Maddon incorporates unique situational drill

February 24th, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Playing small ball has always been a part of the National League style. This spring, the Cubs have been taking that to another level.

This weekend, manager Joe Maddon debuted a unique situational hitting drill that actually uses small baseballs. Maddon calls out a situation (outs, runners on base, etc.) and then feeds a miniature baseball into a pitching machine located 33 feet from home plate. The idea is to simulate higher velocity and force the hitter to shorten up his swing -- all while tweaking approach based on a specific scenario.

"When you play situations, you go out there and some coach is throwing it up there," Maddon explained. "At 55 [mph], you can do anything you want with that pitch. So, now there's an added degree of difficulty, velocity, size of the baseball, distance and I like to use the heavier bat to really force the action of their hands."

Maddon, who is making a point of taking a more hands-on approach with the hitters this spring, said he used to do the same drill with some of his hitters back in his days with the Tampa Bay Rays. He said he likes the reactionary aspect of the exercise, which Maddon noted has its roots in fast-pitch softball training.

"It's something I've always wanted to do, to try to recreate velocity at a shorter distance with ride on the baseball," he said. "These balls are really small and hard. I wanted to see something smaller, so that the baseball's going to look bigger. So, you've got that."

Kyle Schwarber took part in the drill on Saturday and liked the concept behind it.

"This was skip’s idea," Schwarber said. "I mean, I like it. I like being able to put yourself in a different mindset when you're practicing with no one out there and trying to execute the job. And you have to be able to lock in on, obviously, a smaller ball. And it’s coming in there pretty quick."

Chatwood makes debut

Coming off a tough season, right-hander Tyler Chatwood will try to use this spring to work his way into the rotation picture. In two innings against the Giants on Sunday, Chatwood allowed two runs (both on a two-run homer by Brandon Belt) on two hits with one strikeout, one walk, one hit batsmen and 31 pitches (17 strikes).

Maddon said the Cubs are looking at how well Chatwood commands the ball -- not just at results -- this spring. Last year, the righty had 95 walks in 103 2/3 innings with a 19.5 percent walk rate.

"Results have nothing to do with today," Maddon said before Sunday's game vs. the Giants. "The result would be that he's comfortable, comfortable throwing strikes. I'm such a big fan of his stuff. I'm telling you, if we get this thing ironed out, this guy could be a force."

Worth noting

• In early February, Cubs pitcher Jose Quintana participated in a baseball camp for more than 150 kids in Colombia. Adrian Sanchez of the Nationals helped organize the event, and Quintana was more than happy to lend a hand to continue to encourage children from his home country to play baseball.

"When I was a kid, people did that for me," Quintana said. "The big guy [when I was young] was Edgar Renteria. He was the guy we wanted to follow, especially with the World Series. Now, it's really fun when you hear kids want to do things like me, want to be like me. It's a lot of responsibility for me and the other players to do good things, and try to explain to them how important it is for us."

• Left-hander Mike Montgomery (shoulder stiffness) threw off a mound on Saturday with no issues, per Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy. Montgomery is slated to throw a bullpen session again on Tuesday and will likely need two mound workouts (including Tuesday) before transitioning to live batting practice.

• Prior to Sunday's game, Maddon said that the crowd's response to Addison Russell would be "part of the ifs" involved in the shortstop's situation. Russell is a full participant in Spring Training, but he will open the season on the restricted list in order to complete a 40-game suspension for violating MLB's Domestic Violence Policy.

"There's still some room for growth and that's what I'm looking forward to," said Russell, who knows he might hear negative reaction from fans this spring. "It's going to happen. I'm just trying to prepare myself for when that happens. The crowd today was a pretty nice crowd. A lot of supporting fans today. That really made my heart explode as well. It definitely was good to be back out there."

Up next

Left-hander Jon Lester is scheduled to make his Cactus League debut on Monday in a 2:05 p.m. CT split-squad clash with the Padres at Sloan Park. Righty Christian Bergman will get the nod for Chicago in a 2:05 p.m. CT tilt against the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch.