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Sticking With Montgomery, Contreras’s Receiving Skills, Anderson’s Debut, and Other Bullets

Analysis and Commentary, Chicago Cubs News

We got another early-season reminder last night: late, extra-inning games are remarkably less fun when the Cubs lose. And they always make me feel much more tired the next day.

  • Great debut for Brett Anderson, eh? He looked healthy, had solid velocity, excellent movement, and good command overall. It’s no surprise, then, that he did as he does when he’s on: eight groundouts to just one fly out. He gave up just one extra-base hit (a double), and walked just one batter. If he does that kind of thing down in the zone, then any strikeouts he gets (he got four over 5.2 innings) are gravy. I know it’s hard to feel good after an oh-so-close loss like last night, but if you want to take away something really positive, Anderson looked great.

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  • Something else to tuck in your back positivity pocket? Two of Jason Heyward’s batted balls last night exceeded 104 mph in exit velocity. He exceeded that number just 40 times all of last season. It’s small and it’s early. But it happened.
  • Mike Montgomery was very good for two innings last night, extending the game into the 11th inning. From there, however, it was clear that he’d lost his feel, and was no longer able to command his pitches, eventually loading the bases and throwing the walk-off wild pitch. Under normal circumstances, I’d be pretty chapped that Montgomery was left in with three relievers still in the bullpen. However – as I was hoping to hear after the game – the Cubs were dealing with two unavailable relievers (Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr.), and presumably Maddon was saving Wade Davis to finish off the game (because, if the Cubs were going to win, they were always going to need at least one more inning, since they were on the road, and Davis was the last pitcher left*). So, in the end, it was kind of a “what are you gonna do” situation. It was Montgomery’s game at that point, and he did very well for two innings, but couldn’t get it together in the third. On the whole, I’m very much down with the idea of limiting reliever exposure this early in the year, especially with a young guy like Edwards, who had a shoulder issue in the past, and Strop, who is coming off of an injury late last year.
  • *(I know, it’s the Buck Showalter-Zach Britton thing. The slight difference here is that Davis was literally the last pitcher the Cubs had available. And if he’s brought into the middle of an inning to put out a fire, then he would have to get back up and pitch another inning (generally not something you want your closer doing this early in the year, especially when he dealt with arm issues last year), or you’d have to try to finish off the game with a position player pitching.)
  • Speaking of the short-ish pen, there’s no specific timetable for lefty Brian Duensing to come off the disabled list (back), as he rehabs with Iowa (Tribune). He threw a scoreless inning on Thursday.

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  • The Brewers scored both of their runs last night with the benefit of a wild pitch. Both were tough pitches to block, no question about it. But does anyone else feel like they’ve noticed Willson Contreras struggle with that part of his game? Given his athleticism, I remember being surprised several times last year (particularly in Jake Arrieta starts) at some of the pitches he was not able to block. He rated as a slightly positive blocker at BP last year, but he did allow 17 wild pitches (obviously not all his fault) and 6 passed balls in just under 390 innings. By contrast, David Ross – for one example – was at 15 and 2 in about 50 more innings. Contreras has already been behind the plate for five wild pitches already this year in just three games. To be quite sure, none of these numbers are terrible, and there’s a whole lot of noise in attributing wild pitches to catchers. But I thought this worth putting on your radar.
  • Also on your radar: that seemed like a really poor framing night for Contreras, who was routinely giving up on pitches that were borderline, and should at least have been received and presented to the umpire. The Cubs had 12(!) pitches that were in or on the edge of the typically-called strike zone that were called balls last night (including five that were squarely in the zone). The Brewers had four. (The Brewers also “stole” two extra strikes, while the Cubs stole none, for a total difference of 10 calls in favor of the Brewers.) That kind of disparity cannot happen, and, while it can’t all be attributed to Contreras’s receiving/framing, there were several instances I saw last night that did not look good.
  • … it sounds like I’m dumping on Contreras. I’m not. He’s young, he’s still developing as a catcher, and these are parts of his game that we knew would be up and down, especially this year, his first season as the full-time starter. The potential is there for him to be excellent at these things, however, so I’m going to point out the deficiencies when I notice.
  • The Iowa Cubs and the big league Cubs have re-upped their player development contract through the 2020 season.
  • Good news, if you missed it: the early signs on Javy Baez are very positive. Almost unbelievably positive, actually.

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  • Ian Happ and Jeimer Candelario went deep last night for the Iowa Cubs (Candelario’s was a grand slam), and you can watch both homers in the Minor League Daily.

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  • Jimmy Nelson tried a unique new pickoff move last night. It is called “The Balk”:


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Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation.