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
[Drafts plans for CTSteve idol.]
Pitcher batting 9th. Bryant in left, Schwarber in right.
i'm not ready for it to end.
i'm not ready for "well, they weren't supposed to make it this year..."
i'm not ready to talk about the off-season yet.
I can relate to that, E-Man. I don't think I'll enjoy watching a high-stakes away game like this on TV. I've watched a lot of games this season after they ended or at least after the Cubs got out to a decent lead. Since they usually win, I've gotten to see a lot of baseball.
But in this case I think we should probably all watch the game live, and not let the pressure exceed the pleasure.
Remember, as I told my wife when our kids went off to college -- this is a good thing! Enjoy it!
Fully agree -- can't prove it. But, the numbers are what they are, and a lot of his OF games have come in Aug & Sept, when he has been killing the ball otherwise. And, knowing how baseball players love routine, it seems logical that it could at least be a a factor.
Really, really, really hope I'm wrong on this.
Indeed! It has been absolute blast -- from getting swept by the Phillies to sweeping the Giants, I have always enjoyed being part of this group. Hope we have a lot more games to talk about this year.
Yes, cheers to me! I've noticed a fairly strong correlation between my tenure and Cubbie victories.
And thanks to Michael for our new diggs--and to y'all for sticking around!
CHEERS to CT Steve for keeping this alive in 2015. Who would have thought that the season would have been so successful to this point? Thank you CT STEVE!
I think I may be too nervous to watch the entire game. I will probably watch in bits and pieces - and constantly check MLB App. I will be like Blockhead: Nervous Nellie.
You can't prove the performance is because he played the OF. You just can't. Sorry.
BTW, Bryant hit .168 in July playing 3B exclusively.
oh man, early on it seems like he made at least 1 stupid baserunning blunder per game and almost every single one turned into a positive for the cubs. it was magical.
Not surprised about Lester but bit surprised about Hendricks. Guessing that if something happens to Arietta right away they go to Lester but if they've burned relievers and are in extra innings they go to Hendricks.
My kids' 8:30pm (ET) bed time will be waived tonight (They are Rizzo & Castro fans). We'll get geared up in our Cubs apparel and will watch this as a family. I am stoked. Go Cubs!
Bryant: Base running adventures.
Remember Bryant's home-away splits, too.
Wrigley: 21 HR, 59 RBI, .311/.408/.629
Road: 5 HR, 40 RBI, .243/.333/.360
Good Lord this season has flown by so far. I need more Cubs gifs--the four on the MLB.com article today are not enough. I need a 100 best moments of the season listicle of gifs.
Rizzo: The slide, the catch.
Russell: All the defense.
Bryant: Pelting the video board.
Soler: 125 MPH ground balls.
Schwarber: DINGERS, surprising LF catches.
Fowler: Walks, the many walks he should have had on 3-2 BS strike calls.
Baez: That 3B play.
Ross: Walk-up music? Bullpen appearance?