wants to be."

Bryant should know talent. Hitting home runs has always come easy for him. The other parts of baseball is where he needs his greatest work. He thinks his defense is getting better despite nine early-season errors. You could almost hear him shaking his head through the phone.

"Silly mistakes," he said.

As for the Cubs' situation, Bryant isn't focused on it. He's far removed from Chicago right now and the grind of the minors takes up all his attention anyway.

"Besides the fans in Tennessee, I don't really hear that," Bryant said. "It's hard to focus on that because I'm all the way out here playing every day. I have a job to do out here. I block out all the distractions and things I can't control."

What he can control is how far he hits a baseball. Bryant realized the home run that Veras saw Tuesday was no easy poke -- at least not for most players.

"Going into the series everyone was saying don't hit to center because it doesn't really travel very much," Bryant said of the minor league park in Jackson, Tenn. "I got hold of it pretty good. Men on second and third I'm supposed to get the ball in the air in that situation. I'm just happy I got the job done."

Picturing his power at Wrigley Field has to make even the most cynical Cubs fan interested. The power has played at every level where he has performed, but it's not going to play in Chicago any time soon. Maybe next year. Bryant has business to attend to where he is.

"We've found our little thing here," he said of the 23-16 Smokies. "Whatever plan they have for me I'm going to go with it. My job is to go out there and hit the ball as hard as I can and pick the ball at third base.

"I'll just go out there and play as hard as I can. The other stuff I can't control."

As Veras rehabs, Cubs improvise at closer

May, 2, 2014
5/02/14
4:27
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer is optimistic his team can develop a closer as the one they signed in the offseason, veteran Jose Veras, tries to find his game.

[+] EnlargeJose Veras
Brian D. Kersey/Getty ImagesInjured Cubs reliever Jose Veras has 10 walks in 5 2/3 innings this season.
"That's been a frustrating one, and I think kind of shows you the perils of free agency a little bit," Hoyer said before the Cubs played the Cardinals on Friday. "I think (Veras) walked 13 (14) guys as a closer in 43 innings with the (Houston) Astros last year. He had no walks last year in the postseason with the (Detroit) Tigers and he comes here and doesn't throw strikes."

Veras went on the disabled list earlier this week after walking 10 batters in 5 2/3 innings pitched last month. He also hit three batters as his off-speed pitches, in particular, were all over the place.

"I'm hoping it was physical, maybe a little bit mechanical and he can get on track," Hoyer said. "It wasn't that long ago that the Tigers were leaning on him to get their most important outs. Obviously, he hasn't been able to do that."

Veras will start pitching at Double-A Tennessee as he recovers from an oblique injury. In the meantime the Cubs will try to develop a closer from within. It was assumed Pedro Strop would get that role but lately Hector Rondon has gotten the chances.

"It can be hard to sign a guy and bring him into a situation that he's not familiar with," Hoyer said. "Ideally, we would develop a closer from one of these guys that we have on our roster. We have some guys that have the stuff and make-up to do it and hopefully it will click with one."

Rondon has one save with a 0.68 ERA this season.

Oblique issue shelves reliever Veras

April, 25, 2014
4/25/14
7:26
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MILWAUKEE -- Chicago Cubs fans might not get the chance to complain about Jose Veras for the next couple of days -- the reliever has a sore left oblique and wasn't available with the Cubs set to begin a three-game series Friday against the first-place Milwaukee Brewers.

“Veras is a little sore in his left oblique so hopefully he’ll be OK,” manager Rick Renteria said Friday afternoon. “He’s been working hard.”

Renteria said Veras sustained the injury from the general workload of getting the season going rather than any particular moment on the mound. The 33-year-old right-hander, signed as a free agent in December, is off to a rough start to his Cubs career: He’s walked 10 batters and hit three others in just 5 2/3 innings, and his ERA is 15.88. He lost his closer’s role within the first 10 days of the regular season and has since struggled in a middle-relief role.

Renteria didn’t give a timetable for his return, nor did he say if Veras would be put on the disabled list.

Veras not giving in to his struggles

April, 22, 2014
4/22/14
7:40
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Maligned Chicago Cubs pitcher Jose Veras isn't going to give in to failure as he continues to try and find his stuff. He lost it somewhere between signing a one-year, $5.65 million deal and losing his closer's role earlier this month. But he's not giving up.

