Zo puts team first, sits, then wins it in 15 anyway

April 29th, 2019

PHOENIX -- There’s an unnamed veteran who asked for hot-hitting to be inserted into the Sunday’s lineup instead of him.

The mystery man will be 38 next month and has known Cubs manager Joe Maddon since the mid-2000s. He’s accomplished the ultimate goal in baseball twice, so doing what’s best for the team was a no-brainer.

“I didn’t reveal whoever said it, but that’s a good try, though,” Maddon said after the Cubs’ 6-5 victory in 15 innings to win the series Sunday. “Somebody came in and we talked about it. I put Bote in the lineup instead of the other guy.”

The other guy -- -- ended up being the game’s hero. The veteran hit a two-run double -- his first extra-base hit of the season -- in the top of the 15th inning, and the timing could not have been better. He also caught Nick Ahmed’s ball at the wall in left field for the final out of the game.

“It was nerve-wracking for a little bit. I thought, ‘Oh, no,’ for just a second there,” Zobrist said. “It looked like it was just going to fall short, but it was right there near there the wall. It was just one of those days.”

Zobrist came into the game with only four hits in his previous 38 at-bats. The veteran entered the game in the bottom of the 11th and had a pair of hits in what was his fifth career multihit game off the bench. On Saturday, Zobrist watched Bote hit a three-run homer and a two-run homer. He later saw that Bote was not in the lineup for Sunday’s matinee.

“It was the right call. It was the right team call,” Zobrist said. “The way we are structuring things now, we are making lineups ahead of time, and after Bote hit two home runs and how good he has looked, you can’t have that guy sitting the day after he looks that good.”

Zobrist’s relationship with Maddon and the manager’s willingness to listen to his players also played a role in Zobrist’s decision to approach his skipper. A fist pound between the manager and the player sealed the deal.

“I just asked him, ‘Hey is there a reason why he’s not going to be in there?” Zobrist said. “Is there a numbers reason? Is there something else that I don’t know about? Because he looks awfully good. I want to win, and we want to win.”

Zobrist, who advanced to third on his double, scored on a sacrifice fly by Kris Bryant to give the Cubs a 6-3 lead. And they needed it, because the D-backs tacked on two runs in the bottom of the 15th to cut the lead to one.

“It wasn’t premeditated,” Zobrist said of his pregame conversation with Maddon. “I would never ask anyone else to do that, and frankly there was a little tension in my competitive heart, but it was the right thing to do and it ended up working out anyway.”

Chatwood comes through

earned the victory after pitching 1 1/3 innings, but it was his right leg, not his right arm, that had his manager concerned during the game. Chatwood set up the game-deciding rally with a one-out double in the top of the 15th and eventually scored the deciding run on Zobrist’s clutch hit.

Cubs personnel checked on Chatwood after he appeared to hurt himself running out his double.

“He had a little thing with his leg,” Maddon said. “He felt something in the groin. Normally, he would have scored on the base hit up the middle [by Albert Almora Jr.]. I went over to third base and he said, ‘No, I’m fine, and I can still pitch.’”

He didn’t return to the mound. Kyle Ryan took over to begin the bottom of the inning, but Chatwood said he was fine after the game.

Quintana mixes it up

Remember when Jose Quintana started Sunday’s game?

Although he’s gone to his changeup 9.9 percent of the time and curveball 25 percent of the time this season, compared to 9 percent and 24.9 percent last season, he’s getting more swings and misses on each pitch than he ever has.

Entering Sunday, he was up to 40 percent swinging strikes on his curve and 43.5 percent on his changeup. Against the D-backs, he generated whiffs on half of the 10 swings against his curve, and on six of the 15 swings against his changeup. He struck out David Peralta looking on a sinker and Ketel Marte swinging on a curve, both in the fourth.

His curveball has been as effective as his fastball in terms of a putaway pitch this season. He gets a strikeout 28.9 percent of the time when he throws the pitch in two-strike counts, the highest percentage of his career. He’s also throwing his sinker almost as often as his four-seam fastball, 30.7 and 34.4 percent, respectively. What’s more, his four-seamer used to account for almost half of his total usage, and now it’s about one-third.

On Sunday, Quintana threw 25 fastballs and 23 curves. He also threw 20 sinkers and 15 changeups.