Chicago Cubs: Steve Clevenger
After putting him on the disabled list on Monday they’ll undoubtedly be holding their collective breath as he undergoes an MRI on Tuesday. Fujikawa has already seen the disabled list once this season with a forearm strain.
“If it is the same injury twice, we’ll probably have to consider taking a little longer and having more caution with it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Monday.
That seems like a best-case scenario. Worst case might involve going under the knife. Fujikawa had some similar arm problems in Japan but always came back from them. For him to go down twice in the first two months raises a red flag.
Camp's status: Shawn Camp was sent home from the Cubs last road trip due to a problem with his big toe on his right foot. His ERA for the season ballooned to 7.56 after giving up a grand slam in Pittsburgh.
“Toe’s been bothering him for a little while,” Hoyer said. “He’s going to rest it for a little bit. Hopefully he’ll crank it up here soon.”
Clevenger's health: Cubs catcher/infielder Steve Clevenger has been out since early in the season with an oblique strain after striking out to end a game in April. He’s slowly working his way back in Mesa, Ariz.
“He’s been abusing some of our guys playing intra-squad,” Hoyer said.
The Cubs have been short an infielder for quite some time and Clevenger was a very good option coming off the bench in spring training games. If he returns to the Cubs after a minor-league stint, expect an outfielder to be sent out.
Cubs vs. lefties: After a stellar night at the plate against White Sox lefty Jose Quintana the Cubs improved their record in games started by a left-hander to just 5-10. It’s one of the many baffling aspects to the Cubs' season from both a managerial and front office perspective.
“It’s kind of surprising, to be honest,” Hoyer said. “Traditionally (Scott) Hairston kills lefties. (Welington) Castillo, (Starlin) Castro and (Alfonso) Soriano should hit those guys well. (Darwin) Barney should be good against lefties. We really should be a decent team against left-handed pitching. We’re not, that much is clear. We have to figure out why we’re not. Going into the season I was a little worried about how we would fare against right-handed pitching.”
Cubs lefties have done a decent job against right-handed pitching. Sveum has threatened to adjust his lineup against southpaws but has yet to do so. Struggling left-handed outfielder Julio Borbon did hit a home run against Quintana on Monday.
Clevenger was pinch hitting for pitcher James Russell when he took an awkward swing at Giants closer Santiago Casilla's last pitch. Clevenger fell down and writhed in pain as teammates and training staff came to his aid.
A source said that the first diagnosis by team doctors indicated Clevenger sustained a left oblique injury. The 27-year-old utility man was the team’s third catcher and had added first- and third-base duties to his résumé during spring training. Clevenger started his first major league game at third base Friday and handled three chances flawlessly.
The Cubs will most likely play with 24 players in Sunday's finale with the Giants. The team has an off day on Monday. Second baseman Darwin Barney is scheduled to return from the disabled list Tuesday. Barney is on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Iowa. He has been on the DL since Opening Day with a left knee laceration.
Clevenger has played a total of two innings in the majors at third, including one on Thursday in the Cubs 7-6 loss to the Giants.
"He (manager Dale Sveum) kind of gave me a heads up yesterday that I would be playing third today," Clevenger said Friday morning before the game. "I got my ground balls in. I feel very comfortable over there. I played infield when I was first drafted."
Clevenger has mostly been a catcher, behind the plate for 53 of the 63 career games he's played in. He's also played first base.
"I thought it was going to take a little bit longer before I got a start at third base but like I said I'm very happy, I feel very comfortable being out there," Clevenger stated.
Clevenger is taking Brent Lillibridge's place in the lineup as Luis Valbuena moves over to play second base. Clevenger will bat seventh.
The Cubs lead the league in errors with 10.
Barney's Gold Glove
Injured second baseman Darwin Barney will receive his Gold Glove in a ceremony before Friday's game. It was to take place on Saturday but Barney will be on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Iowa as he recovers from a knee injury suffered in the preseason. The ceremony was moved up to accommodate his schedule.
"It's exciting to get it and start the campaign for a new one. I plan on holding it for a couple days," Barney joked. "Right now my focus is on getting prepared for Tuesday."
Barney is eligible to come off the disabled list on Monday. The Cubs open a series against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night. Barney originally hurt his knee chasing down a foul ball on March 30 in Houston.
The Chicago Cubs could actually have a very productive bench in 2013. Final roster guys who will only get limited at-bats are never a sure bet, but considering the Cubs could employ up to two platoons (in right field and third base) it means the non-starter that day will be a little more ready than most teams who employ the same nine nearly every day.