"If something goes wrong in your life for a month you think it's going to be bad for 12 months?" he asked rhetorically on Tuesday afternoon. Of his struggles, he said "it's not going to be there for six months. It's going to be there for a little bit. And warriors don't give up on it. That's what I am. I'm a warrior. One day it's going to turn around and that's it. It's gone."

[+] EnlargeJose Veras
Brian D. Kersey/Getty ImagesJose Veras may have lost his closer's job with the Cubs, but he knows things will turn around for him.
That's the hope at least. So far "it" hasn't been there for Veras. He struggled in the spring, blew two saves in the regular season and then even gave up two home runs this past Sunday in his new role as a middle reliever.

"I'm sure we haven't seen the best of him," manager Rick Renteria said. "He'd be the first to tell you that."

Renteria is backing up his player as much as he can, but the struggles continue. At least Veras started to find the strike zone Sunday as his previously wild curveball produced two outs, including a strikeout. But he still gave up two long balls on sinker/fastballs.

"My curve and my changeup are better," Veras said.

You have to start somewhere as Veras will need some work to lower his 15.43 ERA. Renteria vowed to find it for him.

"It could be at any moment," Renteria said. "We could be up by 10 or down. He needs to pitch."

It just won't be in pressure situations unless the Cubs get desperate. Veras doesn't care. He just wants a chance to prove he can do it.

"What doesn't kill you will make you stronger," Veras said. "It will turn. You think it's going to be bad all day? And then two weeks later you don't even remember what happened."

Cubs' closer problems trickle down

April, 12, 2014
4/12/14
6:12
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
ST. LOUIS -- Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer called the pitching problems associated with the Cubs closing situation right now, “collateral damage.” That’s because with blown saves come extra-inning games which can tax a bullpen.

Twice in the first two weeks, pitcher Jose Veras has given up a lead, sending a game (Friday night) into overtime and extending another one (in Pitt) even longer into the night. It’s added six more innings of work for the relief group and some of them have been struggling. The Cubs bullpen has a collective 4.14 ERA, that ranks 18th in baseball right now. Their three blown saves are already the most in the game as of Saturday afternoon.

That was the reason for the emergency call-up of Chris Rusin on Saturday morning. He threw five, good innings of one-run ball in relief of Carlos Villanueva -- and then was sent back down to Triple-A Iowa -- in the Cubs' 10-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday afternoon.

“That was a great pick up for us today,” manager Rick Renteria said afterwards regarding Rusin saving his bullpen. “Right now we’re just happy he was able to give us the (five) innings that he did.”

He helped save a bullpen that Veras has thrown into flux, though Renteria hasn’t been using everyone equally. Lefty Wesley Wright hasn’t pitched since April 4 while Rusin threw five innings the day he was called up.

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Cardinals 10, Cubs 4

April, 12, 2014
4/12/14
4:07
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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ST. LOUIS -- The Chicago Cubs lost 10-4 to the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday afternoon. Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: The Cubs were up 1-0 after one pitch as Junior Lake took Adam Wainwright out to left field, but things began to fall apart in the second inning as the Cardinals tallied four runs.

After Matt Adams homered to open the frame, five singles off starter Carlos Villanueva put St. Louis ahead for good. The Cubs got one back in the fourth on a Starlin Castro RBI groundout, but a five-run bottom of the inning sealed the deal for the Cardinals.

Villanueva gave up 10 hits and nine runs in just three innings of work. The Cubs scored two in the sixth on an RBI double by Nate Schierholtz, followed by one by Ryan Sweeney, but that’s as close as they would come.

What it means: All of a sudden the Cubs' pitching staff is in flux. Brian Schlitter was sent out while Chris Rusin was called up. He pitched in relief for the first time in his career after Villanueva was pulled. Villanueva might not be in long for a starter’s role as Jake Arrieta is getting very close to returning.

Jose Veras won’t close games for the time being -- and we don’t know who will.

Meanwhile, the Cubs' offense has improved greatly in the second week of the season. Castro and Anthony Rizzo remain consistent, and Schierholtz has joined them as a hot hitter. He has six hits in the first two games of the series, and as a team, the Cubs did all right against the ace Wainwright.

But as is the case with mediocre squads, the Cubs can't seem to get all the parts going in the right direction at the same time, dropping to 4-7 on the season.

What’s next: The series finale is Sunday at 1:15 p.m. when Edwin Jackson takes on Michael Wacha. The Cubs are looking for their first series win of the season.

So who's the Cubs' closer now?

