Kintzler eyes return to grounder-heavy attack

Bote to start as backup SS; Maddon hopes Happ features all over diamond

February 17th, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- believes his struggles in the second half with the Cubs last season were due to a classic case of information overload. After being traded to Chicago, the former closer felt he became too reliant on pitching to scouting reports rather than sticking with his strengths.

That was part of the discussion he had with manager Joe Maddon at the start of this spring.

"He just said, 'I believe in what you can do. You're a ground-ball machine,'" Kintzler said. " They just said, 'We want to get back to what you do best, and that's just powering your sinker in there. No more thought process about any scouting reports or analytics. Let's just stick to what you do best.'"

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That was a well-received message for the 34-year-old Kintzler, who was shipped to the Cubs by the Nationals prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline last summer. Over the final two months of the season, the right-hander posted a 7.00 ERA in 18 innings with Chicago. That came after Kintzler turned in a 3.59 ERA over 42 2/3 innings with Washington.

Overall, Kintzler's ground-ball rate dropped to 49.7 percent in 2018, marking the first time in his career it dipped below 50 percent. It is worth noting, however, that his grounder rate was 53 percent with the Cubs last year, compared to 48 percent with the Nationals. The real difference came in the walk rate (4.5 per nine innings with Chicago) and damage done on homers (14.3 percent homer-to-fly-ball rate in the second half).

In terms of his pitch use, Kintzler did see an increase in sliders after joining the Cubs.

"When you come to a new team and you're trying to just fit in and see what they do and stuff," Kintzler said, "you kind of get away from everything and try to do what they think you should do, or what a scouting report does. I've never actually been a huge scouting report guy. I've always just been a 'let's just see what happens' kind of guy."

Kintzler will gladly go back to that approach this spring in an effort to earn a place in Maddon's Opening Day bullpen.

"I thought it was a very good meeting with Joe," Kintzler said. "Who knows what it could lead to? But, I definitely know he's going to want me for double plays."

Bote bouncing around

The Cubs know that can handle second and third base fine defensively, but they plan on getting him plenty of action at shortstop this spring, too. Without a true backup shortstop, that role will fall to Bote while is finishing his suspension in April and is handling the position.

"Shortstop's the biggest challenge for [Bote]," said third-base coach Brian Butterfield, who doubles as the team's infield instructor. "In our meetings, everybody's agreed that that's where he's got to get an awful lot of work during Spring Training just in case something was to happen physically or we needed to give Javy a breather. So he's going to get a lot of reps there off a fungo bat, and I'm sure he's going to get a lot of reps in the game.

"But, you know what? He's a really good athlete. He's a sneaky athletic guy who's going to work really hard to try to master something in this game. That's why he's going to be around for a while."

Happ wants in

Over the offseason, made it known to Maddon that he wants to be in the mix for innings at second base. While Baez is at short, the Cubs will have options for second in , , Bote and Happ. Maddon plans on giving Happ time at second throughout Spring Training, but the skipper will continue to work him into the mix at a variety of other infield and outfield spots.

"He made it clear to me that he wants to be considered to play second base," Maddon said. "He's still into the outfield. He still likes going over to third base. Also, we'll probably put a first-base glove on him, too. He's looking to get in the lineup. He wants for me and us to know that he'll do whatever it takes to get in the lineup."

Worth noting

• When the Cubs hold their first official full-squad workout on Monday, Maddon believes the players on the practice fields will represent the options for the Opening Day roster. The manager said he does not expect there to be any major additions this spring.

"That doesn't mean it's not going to happen -- I'm not saying that," Maddon said. "But we have not been talking about that a whole lot. ... In my mind's eye, it's going to happen that way, that what you see tomorrow is going to be the group that we're going to choose from."

• The Cubs began live batting practice sessions during Sunday morning's workout. Catcher was among the hitters taking cuts against a handful of non-roster and Minor League arms. Miguel Amaya, deemed the organization's No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, did some of the catching.

• Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts will be in camp on Monday to address the team and to hold court with the media.