So when Scott Hairston and Brent Lillibridge, for example, do pinch hit they should be expected to do more than the league average off the bench because they will be also getting at-bats as a starter. Hairston is more of a long-ball threat with nine home runs in 199 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, including three last season, but his overall average (.182) off the bench is nothing special.
Coming over from the American League, Lillibridge has had fewer opportunities for straight pinch-hitting duties. His value is in double switches and considering he played all positions on the diamond this spring save pitcher and catcher, Lillibridge will come in handy.
The real pop off the bench comes in the form of lefty Steve Clevenger and righty Dave Sappelt. “Mighty Mite” as Sappelt is known can pack a wallop against left-handed pitching. He’s a .345 hitter with a .410 on-base percentage against southpaws in his short career, but those numbers come way down against right-handed pitching.
Clevenger was a monster off the bench this spring. He hit everything in sight the final couple of weeks and he did a lot of it in dramatic fashion: in the seventh inning or later when the Cubs needed an RBI or a base-runner.
It’s unknown if back-up catcher Dioner Navarro can hit as he did this spring when he led the Cubs in RBIs (16) and was second with four home runs, but he’s the only real veteran catcher on the team so his value is there more than anywhere. By all accounts he calls a pretty good game.
3 KEYS TO SUCCESS
Yes, that Steve Clevenger. The one who hit .186, .162, .132 and .107 in months June-September last year. He's hitting .395 this spring.
“You can't take away the guy has swung the bat better than anyone in camp,” Sveum said Monday morning.
And the Cubs manager was quick to point out Clevenger's struggles last year came after an oblique injury. Now he's healthy and hitting.
“When you come off the bench and you're swinging the bat good, good things happen,” said Clevenger, who was the Cubs' seventh-round pick of 2006.
And that might be the most impressive thing about Clevenger lately. He hasn't been starting most days -- though he did Monday against the San Francisco Giants -- his damage has come as a late game replacement.
“The thing about Clevenger, you can't say he's hitting spring training pitching or early spring training pitching. Yesterday (Sunday against the Indians) he takes a 96 mph and hits it off the wall.”
He did similar earlier in the week against the Mariners and Brewers.
“I think I showed them a little last year coming off the bench,” Clevenger said. “In spring training I think I've shown them I can come off the bench.”
Clevenger is as surprised as anyone he's still around in camp. Once the team signed catcher Dioner Navarro and handed Welington Castillo the starting job behind the plate he knew he might be ticketed for Triple-A Iowa. Rarely do teams keep three catchers. And most of the time spring training does little to dissuade a team of its plans -- but that's not the case for Clevenger. He's changing minds.
“He came into spring training in the best shape he's ever been in,” Sveum said. “The guy is a big league hitter.”
To be more valuable Clevenger has been taking ground balls at first and third though Sveum said it would only be in emergency type situations he would play there. For now the manager says he'll take advantage of the versatility having three catchers on the roster provides.
“We can do more with double switches and stuff like that,” Sveum stated. “It's all come together where it makes it very versatile for me.”
This is all predicated on him making the team. The Cubs still might look to the waiver wire for a more versatile left-handed infield bat but if they don't find one by Sunday Clevenger is the guy
“I'm still in the mix, we'll see what happens over this next week,” he said.
Pitchers Chris Rusin, Drew Carpenter, Jaye Chapman, Casey Coleman, Jensen Lewis and Blake Parker will report to minor league camp as will infielders Edwin Maysonet and Brad Nelson. Outfielders Brian Bogusevic and Darnell McDonald also were sent down.
"Those days you dread," manager Dame Sveum said Friday morning. "Especially a lot of those guys that went down today, they had good springs. Bogusevic had a really good spring training. The Colemans, the Parkers, they all threw the ball well."
The final infield position is down to Steve Clevenger and Alberto Gonzalez. Gonzalez is the likely candidate unless the Cubs go outside the organization.
"There's still things that can happen through guys getting released and waiver wires and all that," Sveum said.
The bullpen has one spot open among four players with Hector Rondon and Michael Bowden securing jobs along with James Russell, Shawn Camp, Kyuji Fujikawa and Carlos Marmol. That leaves lefty Hisanori Takahashi battling with righties Rafael Dolis, Zach Putnam and Cory Wade for the final spot.
Four players including Matt Garza, Scott Baker, Ian Stewart and Arodys Vizcaino will start the season on the disabled list.
Ok, it's not exactly what Harry Caray used to say but it applies to the Chicago Cubs in 2013. An under-discussed topic of the offseason will take center stage in spring training as the Cubs try to find a legitimate starting catcher.
Geovany Soto, traded to the Texas Rangers in July, is long gone which leaves the job to holdovers Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger along with newcomer Dioner Navarro. Three catchers for two spots.
"Everybody wants to be here but not everyone is going to make the team," Castillo said on Wednesday.
Castillo is the odds-on favorite to start with Navarro backing him up, but nothing is certain.
There was a hole behind the plate for the Chicago Cubs last season after Geovany Soto was traded to the Texas Rangers. Steve Clevenger and Welington Castillo saw time with Castillo emerging as a player deserving of further consideration. Here's a breakdown of what 2013 holds for the Cubs behind the plate:
Welington Castillo: The 25-year-old Castillo, who batted .265 with five home runs and 22 RBIs in 170 at-bats, will get a chance to prove he belongs in the majors as an everyday starter. He showed improvement late last season, batting .294 in August and September, and he had a .390 on-base percentage over the final full month of the season. That matched his percentage in the minors last year as Castillo's plate discipline showed the kind of improvement the Cubs must like. Castillo's issues will be calling a game, and he improved late in the year in that area as well. He has an above-average arm to go along with some pop in his bat. He gets first dibs on the starting position as long as he handles the pitching staff effectively.
Dioner Navarro: At 28, Navarro becomes the elder statesman for the Cubs behind the plate. He might mentor and help Castillo, but he'll also look to take his job. He appeared in just 24 games for the Cincinnati Reds last season, and he starts 2013 with his fourth team in four years. An All-Star with the Rays in 2008, Navarro's experience might come in handy as Castillo is still learning the ropes. Many within the Cubs have raved about Navarro's professionalism, including Matt Garza, who played with him in Tampa Bay. His switch-hitting ability can only be a plus coming off the bench.
Steve Clevenger: He is the odd man out right now but played in 69 games and had 199 at-bats for the Cubs last season. He'll get a recall if one of the top two catchers gets injured. But in the meantime Clevenger needs to improve at the plate. His .201 batting average, .260 on-base percentage and .276 slugging percentage isn't going to cut it at the big-league level.
OUTLOOK: It's hard to judge Castillo's upside. He showed flashes at the plate but to consider him a core player right now is a reach. Without a top prospect coming up at catcher, Castillo has a chance to keep the job for as long as he can. Catching may not start the season as a major strength for the Cubs, but Castillo could make it one before season's end. That would be quite the story with this being Castillo's eighth pro season with the organization after signing as a non-drafted free-agent. If Castillo doesn't pan out, the Cubs will turn to Navarro to keep the pitching staff together, and they'll take what they can at the plate.
ESPNChicago.com's Bruce Levine contributed to this report.
A young Chicago Cubs roster in 2012 was even greener when it came to the catching position.
Four different rookies caught 99 of the 162 games this past season, with the club finally phasing out of the Geovany Soto era.
After Soto was traded to the Texas Rangers on July 30, only rookies worked behind the plate, with Welington Castillo finally emerging as the clear favorite to become the No. 1 catcher next season.
After raising the bar with a nearly unanimous Rookie of the Year Award in 2008, Soto struggled to live up to the lofty standards he set for himself. The 2012 season was his most disappointing, though, as he missed some time with a knee injury and batted only .199 with 14 RBIs in the 176 at-bats when he was healthy.
Soto was dealt for minor-league right-hander Jake Brigham and the kids were left to guide the pitching staff.
Castillo has been splitting time with Steve Clevenger in the second half, as each member of the club’s rookie catching duo tries to make a case for full-time status.
The Cubs would like to avoid a platoon if possible next season. If one catcher gets the bulk of the duty it would allow them to get more in sync not only at the plate but with the pitching staff.
Manager Dale Sveum has been hinting of late that Castillo could end up with most of the catching duties next season and on Monday he had his strongest words on the subject.
“(Castillo) has definitely made probably the biggest progress of anybody on the team right now,” Sveum said. “On a whole, the changes he’s made on his defense, and calling a game and the preparation he’s been going through, his whole attitude has changed dramatically into an everyday catcher’s mindset right now.”
Let that be a message to Clevenger that he has his work cut out for him.
“(Castillo) is having a lot more fun understanding the progression he’s had to go through,” Sveum said. “Going into spring training, he’ll feel like he’s the everyday catcher. No matter what we do, he’s going to have that mentality that he’s going to catch 120 games next year.”
CHICAGO – The Cubs aren’t winning much these days but they are starting to show some fire anyway.
The ejection of Cubs manager Dale Sveum on Wednesday was only the appetizer for some fireworks Thursday and at all started with the quietest guy in the Cubs dugout, bench coach Jamie Quirk.
With Steve Clevenger over at the Cubs dugout to swap out a faulty catcher’s glove, Quirk and Nationals third-base coach Bo Porter appeared to have some long-distance words.
The issue could have possibly stemmed from the fact that the red-hot Nationals stole two bases in the fifth inning with a 7-2 lead.
Porter approached the Cubs’ dugout leading both benches and both bullpens to clear. No punches were thrown, though. Quirk was ejected but Porter was not.
But as order was nearly restored, tensions flared up again and the two teams met up on the infield with some aggressive pushing going on at best. The Nationals’ Michael Morse didn’t seem to care for being pushed by Clevenger.
After the sixth-inning skirmish Clevenger and Manny Corpas of the Cubs were ejected. The Nationals’ Michael Gonzalez was also ejected.
After appearing to throw at Harper, Castillo came back to strike out the rookie phenom looking on a breaking ball. Castillo was removed by Sveum after giving up a single to Ryan Zimmerman and was greeted warmly in the dugout as he came off the field.
The Cubs have used 29 pitchers in 2012 crushing the previous high of 25 pitchers used in a single season. Two more pitchers -- Jaye Chapman and Miguel Socolovich -- made their season debuts Tuesday.
“I think they have done a good job and are getting better at it,” manager Dale Sveum said. “(Castillo) has made huge strides in the last month in calling games and sticking to gameplans, as well as Clevenger who has been pretty good all year with it. It’s new to them.”
Counting Wednesday night’s game, Castillo and Clevenger have combined to see 90 games of action this season.
“This kind of grind, this kind of pressure of calling a game at the big league level isn’t the easiest thing and they have been thrown into the fire the last few months,” Sveum said.
Clevenger said the hard part is serving as pitch caller and prime motivator for so many different faces. But he downplayed the difficulty of keeping it all in order.
“As long as you get together before the game during batting practice, talk and see what they like to do, we’re going to go with their strengths,” Clevenger said. “You’re going to pitch to their strengths and not get away from them.”
Those get-to-know-you chats are all on the pitchers and catchers. There isn’t a set time during the day to go over that part of the game plan together so it’s incumbent on the battery to get together often.
“These are the guys we’re going to go with for the rest of the year so the more comfortable I can make them, the more comfortable they are throwing to me, the better off we are,” Clevenger said. “It’s getting together and being prepared going into the game and not doing it when we’re in the game.”
Adding to the challenge is that the Cubs have eight rookie pitchers on the roster, seven of whom pitched in Tuesday night’s game.
“There is no question that the more bodies you have the more issues you can have with the catchers not knowing what they throw, not knowing their velocities, not knowing their out pitches, how good their out pitch is,” Sveum said. “It might be an OK out pitch in Triple-A but it doesn’t play here. So yeah it brings up a lot of issues to have to get to know people and know how they handle situations and all that. It’s trying in a lot of ways to go through that many pitchers.”
“I can’t get thrown out in that situation,” Clevenger said. “I went out and apologized to Dale for being ejected, and I said it won’t happen again. It can’t happen.”
Clevenger and Castillo have been in a friendly duel since spring training when they were battling for an Opening Day roster spot. Clevenger won the battle, but it didn’t exactly mean that he was head and shoulders above Castillo in the club’s view.
Judging by their play when Soto was injured earlier this season, though, Clevenger started to put a little distance between himself and Castillo. Clevenger proved earlier this season to be much better at calling a game and even showed better fundamentals behind the plate.
Despite any advantage, either perceived or real, Clevenger isn’t about to kick back and take it easy now.
“I’ll just prepare myself for every day just like I've been doing and not take anything for granted,” he said. “I’ll go out and play the game hard like I was playing before. Other than that I’ll just try to win.”
If manager Dale Sveum goes with lefty-righty matchups, the left-handed hitting Clevenger would get more opportunities to play against right-handed pitching. Another possibility is that the catchers get matched up with Cubs starters.
For one of them, it could be their time to shine as the Cubs would ideally have one step forward to claim the main catching job. As the only catcher on the roster Monday night after Soto was pulled from the game, Clevenger still wasn’t thinking that his time had arrived.
“I didn’t pay too much attention to it at the time,” Clevenger said. “I was just focused on keeping the lead and going in there to make sure the guys coming in were focused on throwing strikes and not giving away at-bats. I just wanted them to throw strikes and finish off the W.”