April, 12, 2014
4/12/14
3:42
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
ST. LOUIS -- Alright, now that the Chicago Cubs have completed their annual pulling of their closer from his job, who should be next in line to save games?

Last year was a more obvious situation as Kyuji Fujikawa was signed as a late-inning guy and when Carlos Marmol lost the closer’s gig, Fujikawa was next in line -- until he got hurt. Then the Cubs had to bring Kevin Gregg back and he actually stabilized things for a while. Fast forward to this year, Gregg is gone, Fujikawa is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and Jose Veras has been banished like so many before him.

SportsNation

Who should be the Cubs' closer?

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    13%
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    45%
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    35%
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    2%
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    5%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,550)

Who’s next?

There are three obvious in-house candidates, all right-handers:

  • Pedro Strop: 7G, 0-1, 4.76 ERA, 1-1 SV, 5.2 IP, 4 H, 4 BB, 8 K’s
  • Justin Grimm: 7G, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 7 IP, 5 H, 4 BB, 9 K’s
  • Hector Rondon: 6G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 7 IP, 3 H, 3 BB, 9 K’s

    The favorite to take the job is Strop. Most observers thought he might be the closer as last season ended as he was being groomed for that role. But Strop has had some control issues and he’s already given up two home runs, not the kind of stuff that works in the ninth inning of close games.

    “One big key is the ability to throw strikes back there,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Saturday morning. “We all feel better if the other team has to get hits to beat us and in the one-run save, the ability to get a walk and a bunt, it could (evaporate) in a hurry. So throwing strikes is going to be at a premium back there.”

    Strop’s 1.41 WHIP wouldn’t lend itself to being the guy, according to Hoyer’s description, but that’s in limited innings over the course of less than two weeks of the season. If Rick Renteria wants to go with who’s hot right now then Rondon is the guy. He hasn’t given up a run in 16 innings going back to last year when he really came on late in the season. He was a Rule 5 pick in 2013 and he didn’t disappoint the Cubs by being on the roster for the whole year as required by rules. After a crazy night, his 1-2-3 first career save Friday in the 11th inning stood out.

  • (Read full post)

    Jose Veras won't give in to failure

    April, 12, 2014
    4/12/14
    3:07
    PM CT
    Rogers By Jesse Rogers
    ESPNChicago.com
    Archive
    ST. LOUIS -- It was a composed but frustrated Jose Veras who met with reporters Saturday morning just hours after blowing his second save of the young season and only a few minutes before Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria relieved him of his closer duties.

    Jose Veras
    Gregg Forwerck/Getty ImagesJose Veras has vowed to keep fighting and working to get better after blowing two saves early in the season.
    “For some reason I can’t get three down (out) right now,” Veras said. “I know how to handle it. I’m not going to put my head down or anything. It’s a couple bad outings, hopefully it’s going to stop one day. I’m going to keep fighting, keep working. I’ll never give up, brother.”

    Veras has struggled since the spring, especially with his command. He’s hit seven batters between Cactus League games and the first 11 days of the regular season. That tells the whole story but doesn’t explain why it’s happening.

    Plus, he feels like he can’t get a break. He wasn’t complaining, just stating a fact as he sees it.

    “Try to pitch inside, hit a guy,” Veras said. “Try to throw a front door breaking ball, hit a guy. Make a good pitch they don’t swing. Make a good pitch I don’t receive a call by the guys behind home plate. It’s too much stuff at the same time. It’s not an excuse I have to get my job done and I can’t get it (done) right now.”

    (Read full post)

    Renteria on closer Veras: 'He's still our guy'

    April, 12, 2014
    4/12/14
    1:34
    AM CT
    Rogers By Jesse Rogers
    ESPNChicago.com
    Archive


    ST. LOUIS -- Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria is sticking with Jose Veras as his closer despite Veras' second blown save in as many chances this season.

    "Shaky outing, but he’s still our guy," Renteria said after the Cubs eventually won 6-3 in 11 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night. "It’s too early to decide anything like that."

    The Cubs were leading 3-1 in the ninth when Veras gave up two runs on a hit, a walk and two hit batters to send his ERA skyrocketing to 12.27.

    "His stuff is there, but I think he just gets a little excited," Renteria said. "He starts pulling some pitches. He overthrows pitches. He just has to find his rhythm."

    [+] EnlargeJose Veras
    David Welker/Getty ImagesJose Veras has blown two saves in as many tries, but manager Rick Renteria is sticking with his closer.
    The problem is Veras hasn’t found his rhythm since the Cubs signed him to a one-year, $4 million deal with a team option for another one.

