Joe Maddon joined Casey Stern and Jim Bowden during Tuesday’s Inside Pitch (MLB Network Radio) for his now weekly segment. Maddon had a weekly spot on Inside Pitch while he was with the Rays. It’s good to see the Cubs allowed him to continue his conversations with Stern and Bowden in what is appointment radio. On a similar note, Maddon will join the Spiegel and Goff Show (670 The Score) every Tuesday at 12:00pm CDT, the announcement was made Wednesday.
The Cubs’ skipper reflected on Opening Night. And Maddon discussed batting the pitcher in the eighth spot, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Starlin Castro and Addison Russell among other topics Tuesday.
On his first Opening Day with the Cubs
“It was wonderful. It really was. Of course you always want to win those things. I’ve not been a really good Opening Day manager historically anyway. But beyond that, lot of family in town, a really wonderful evening. How about just the whole vibe in the ballpark? The tribute to Ernie Banks, also recognizing [Oscar] Taveras from the other side. The fans are spectacular. And really you talk about the magical night. You talk about the once in a lifetime moments, it was pretty much that Opening Night here in Chicago.”
On what it’s been like and if it has been a humbling experience the reception he’s received from Cubs fans
“The fans have been spectacular. Just want to keep that love fest going on. Everybody’s been great. Even at the hotel the doormen have been wonderful. The cab driver driving me in today. The fans you see or you talk to along the wall there at the ballpark, just everywhere I go in the city. Living downtown and whenever you go downtown, different restaurants or a little bit of shopping like we did yesterday, people are coming up and all very, very positive. I am. I am absolutely humbled by this whole thing. You guys know me. It’s kind of bizarre in some … in all the best ways. I’m really, really appreciative of the fans of Chicago.”
On calling Kris Bryant into his office in Spring Training and telling him sorry he’s been beaten out in camp by Mike Olt because his spring wasn’t good enough and he is going to start the year in Iowa
“[laughs] Yeah, it’s that easy. [All laughs] The thing about Kris [Bryant], KB gets it man. He gets it and just to send him back down there to get a little bit more ready. The thing about him also, and I know it’s been talked about too, I like guys like that not necessarily having to come up on Opening Day, go down there and get a little bit toasty and come on up and step right into the action. KB is a wonderful young man, had some really great conversations with him during the camp. Very mature, very mature for his age and understands what’s in store for him on the Major League level. He’s going to be a huge part of our future, not a big part, huge part. He’s all of what you saw. He’s going to hit. He’s going to hit for the power like you’ve seen in the past. Big thing is to really improve on his defense which I thought kept getting better at third base. And I tell ya, he’s comfortable in the outfield, too. So he gives you a little bit of versatility there. But a really wonderful guy that’s going to hit for power and also drive in a lot of runs.”
On his Opening Day lineup and why he is batting the pitcher eighth and how often does he plan on hitting the pitcher eighth in his lineup
“You saw it the other night, Jon [Lester] has not been stretched out as an example. He only had one at bat and then you get to play with that hole a little bit sooner and utilize more people in that spot, that’s number one. Number two, I love Tommy La Stella hitting second leadoff. After the first time through, pretty much nobody knows where they’re hitting, but from a setting them up perspective, if Tommy is hitting ninth doing his thing then you got Dexter [Fowler], Dexter has been working great at bats and now [Jorge] Soler becomes a number three hitter the next time through and you’re getting him up there a little more often, consistently, whatever. It just pushes everybody up the next time through. Hitting the pitcher ninth and of course you can put Tommy somewhere up there, but then you’re not getting the guys up at the top of the lineup as often. So again, eight becomes seven and of course nine becomes eight in this lineup. Probably the only time you’re not going to like it if the pitcher comes up with the bases loaded, two outs. However, I mean, that’s just part of the game that could happen if he was hitting ninth also. I just like the idea of a guy like Tommy La Stella leading into the top of the batting order.”
Jim Bowden: “Wouldn’t you have rather had La Stella up instead of [Jon] Lester with a man on and two out?”
“Of course, of course you would, but it didn’t work out that way. Then Tommy starts off the next inning with the base hit but further more if Tommy is up there with two outs and a runner on second base, what is the other team going to do pitching wise to him? He won’t see anything. That’s the part that people aren’t really discussing. If you have a really good hitter hitting in front of the pitcher and there is runners in scoring position, outside of the bases being loaded, he’s not going to see a thing.”
On if hitting the pitcher eighth is something he is going to do consistently except for the days he expects Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta to pitch past the sixth inning
“That’s something, absolutely, I think we’ve talked about that. When Tony [LaRussa] and I talked about it that was part of the philosophy behind it. I’m just going to be open-minded about it because I really like the idea of having a high on-base percentage guy hitting ninth in a National League lineup that’s what I’m finding out. I just think that everybody is used to seeing the pitcher hitting ninth so if he’s not they think immediately that he should be hitting ninth because he’s the worst hitter in the lineup. But Tommy is one of our better hitters and I love have him hitting ninth because he has one, two in front of him which should get him better pitches to see. So all these … it’s all interchangeable and it all can be argued from different perspectives but as we roll it along it may work out that way that our guys like Lester and Arrieta, whoever starts going more deep into the game you might consider hitting him ninth, you’re right.”
On what he saw from Addison Russell in Spring Training, how far away is he and how does he rate his defense compared to Starlin Castro?
