Baez fires back at Hurdle after 'respect' criticism
Maddon impressed that teammates 'police each other'; Rizzo takes swings off batting tee
CHICAGO -- Cubs infielder Javier Baez took issue with comments critical of him made by Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, as a back-and-forth between the rival National League Central clubs lasted into a second day.
Hurdle questioned Baez's "respect for the game" following Wednesday night's tilt, after Baez flipped his bat when he popped up in the seventh inning of a Cubs win. Baez, who acknowledged on Wednesday that he had learned from the incident, nonetheless had little use for Hurdle's criticism, which he didn't find out about until after Thursday's 6-1 loss to the Pirates.
"No one plays this game harder than me," Baez said. "But you don't go out there and talk trash about someone.
"To be honest, I have a lot of things I could say right now," Baez said. "I don't control what's out there, what people say about me. I'm just going to keep playing my game."
Baez has a distinct flair for the game, which can rub some players the wrong way. He heard it last season.
"Last year, there was a player talking about my game style; now this year, it's a manager," Baez said. "Like I say, I don't control it. Whatever I get from it, I learned from the bat flip. That's all I've got to say. If anybody has any negative stuff to me, they can save it, to be honest. That's all I have to say."
Cubs manager Joe Maddon didn't see Baez flip his bat on Wednesday. But Hurdle did, and so did Baez's teammates, and one of them said something to the second baseman about it in the dugout.
Hurdle wasn't surprised someone said something.
"You watch [Baez] flip that bat in the air last night -- where's the respect for the game?" Hurdle said. "The guy hits four homers in two days, so that means you can take your bat and throw it 15-20 feet in the air when you pop up like you should have hit your fifth home run? I would bet that men over there talked to him, because I believe they've got a group over there that speaks truth to power -- and the kid's showing physical power."
There was a moment during one of Baez's at-bats on Thursday when he had an exchange with Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli. Did Cervelli talk about it?
"He did, but in a great way," Baez said. "At the same time, I was talking to the umpires. I didn't really pay attention to it."
Asked if he felt he needed to apologize to the Pirates, Baez said no.
"There's nothing to take personal," Baez said. "People who talk about me can save it. I don't control it. I don't really care about it."
Maddon was pleased that the Cubs players took care of matters immediately.
"That's definitely the needle moving in the right direction when they're accountable, which I believe our guys are, and as a group they police each other," Maddon said Thursday.
Cubs players have been able to handle things internally without Maddon or the coaches interfering. Sometimes, the discussions aren't about baseball, either.
"I've never been around that," Maddon said. "I'm impressed where they're going mentally right now as human beings, which I think will spill over on the baseball level and benefit us, too. The fact [Baez] said that I do believe is a residue of those meetings.
"It's nothing I've done," Maddon said. "I stay out of their way. This is something they wanted to do among each other."
"That's actually a proud moment," Maddon said. "If the players feel strongly that they're free that they can have these kind of conversastions independent of us to galvanize the culture even further, that's wonderful. In practice, here comes a guy, 'Javy, we don't do that here.' Javy [says] 'You're right, I made a mistake.' What else could you ask for?"
• Albert Almora Jr. had three hits Wednesday night in the leadoff spot, but Ian Happ batted first on Thursday against Pirates' right-hander Trevor Williams.
"[Almora] did really well yesterday, because there were some really good matchups," Maddon said. "Furthermore, he was ill. I really prefer that he feels good. I was worried about pulling muscles, because you get dehydrated."
Almora told Maddon he was good to go one hour before first pitch, but the manager said the outfielder "looked like Gumby or something with the color" in his face.
This early in the season, Maddon is looking for the best matchups and trying to share the at-bats.
"It's April 12. There's a lot of baseball left," Maddon said. "There's a lot of overreacting that occurs at the beginning of the season."
• When Baez hit his first home run Wednesday night in the second inning, the Cubs relievers did their celebratory dance in the bullpen. It was Steve Cishek's first dance.
"I looked around and everyone said, 'Let's go,'" Cishek said.
Cishek got several text messages from friends Thursday morning about his moves.
"I have to work on my footwork," Cishek said. "I have big feet, and I stand out."
• Anthony Rizzo, on the 10-day disabled list because of tightness in his lower back, took some swings off a batting tee on Thursday. He is eligible to come off the DL on Monday.
"It's slow and steady, like a turtle," Rizzo said of his progress.