Here are four takeaways from the third day of Chicago Cubs summer camp at Wrigley Field:
1. The Wrigley Field press box isn’t the only area that underwent a renovation.
The Cubs also renovated the outside of their clubhouse wall, removing a profane remark about NBA star LeBron James.
A fan wrote “(Bleep) LeBron” in chalk on the outside bleacher wall of Wrigley Field during the 2016 postseason, when fans began an organic campaign of support by writing messages on the walls. James, an eastern Ohio native, played for the Cleveland Cavaliers at the time and was a vocal supporter of the Cleveland Indians during the 2016 World Series against the Cubs.
After the 2016 season, the Cubs chose a section of the wall’s graffiti to reproduce on the outer clubhouse wall as a tribute to the championship season. They decided not to digitally alter the photo and left the profane comment. Only media members, security and some members of the coaching staff walked past it regularly, and most players didn’t see the “(Bleep) LeBron” graffiti in their travels in and out of the clubhouse.
Asked in 2017 why the Cubs didn’t remove the offensive comment about James, President Theo Epstein joked they would do so if James ever signed with the Bulls.
But after three seasons, the Cubs finally did the right thing and replaced the photo with a replication of a different part of the 2016 wall. Epstein has played a role in Major League Baseball’s initiative to donate more than $1 million to groups supporting Black Lives Matter, which includes gifts to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Equal Justice Initiative, Color of Change, Campaign Zero and the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
2. Cubs starting pitchers apparently are at different stages of readiness.
Jon Lester, who may have thrown less than the other starters during the 3\u00bd-month shutdown, threw a bullpen session Sunday and will get a live batting-practice session in two to three days.
“He was a guy who really wanted to manage his throws,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “He wanted to, as he put it, save as many bullets as he possibly could. That doesn’t mean by any means he wasn’t throwing a baseball.”
Manager David Ross said Yu Darvish was throwing between 94 and 97 mph in his first simulated game Saturday. Darvish also threw a few of what Hottovy called a “hybrid, two-seam (splitter),” one of perhaps 10 to 11 pitches in his arsenal.
Tyler Chatwood, who faced Alec Mills, was hit hard at the outset of their simulated matchup Sunday. Both might wind up in the opening rotation with Jose Quintana sidelined with a left thumb injury, and it may be simply a matter of who’s in the No. 4 spot.
Chatwood was already up to four innings by the start of camp, knowing it would be only three weeks long.
“We were kind of getting overly ready for this,” he said.
Hottovy said some relievers will be stretched out to three innings and some bullpen games are a possibility during the 60-game season.
3. Home-field advantage at Wrigley Field may be on hold in 2020.
Despite losing their final six home games to fall out of contention, the Cubs finished 51-30 at home last year, the second-best home record in the National League. Of course they also went 33-48 on the road, which was why they missed the postseason for the first time since 2014.
Without any fans in the stands, do the Cubs expect to have any kind of home-field advantage in 2020?
David Ross suggested sleeping in their own beds should provide a bit of an advantage.
“But I don’t know,” he added. “When this place gets rocking with fans on a day-game Friday, it’s a pretty special place to be and the energy the fans bring. There’s no substitute for fans. I know the NBA players are talking about that home-court advantage in the playoffs.
“There’s probably a slight advantage, but I don’t know if it’s as great as it used to be.”
After the players left the field Saturday, Ross took a photo of the center-field scoreboard and flag as his own “keepsake” of his first time managing at Wrigley.
“Everybody was gone, and it just looked cool on the Fourth of July,” he said. “A little moment for me.”
4. Simulated games go better without the towel drill.
The Cubs played their second simulated game Sunday, a five-inning affair with a 5:30 p.m. start as summer shadows moved over the infield and outfield.
Catchers are calling balls and strikes, which adds to the intrigue.
“You’re not going to make anybody happy when you punch ‘em out,” David Ross said. “You’re having some fun. We’re trying to create a good environment here.”
Ross said he had to tell Albert Almora Jr. to “chill” Saturday when the outfielder went all out running out of the batter’s box.
“I’m having to put the reins on them,” Ross said. “Which is a good thing.”
Players facetiously booed Ross for removing Kyle Hendricks after he reached a pitch count. It was shades of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, albeit with Ross getting the grief instead of Joe Maddon.
“They’re just trying to practice getting me ready for my first bad move, and you (reporters) blowing me up in some sense,” Ross said with a laugh, suggesting they actually were booing Tommy Hottovy.
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