To Arms; To Arms - The I-Cubs Are Coming!
I had a nice chat before Jeff Samardzija's return engagement in Des Moines Saturday night with I-Cub pitching coach Mike Mason. We talked about Jose Ascanio's pitch counts, Samardzija's repertoire, the organization's pitcher pecking order and the effect, if any, of yo-yoing between the bullpen in Chicago and the rotation in Des Moines on young arms and minds.
Ascanio was the first order of business. It took him until his 6th start to record a win, despite a 1.01 ERA, because his pitch count leash was still so short. After a high-water mark of 81 two starts ago, he'd been pulled after 76 last time out even though he fanned the side in the 4th and 5th, his last two innings of work. Why wasn't he allowed to come out for the 6th?
"He was still closing in winter ball," Mason noted. "When the decision was made in camp to start him this year, the plan was to give him a couple starts at each pitch count level - 60, 70, 80 - as he went along and see how he handled it. The other day we figured why trot him out for the 6th just to pull him after half a dozen more pitches."
Mason had lots more to say about Ascanio before Chad Fox's elbow came undone again later that same night in Milwaukee. I asked him if the organization saw Jose as a pleasant surprise at this point.
"Pleasant is a huge understatement. He's done way better than expected," he grinned. "All along the thought was that the [Chicago] Cubs' 6th starter would come from the organization, but nobody thought 'Hosie' was the guy. Well, he's the 6th starter now. He's passed Atkins."
What about Samardzija? Passed him too?
"Ascanio is a four pitch guy. He throws a curve, a slider and a change-up that's his best offspeed pitch," Mason said. "Jeff and I are talking about him working to develop a curveball to go with his fastball and split." Apparently Samardzija's change-up isn't the complement yet to his high-nineties heat that Ascanio's is to his.
"'Hosie' used to start with Atlanta through Double A," Mason recounted. "Then he went to relief, but he's been throwing multiple pitches longer than Jeff. Jeff's attitude coming back here is great and he understands what he's got to work on."
Later that night of course, Mason's ranking of the trio of proteges in his care was borne out when Ascanio was summoned to the big leagues in the wake of Fox's latest, and maybe last, breakdown.
Yesterday Atkins responded to his snub with probably his best start of the year in pitching the team to a 9-2 win over Memphis. After a rocky start he settled down to last seven innings, the last six of them scoreless.
I asked Mason about Jeff Stevens, who appears to be the best early dividend of the DeRosa trade, although he won't be filling in at 3rd for Aramis Ramirez as DeRosa could capably have done. Stevens still has a non-existent ERA, having allowed only four hits in 14 innings. Batters are 4-45 against him for a BAA of .088, 3rd best right now in professional baseball among pitchers who've thrown at least 10 innings.
"Jeff's been very good, but he's young and he knows he wouldn't get by in the big leagues with essentially one pitch like he is here right now," said Mason. "Down the line if the bullpen keeps struggling in Chicago, I suppose they might give him a shot, but right now there's probably guys ahead of him." Mason named Kevin Hart as one of those, despite his uneven pattern so far this spring.
What about guys like Ascanio and Samardzija ping-ponging between short relief and starting?
"That's a bigger issue in terms of mental preparation than physical." according to Mason. "And even the physical part might be more with the legs than the arm because you just don't run as much if you're in the pen as you do if you're starting every five days. You have to have a different approach with your legs and your head as much as your arm if you know you might pitch any day you come to the ballpark."
I asked Mason if he mostly carries out orders from above or if he has latitude in how he works with his pitchers at the Triple A level.
"I talk with Larry [Rothschild] all the time, and he might say, like with Jeff [Samardzija], 'he's gotta develop secondary pitches,' but it's up to me what pitches we work on. That's why Jeff and I are talkin' about maybe workin' on a curveball for him. They give me assignments, but it's up to me how I work on them." he explained.
Given the ongoing bullpen turmoil in Chicago it doesn't appear Mason's workload will let up any time soon.
OTHERWISE: Greg Reinhard will start in today's noon matinee in the wake of Ascanio's call-up. In 18 innings out of the bullpen he's compiled a 0.49 ERA with 26 strikeouts and only five BB's...the PCL American North is a nice parallel to the NL Central with Iowa [16-13], Memphis [17-11] and Nashville [17-14] jockeying in the standings like their counterparts in Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee...Jake Fox has been day-to-day since catching some broken bat shrapnel on Friday night and taking a few stitches to close a leg wound. He's expected back in the lineup today...catcher Chris Robinson is not only hitting .394, he's also swiped five bases! For what it's worth, he's only nabbed 2/15 stealing against him...couldn't help but notice that the redhead is till red hot. Matt Murton is hitting .411 at Colorado Springs. Sometimes we take our stats with a grain of salt in the PCL...MW
Boy, that is a nifty K:BB ratio Hudson has going at almost 4:1!
I hope he continues improving.
And of course the Bucs won again playing AZ (not PHIL). They dont seem to have a problem yet with the bottom feeders.
They picked up 3 games this last week.
I'm looking forward to them coming to the Chi.
Don't mess with the SI jinx. Since the Javy/Cubs cover came out, he is 2-for-20 with no walks.
BRADSBEARD: If all three are assigned to Eugene, the Cubs can play Galindo, Paredes, and Paniagua at the same time by moving Paredes between SS-3B-DH, Galindo between 3B-1B-DH, and Paniagua between 1B-LF-DH.
The Cubs like to have their players (including their minor leaguers) learn to play more than one position even if they eventually are projected to settle at one spot, and I suspect that will be reflected at Eugene, with just about everybody who will be assigned there able to play at least two positions.
Thanks - at least the scorer was consistent
I don't think the error call was completely out of the blue but the ball took a very bad hop and would have taken a very good play to get it. Same with one of the Stella throws where I think it could have easily been ruled a hit. Neither were cut and dry calls though imo.
chased a high fastball...
I think his BABIP during his run has been around .950
Great stuff CubbyBlue!!! I think it inspired today's six spot as well.
That's all fine and good, but I think it's short-changing the Arrieta-like affect of his beard
Was the error scored on Zobrist's third ab ruled correctly? Ron was saying that it was a pretty tough chance for the fielder
Did anybody see that Zobrist strikeout?
That was extremely disappointing.
Strangest win of the year, and one of the sweetest. Twice I thought it was easily in the bag, then after the first 2 hitters in the 9th I thought all was lost. Big game for Grimm, Strop & Rondon. But, man, those Cards can hit for power.
Very satisfying, gut-check win today. The beers on the trip back to Chicago are going to taste fantastic.
It's still very early but this game felt very important to me and probably knocked 2 years off my life. Seemed like every inning was big.
Yes then they moved him two spot then not so much, back batting 7th
This is the exact game that the Cubs would have lost in years past to the Cardinals.