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Chicago Cubs out of the zone as strikeout issues continue – Chicago Cubs Blog



ATLANTA — Perhaps it’s the hitting background at Sun Trust Park. Or perhaps the Chicago Cubs simply can’t give up their affinity for striking out a lot.

After whiffing just twice in a Monday game against the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field, the Cubs reverted to their old ways once the series shifted south. They’ve struck out 26 times over the past two games against the Braves, including 11 times in a 4-1 loss on Wednesday.

“When they run out arms throwing 100 mph with a slider, sometimes it’s tough just to hit the ball, just in general,” third baseman Kris Bryant said after the loss. “Today, [Brandon] McCarthy had a great sinker and cutter playing off of that.”

Bryant is about the only Cub who has hit in Atlanta this series. He was 3-for-4 on Wednesday — driving in the Cubs’ lone run — but was left stranded each time he reached base. The Cubs were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. It’s an old tune that gets updated every so often.

“We need to do a better job at the plate,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We had an opportunity to score more runs.”

Getting the leadoff man on base in innings 4-8 but scoring only once is the storyline for this loss — not Maddon pulling starter Tyler Chatwood in a 1-1 game in the sixth despite Chatwood having thrown only 79 pitches. Could Maddon have left Chatwood in the game? Sure. But the lefty/lefty matchup he eventually got on Nick Markakis worked out as the .340 hitter bounced into a double play.

Saving his bullpen is an important narrative for another day as Maddon admitted Chatwood pitched great and said he would have left Chatwood in the game — if the Cubs had any sort of a lead. That won’t happen when the strikeouts pile up as they are right now. Javier Baez, for example, struck out three times Wednesday and hasn’t drawn a walk in more than 130 plate appearances.

“He’s opened it up a bit,” Maddon said of Baez’s hitting mechanics. “That’s what I’m seeing.”

Batting right after Baez, Kyle Schwarber whiffed twice, while the two combined to leave nine men on base.

“Hitting is contagious and I feel like striking out and bad at-bats can be contagious, too,” Bryant said.

Maddon added: “Chasing. Just chasing. Getting out of our zones.”

It’s just a couple of games, but every so often Cubs fans will be reminded they’re watching an offense in transition. Focusing on putting the ball in play hasn’t been part of the players’ DNA in the past; the coaching staff is trying to inject them with that ability as the players mature.

Despite having a solid run differential, the Cubs are third-to-last in getting a runner home from third with less than two outs, and are below league average in getting a runner from second to third with no outs. Ian Happ had that chance after a leadoff double by Addison Russell in the seventh inning on Wednesday, but flied out to short right. At least there was contact. There were plenty of other times when the Cubs fanned with men on base.

“I want us to maintain the good work to this point and not start opening up a little bit,” Maddon said. “That was our issue tonight. We were just out of our zones again in RBI situations. We have to force the pitcher over the plate, find your pitch and move it.”

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Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw throw simulated game, nears return



LOS ANGELES — Clayton Kershaw is one step closer to a return with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Kershaw pitched a four-inning simulated game Saturday, raising the possibility that he could be back in their rotation next week. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner has been on the disabled list nearly a month with left biceps tendinitis.

Asked if he should be able to go in five days, Kershaw said: “Yeah, I should be.”

Kershaw got up and down, mirroring game conditions, and pitched to Cody Bellinger, Chase Utley, Austin Barnes and Enrique Hernandez. Kershaw is 1-4 with a 2.86 ERA this season.

It’s not certain he’ll pitch in five days, when the Dodgers play Philadelphia in the finale of a 10-game homestand.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who watched the workout with Andrew Friedman, the team’s president of baseball operations, wants to see how Kershaw feels before determining when and where he will pitch next. Roberts had not yet talked to Kershaw before speaking with reporters.

“That’s really encouraging,” Roberts said after learning Kershaw said he should be ready to be back in the rotation. “For us, we’ve still got to talk through some things and make sure the right situation is for Kersh. A lot of it depends on how he feels (Sunday) and how things play out. Having him pitch today, feeling good coming off the mound, a lot of positives.”

Through this stint on the disabled list, Kershaw found himself examining his mechanics.

“You never should focus on mechanics when you’re competing. That’s what the in between is,” Kershaw said. “I’ve never really been a mechanics guy. The past few weeks I’ve been working on it a little bit. It’s probably the first time that I can remember that I really focused on it.”

Kershaw declined to explain what motivated him to focus on mechanics. The 30-year-old left-hander was positive about where he’s at now.

“It’s so hard to tell. Been working on little stuff here and there,” Kershaw said. “You start focusing on getting hitters out and you stop thinking about your mechanics. Start worrying about trying to get people out. Hopefully muscle memory is ingrained in there. Felt a little bit better today.”

Kershaw hadn’t felt as positive following his previous bullpen, but he was encouraged Saturday.

“You can’t simulate a big league game. All the things you do to prepare to pitch a big league game, you really don’t know where you’re at until you’re in one,” Kershaw said. “You do all you can to prepare. Ultimately, the only way to figure out if you’re ready or not is to face guys. I feel like I didn’t lose a whole lot from where I was but worked on a lot these last few weeks to try to get better and try to get healthy.”

The Dodgers, who were one win away from the World Series title last year, are below .500.

“Being on the DL is no fun. Thankful that it wasn’t too incredibly long,” Kershaw said. “Just to be able to get back out there. You don’t feel a part of the team a whole lot when you’re on the DL. It’s good to be out there and hopefully help a little bit.”

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Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia returns to lineup after knee surgery



BOSTON — Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia is back after being sidelined by offseason knee surgery.

The 2008 American League MVP and four-time All Star went 0-for-4 with a walk and scored in Boston’s 8-6 victory against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday.

He received a standing ovation when he came up with the bases loaded and two outs in the first. He flied out to right to end the inning.

“It was great to be back, a great win for us, and it was exciting,” he said. “I’ll never forget that first at-bat. That was pretty cool.”

The 34-year-old Pedroia admitted to some nervousness in the clubhouse before batting practice.

“Yeah, it’s been a long time, a lot of work put into to get to this point,” he said. “So, yeah, I’ll be a little nervous.”

Pedroia had cartilage-restoration surgery on his left knee seven months ago. He was not in Boston’s Opening Day lineup for the first time since 2007.

He batted sixth in his return to the Red Sox (36-16).

“I don’t want to break up the top two,” manager Alex Cora said. “I’m very comfortable with them the way they’re getting on base.

“I think that’s a good spot for him to have traffic in front of him.”

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Cleveland Indians place Andrew Miller on DL



The Cleveland Indians have placed Andrew Miller on the 10-day disabled list, as the left-handed reliever deals with right knee issues that also marred his 2017 season.

Miller allowed three runs in less than an inning of an 11-2 loss to the Houston Astros on Friday. He has struggled since missing two weeks with a strained hamstring.

“I’m definitely not sharp,” Miller said after Friday’s game. “I wish I had the answers. I think there’s flashes of it, but it’s been a pretty big grind lately.”

A two-time All-Star, the 32-year-old left-hander was on the DL twice last season with patellar tendinitis in his right knee.

He was officially placed on the DL this time with right knee inflammation.

Right-hander Evan Marshall was recalled to fill the open roster spot.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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