‘Smart Aggressiveness’: The Cubs are pushing to grab extra bases, runs in 2021
Something that David Ross has been preaching to the Cubs in spring training and in the early days of the 2021 campaign has been the need for the Cubs to push the boundaries, but to do it in the right manner.
On the base paths, he’s got a phrase for it.
“It’s smart aggressiveness,” Ross said.
For the Cubs, that means knowing when to take that wide turn when rounding second or third base or paying close attention to third base coach Willie Harris when they’re stampeding on the base paths. So far this season, they’ve been putting it all together in that category.
In the 1st inning during Sunday’s series finale against Pittsburgh with Ian Happ on second and Anthony Rizzo on first, Kris Bryant laced a hard single to right field that scored Happ. Just as importantly, though, Rizzo took a sharp turn at second and watched Harris as he directed him to take third.
The smart aggressiveness didn’t stop there. The next batter, Joc Pederson, hit a sharp grounder to Colin Moran at first base, who tagged the base then rifled the ball to second base. Bryant broke on contact, sprinted and slipped into second before the tag could be applied, allowing Rizzo to score from third and keep the inning alive. It was the spark that propelled the Cubs to a 4-3 win.
“I love that we’re pushing the envelope in some areas,” Ross said. “We gotta continue to stay diligent and responsible in that area, but right now, guys are getting really good reads and I think, especially this time of year at Wrigley, every base is gonna matter and taking that extra base here early on is important.”
Davies shines in debut
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
That’s the mantra Zach Davies was taking with his changeup Sunday. With the success he was having, it was no wonder Davies was turning so frequently to that pitch. Davies finished his debut with the Cubs throwing 5 strikeouts in 5.2 innings of work, with 4 of those strikeouts coming on his changeup.
“They were patient early on which I tried to focus in on and adjust as fast as possible so I know what I’m gonna be able to do that day,” Davies said. “Being able to get ahead of guys, being able to locate the fastball, just helps that changeup play more and get them more aggressive and swinging out of the zone.”
Davies turned to the off-speed pitch 39% of the time, the second most of any pitch. He had 9 swings-and-misses on the changeup. Last season, Davies’ changeup rated second-best in baseball in terms of pitch value, per Fangraphs at 11.0. Only the Brewers’ Devin Williams’ changeup rated higher (13.0). The metric values a pitcher’s pitch against the rest of the league with average being 0. In 2019, Davies’ changeup rated at 18.2, the fourth best in baseball behind Luis Castillo, Mike Minor and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
He finished the game allowing 2 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks for the Cubs.
“Just thought he was cruising through, really efficient early on,” Ross said. “I feel like that’s what we can expect from him a lot.”
Veteran catcher Austin Romine continues to recover from his right knee sprain and is inching towards a return to game action.
Prior to Sunday’s game, Romine was working out at Wrigley Field, firing throws from home to second base with Tony Wolters and quality assurance coach Mike Napoli. Saturday, Romine took batting practice.
“Ball’s coming off really good yesterday off the bat,” Ross said. “Looks like he’s in a pretty good place. Continue to work, to move forward.”
The Cubs signed Wolters to serve as their backup catch to Willson Contreras with Romine’s injury. Romine began the season on the 10-day injured list.
“Just as long as he continues to feel good and we’ll test him each day with putting a little bit more on his plate and seeing how everything responds and then at some point we’ll send him to get some live at-bats [at the alternate site in South Bend, Ind.],” Ross said. “Right now, we’re continuing to take it day-by-day and make sure we listen to his body and get him ready so he can be healthy for the entire season.”