Cubs notebook: The intensity of the extra-innings rule, homefield advantage and a return to health
Ten days ago, the Cubs were in a tricky spot with their roster. They had just placed three players (Nico Hoerner, Jake Arrieta, Dan Winkler) on the injured list and another (Ian Happ) was banged up.
Oh, and the reigning world champs (Dodgers) were in town.
But the Cubs persevered and reeled off 5 straight victories and now return all three of those IL players, with Hoerner and Arrieta rejoining the Cubs starting lineup Friday in Detroit while Winkler was folded back into the bullpen. Happ is also nearing a return as he planned on going through defensive drills and batting practice Friday.
Arrieta notched a quality start against the Tigers Friday, allowing 2 solo homers in 6 innings and inducing 3 double plays in a 4-2 victory. Hoerner went 0-for-4 but was a part of all 3 double plays.
“The thumb really wasn’t an issue,” Arrieta said. “I was a little stale though. Threw a lot of good sinkers and I induced quite a bit of weak contact. They were swinging early and often, which is a good sign.”
In corresponding moves, the Cubs sent a trio of players — Jason Adam, Nick Martini and Brad Wieck — back to Triple-A Iowa.
“Anytime you get your guys back feeling healthy and back in the lineup, it’s nice,” David Ross said. “But you also appreciate the hard work that the guys that you send down give you and the effort they give you.
“It’s a mixed feeling from this seat. You’re happy to get those guys back for sure but it’s also a tough conversation when you send guys down.”
Hoerner said his strained left forearm is back to 100% and he is anxious to get back out on the field with his teammates.
He was hitting .389 with a 1.056 OPS in 11 games prior to landing on the IL so he’s hoping he can pick right up where he left off 10 days ago.
“This is gonna sound cliché, but just the pitch-by-pitch, going from there,” Hoerner said. “It’s easy to come back and want to make up for lost time and things like that. Just staying the course, knowing it’s still May. Ready to play every day and build on the first two weeks I was here.”
The Cubs also received good news on Kris Bryant’s left wrist after he took a pitch off it in Wednesday’s game in Cleveland. He was set up to receive some imaging on the wrist but he told the Cubs he was feeling fine and declined X-Rays or an MRI.
Bryant had the big blast in Friday’s win, driving a 2-run homer to right field to open the scoring in the 3rd inning. He also walked and scored a run in the 5th.
The extra-inning rule
When Major League Baseball introduced the new extra-inning rule last season of starting each frame with a runner on second base, the reactions were a mixed bag. Some believe it’s silly while others like the intensity it creates and the decreased likelihood of playing games 15 or 18 innings long.
Count Ross among those who are in favor of the rule and he talked a bit about the strategy behind the new facet of the game and how it differs when the Cubs are on the road vs. at home.
In Wednesday’s extra-innings loss to the Indians in Cleveland, Ross opted to bring rookie Keegan Thompson in the game in the 10th inning because of where the Indians were at in their lineup.
“I like the intensity that the new rule for sure,” Ross said. “At home, you have a couple more luxuries of going with your horses [early]. There’s a fine line and you try to navigate parts of the lineup. Like in Cleveland, we were at the bottom of the order there.
“Trying to keep them without scoring so you’re walking some guys, trying to get force [outs], trying to create as hard of an opportunity for those guys to score that run as possible.
“Each game is individualized, especially when you’re on the road — to see if you score and if you didn’t score, how much bullpen you have, off-day the next day, stuff like that.”
The Cubs are 3-3 this season in extra innings and have played four such contests this month (winning a pair against the Dodgers and dropping games in Ohio — Cincinnati and Cleveland).
They were 3-1 in extras last season.
The Cubs announced Thursday they are expanding Wrigley Field’s capacity to 60% beginning May 28.
“That’s exciting,” Ross said. “It just shows us getting back to normal soon and feeling like we’ll get back to the lives we knew 14-15 months ago. I think it needs to happen. I’m excited about that. Fans are excited.”
The Cubs are 13-8 at home this year and credit the atmosphere from the fans for part of that success.
“The 20-25% that we’ve had so far has been so nice,” Ross said. “So much different than last year. The vibe around the park, what the fans bring — their energy — has been great, getting up in big moments.
“I’ve told some of the new coaches here many times last year and this year about a packed house here and a day game. There’s nothing like it. The fans going crazy and everybody singing ‘Go Cubs Go’ at the top of their lungs after a win is just a really good feeling. It really is a homefield advantage for us.”
With the increase in capacity and the CDC’s new regulations on masks released this week, American society is certainly taking steps toward a pre-pandemic lifestyle.
Around the league, 16 teams have climbed to MLB’s 85% vaccination threshold but the Cubs have not reached that mark yet.
“I’m holding out hope and I feel like that might be just what it is right now,” Ross said. “It’s probably something that I’m going to continue to be hopeful for. I don’t know if we’re gonna get there, but I keep hoping.”