    He was just as bad in spring training as he is now, but the Cubs chose to ignore the signs, claiming the veteran knew how to get himself ready for the season. In 3⅔ innings pitched so far this season, he’s given up two hits and seven walks to go along with three hit batters.

    "What happened to him has happened to everybody," Cubs catcher Welington Castillo said. "I talked to him, 'Just keep your head up.'"

    The Cubs had a similar problem at the beginning of last season when Carlos Marmol struggled just as he did in spring training of 2013. Marmol lost his job on the first Saturday of that season.

    Renteria is in dangerous territory when it comes to the psyche of his team.

    It’s one thing when a middle reliever struggles in a matchup, as James Russell did on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a Cubs loss. It’s quite another thing if someone is blowing games at the very end when the Cubs are about to win. And to allow it to happen at the hands of a player who has struggled since the first days of spring training is just asking for trouble.

    Castillo gets the thanks


    Maybe Veras will get to keep his job for at least one more day because the Cubs actually ended up winning the game on Friday due to Castillo’s three-run home run in the 11th inning.

    "I was looking for a fastball," Castillo said. "I was just looking for something over the plate that I can drive and put my best swing on."

    Castillo caught all 11 innings Friday, just as he did all 16 last week against the Pirates in an extra-inning affair. His maturity is starting to show, as he helped reliever Hector Rondon to his first career save. Rondon pitched the 11th.

    "I said, 'Hey, I’m here to help you. We need to work together.'" Castillo said. "'I’m going to try and do all that I can to help you save the game.'"

    Rapid Reaction: Cubs 6, Cardinals 3 (11)

    April, 11, 2014
    4/11/14
    11:50
    PM CT
    Rogers By Jesse Rogers
    ESPNChicago.com
    Archive


    ST. LOUIS -- The Chicago Cubs won a seesaw game with the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-3 in 11 innings. Here’s a quick look:

    How it happened: Welington Castillo hit a two-out, three-run homer in the top of the 11th after Jose Veras blew a save in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Cubs scored a single run in the seventh and two more in the eighth to erase a 1-0 deficit and give Jeff Samardzija his first run support of the season. After Anthony Rizzo reached on an error, Ryan Sweeney brought him home with a base hit to tie the game at one.

    In the eighth, Rizzo had a great at-bat that led to a sacrifice fly to score pinch hitter Justin Ruggiano who had singled. Nate Schierholtz then drove one home with a bloop to left -- he had four hits on the night -- but Veras couldn’t shut the door. He gave up two runs on a hit, walk and two hit batters. Samardzija lasted seven innings, giving up six hits and just a solo run in the second inning without walking a batter and striking out four. He’s piling up the quality starts after a third straight dominant performance.

    What it means: Like Carlos Marmol before him, Veras can’t be long for the job. His stuff has been bad since the day the Cubs signed him.

    Samardzija continues to take the next step in his career. He’s simply being so much more economical with his pitches than ever before. He’s outlasting opposing starters by keeping his pitch count down; on Friday, he walked none and struck out four. The fewer the strikeouts the better for him. Yes, that seems counterintuitive, but because his stuff is so good, he can pitch to contact and not be hurt by it. Through three starts, his ERA is 1.29. Enough said.

    Barney sits: Nearly an every-day starter the past few seasons, second baseman Darwin Barney has played only against left-handed pitching so far this season. Most of that has to do with the start to the season for Emilio Bonifacio, who has been red hot through the first two weeks.

    "He sees the landscape," Renteria said of Barney. "He sees what’s going on. He’s trying to do everything he can to maintain himself [be ready]."

    Wright rusty: Reliever Wesley Wright hasn’t thrown in a game since April 4. He says he’s healthy. Renteria indicated that Friday could have been his night to get in. It never happened.

    "Wesley is up and ready to go for us today," Renteria said before the game.

    What’s next: Game 2 against the Cardinals takes place on Saturday afternoon at 1:15 p.m. CT with Carlos Villanueva taking on Adam Wainwright.

    SPONSORED HEADLINES

    TEAM LEADERS

    BA LEADER
    Starlin Castro
    BA HR RBI R
    .292 14 65 58
    OTHER LEADERS
    HRA. Rizzo 32
    RBIA. Rizzo 78
    RA. Rizzo 89
    OPSA. Rizzo .913
    WJ. Arrieta 10
    ERAT. Wood 5.03
    SOJ. Arrieta 167