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News and Notes: Eric Sogard practices, Shelby Miller’s spring, Craig Kimbrel’s outing and more

1 year agoAndy Martinez

PHOENIX, Ariz. — For a couple of years now, Eric Sogard has heard rumblings of the Cubs’ interest in him.

At the 2019 trade deadline, the Cubs were rumored to be interested in the second baseman when he was with the Blue Jays. Instead, he was traded to the Rays for a pair of minor leaguers. Ahead of the 2020 season, rumors popped up about him joining the Cubs as a free agent.

“Yeah, it’s been a couple of years where I’ve kinda heard their name in the background,” Sogard said.

In 2021, the Cubs and Sogard finally united. The Cubs signed the lefty to a minor-league deal with an invitation to big league camp. Saturday was his second day in camp after clearing intake and protocols. He took live batting practice against Kyle Hendricks and Gray Fenter at Sloan Park. Sogard has a lifetime slash line of .246/.316/.340.

“They told me the opportunity was good over here,” Sogard said. “I’m just happy to be here now and help them anyway I can.”

Sogard’s versatility is something that could benefit the Cubs. He’s played at shortstop and at third base throughout his career.

“This team has a lot of versatility which gives [David Ross] that flexibility to use guys really at different places and at different times,” Sogard said. “So, I’m just one of those guys where he can kinda move around anywhere if someone does end up having a starting role that’s what it is, but i think with this versatility, guys can bounce around which is a nice thing for sure.”

Shelby Miller’s slider and performance

Throughout the spring, Shelby Miller and the Cubs coaching staff have been working on his slider.

In Saturday’s outing against the Brewers, he started to see results.

With 2 strikes and against former MVP Christian Yelich, Miller turned to his slider to notch a strikeout. Miller finished his 2-inning outing allowing 1 run on 2 hits and striking out 3.

“That’s a pitch we’re really focusing on this spring training and trying to really just be able to be one of those pitches that I’m able to get swings and misses on,” Miller said. “Definitely the slider’s gonna be a focal point going forward. So, it’s gonna be a big pitch for us, I think.”

He didn’t use the pitch too much on Saturday, just because of the effectiveness of his fastball. This early in spring, he’s more concerned with comfort and health.

“I felt really good,” Miller said. “Probably the best I’ve felt in a while.”

Kimbrel’s spring debut

Numbers wise, Craig Kimbrel’s 2021 spring debut wasn’t what Cubs fans would hope it would be. But David Ross isn’t too concerned with the stats of Kimbrel or any pitcher at this point in spring.

“It looked like just a little bit of rust,” Ross said. “He felt good, the ball was coming out good, didn’t look like he was laboring at all.”

Ross was impressed with Kimbrel’s ability to throw “easy 95 [mph]” on his fastball. Kimbrel’s mechanics looked solid, too. So, in a couple of weeks when the season starts, he’s confident that the velocity will spike a touch and the breaking ball will break a little more, too.

“A couple of these guys if that’s 96, 97 [mph], it’s above the barrel, it’s probably a pop up than a ball that reaches a gap or hits where they can’t get to it,” Ross said.

Hendricks throws live BP

If it were the regular season, Hendricks would have been lined up to start Saturday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. But with the luxury of spring training, Hendricks opted to throw live batting practice instead.

“I face them a lot,” Hendricks said. “I’m gonna see them a lot throughout the year and it’s early enough in the spring, it’s only 3 innings so I can get the work in here I think.”

The live batting practice also allowed Hendricks a controlled environment.

“Make sure I get my pitch count up, because I only threw 25 my first start,” Hendricks said. “We wanted to get it to 45 this time. So yeah, just control the environment a little bit and get my work in. It was useful.”

And he still faced a Brewer, well, a former Brewer in Sogard.

“That was one of the funny things, we came off the field and we were like, ‘Man, just like old times. This is what we do, attacking Sogard,’” Hendricks said with a chuckle. “It was kinda fun.”

Javy Báez update

After he was hit by a pitch in the forearm on Friday afternoon, Ross confirmed everything’s OK with Javy Báez.

“Luckily, Javy’s fine and back in there today, getting work and gonna take BP,” Ross said. “I think it was all soft tissue, so I think he’s fine.”

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