“Addison [Russell] is a real technician. He’s an absolute technician on defense. I asked him after … I saw him take ground balls for the very first time on one of the lower fields, he’s walking off the field and I asked him, ‘Who taught you that? Who taught you how to do all of that?’ Because there is no wasted anything. There’s not a wasted movement. He doesn’t pat the glove. He doesn’t step behind. He’s doesn’t take an extra step. He doesn’t do anything wrong when it comes to picking up a ground ball, it’s that clean. So it’s hard for anybody else. I mean I can’t say that about hardly anybody else at shortstop playing the game today. And he’s only 20 years of age. Of course Starlin [Castro], I haven’t seen Starlin enough. I just know that last year, the guys here tell me he had a really, really good year at shortstop. Just a different perspective, he doesn’t … he works from a different set of mechanics, technically, to just pick up grounded balls opposed to Addison, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be good with it. A lot of good players just do things that are indigenous to them. I just need to see Starlin more. I just know that if you watch Addison for the very first time I dare anybody to say that is not the right way to pick up a ground ball. It’s absolutely the correct way to pick up a ground ball and throw it.”
On what Javier Baez needs to work on specifically and how soon could he be back in the big leagues
“Just straightening out the swing, he gets rather big, everybody knows that. I think that’s just for him to understand. The concept that I’ve been trying to get across to him, from me to him, is to stop swinging at the baseball and hit it. And that sounds … what are you talking about? Gene Mauch brought that to my attention years ago. You should never really swing at a baseball. You should hit a baseball, throw the head of the bat at the baseball, but you should never swing at a baseball. Just try to get his hands more involved in the process number one, beyond that defensively this guy is high end. I just talked about Addison; Javy is right there with him in regards of how he picks up a ground ball. One of the better baserunners in camp, tremendous instincts on the bases, fine arm and he’s fearless. He’s absolutely fearless. When is he going to be here, I’m not a 100 percent sure but I know he’s also a big part of our future. You just talked about three youngsters with Bryant, Russell and Baez that any organization would love to have these three guys and they’re going to find their way on the Major League level soon enough. Still going to take a little time and people, their expectations are high and that’s cool. But these kids are for real. They’re real good baseball players and they’re wonderful people.”
On the Cubs defense and what he’s seen because Opening Day wasn’t exactly pretty at right field, shortstop and in a few spots. And how are all the players all going to fit together on the field, defensively, at the same time? Jim Bowden asked will Soler be in left, Bryant in right, Castro at third, Russell at short, Baez at second. Or is Castro at second, Russell at short, Bryant at third? How are the Cubs viewing it short and long term?
“First of all, the Opening Night defense I just think that … I really like Soler in the outfield. I think he’s a really good outfielder. I think some of those balls just got beaten down. The wind shifted during the game and I think that’s … just from what I’m learning right now you have to really be cognizant of that on defense and make the adjustments whether you need to come in. David Ross crushed a ball to center field and so did [Chris] Coghlan to right field but neither one got out. When this ballpark plays big it plays huge. I know that now. So I think more than anything, just George [Jorge Soler] making some adjustments out there in the outfield. Beyond that, all these wonderful names you’re talking about. I’ve talked about this before and I think it’s true, baseball has a really cruel way of answering questions for you. I just think that everybody just needs to be ready, do your job, be ready, be part of the Cubs, have one agenda and that is to win and eventually all this stuff normally works its way out. I know it seems rather difficult now with all of these different names and not that many chairs left after the music stops, but I really believe, I have a lot of faith in Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer], I’m getting to understand all of this how it works here right now. I’m sure that we’ll make the right calls at the appropriate moment.”
On what he likes about the Cubs rotation behind Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta
“Actually a lot. I’ve known Jason Hammel for a long time. Hammel was throwing the ball really, really well by the end of camp. The big thing with him seems to me like he has better control over his delivery and I was always concerned about that way in the past in regarding his fastball command and I saw better this camp. He kept getting better through the camp and he’s got really good stuff and he’s got a lot of confidence, I think he can get out a righty and a lefty. I like a lot of that. Kyle Hendricks, I mean this is a guy, believe me folks, pay attention to this guy. This guy could be … he could like really blaze to the top in a lot of people’s minds, mind’s eye. He’s really good. He knows what he’s doing. He’s got great stuff. He’s a technician. He’s a unique guy, a unique individual as a pitcher. I really have high hopes for this fellow. And Travis … Travis is … this guy is a great athlete. He’s not a good athlete. This guy is a real great athlete. You see him with his pinch-hitting. If you watch him run, man this guy can really run. I would not hesitate to put him in the outfield if it was necessary later part of the game and extra innings because he’s all of that. Meaning that as a pitcher, he’s such a competitive guy, great athlete that I think he’ll make the necessary adjustments in a game. I’ve seen that already. He was throwing the ball well also towards the end. And then of course Edwin Jackson is back in the pen and that’s a nice sixth guy. So I like all these guys. I’m telling you the bullpen looked really sharp the other night I think you guys saw that too. That’s just one game folks. I like our guys a lot. I like the names a lot. I like who we play.”
On the Wrigley Field, the new left field video board, the problems on Opening Night and if he or any of the players were forced to ‘go’ in a cup on Sunday night?
“First of all, I used to even manage in a cup but I don’t even do that anymore. I think the players still wear their cups. So as far as the guys on the field, I would hope that everyone was in a cup for the entire game. I would hope. Beyond all that, the scoreboard is spectacular. Again, I am new to the party but I thought it looked great. I don’t know exactly how we’re going to fulfill it during the course of the game but man it’s really impressive, really clean. It’s high, high def if that makes any sense. So I thought it looked great. I thought it was a big part of the game that night. Post-game, I had a bunch of friends in, bunch of the guys from Tampa that are part owners in the restaurant and some other family, we ended up at Tavern on Rush on the second floor and toasted the evening. I know we didn’t win and I know the Cubs fans don’t want to hear that stuff but I, from my perspective, I thought that was a very special evening. I did slow it down. I did not let it get to quick on me and I was really proud of our guys the way they handled the whole moment and hopefully they get used to that kind of atmosphere because that’s what we have in store for us at the end of this season.”