Gimenez excited to work with Darvish again

Backstop served as right-hander's personal catcher with Rangers

February 14th, 2018

MESA, Ariz. -- was expected to have his first side session on Thursday, and it's not clear whether Chris Gimenez will catch the new Cubs right-hander. Darvish greeted Gimenez with a big hug when the pitcher first arrived in Cubs camp on Tuesday, then poked fun at him.

"He told me to stop texting him every day," Gimenez said Wednesday of Darvish, who was his teammate in Texas. "I was on him for a little bit. I just felt this was a good place for him.

"Again, I had nothing to do with [Darvish signing with the Cubs]," Gimenez said. "He has a lot of reasons to make his decision. I tried to portray the culture I know is here and the relationships I've had in the past with [manager] Joe [Maddon] and [pitching coach] Jim [Hickey] and how I felt he could fit in to that. I felt it was a really good fit for him."

Gimenez, a non-roster invitee, said Darvish has shown more movement and velocity on his pitches since coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2015.

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"We really haven't seen the best Yu Darvish yet," Gimenez said. "He's still evolving as a pitcher, as well. This will be his second full season after Tommy John [surgery]. Physically, he's starting to get in tune with his own body now. The sky's the limit for a guy like that. He's still relatively young. To have his average velocity go up like it did last year, it just shows there's more in the tank.

"He's continuing to evolve as a pitcher and learning how to pitch and attack guys and that's a big part of it, too. I think in the past he might have relied on one or two pitches out of the 15 that he throws. I think he's really evolving in the fact that he has so many weapons and he's using them to different guys now differently than he has in the past. I think there's more room to grow with that, too."

• Darvish was Cubs' primary offseason target

If Darvish has all these different pitches -- and Gimenez was exaggerating when he said 15 -- what's a catcher to do?

"I joked with him the first time when I met him, he told me he had seven pitches and I told him I only had one hand," Gimenez said. "I really didn't know how he wanted to go about it. I said, 'I'll put a [No. 1] down and you throw whichever fastball you want and I'll catch it."

What's made Darvish better is learning that he doesn't have to use his entire arsenal of pitches.

"You do have to pick and chose on a daily basis," Gimenez said. "You have to have a plan of attack and make those adjustments in game. You really try to break it down and use four or five of those pitches and save a few. I think that's something he's learned is that you don't have to throw all eight pitches to every guy you see."

• Outfielder Albert Almora Jr. has heard his name mentioned as a possible leadoff option for the Cubs.

"I'll do whatever they tell me to do," Almora said. "I just put my head down and go play."

He can always ask for advice, which Almora did on Wednesday. Rizzo was 15-for-50 in 14 games batting leadoff last season, including a seven-game stretch when he hit four home runs.

"We were sitting right there and I was like, 'Hey, I may lead off this year, you have to teach me,'" Almora said. "He goes, 'I am the best leadoff hitter in the world.' I said, 'All right, you do it then.'"

• The Cubs have reportedly signed right-handed reliever to a Minor League deal, pending a physical. According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, Simmons would make $750,000 if he makes the Major League roster. Simmons has pitched in the big leagues with the Braves and Mariners, making 42 appearances over three seasons. Last year, he posted a 7.04 ERA in nine games with Seattle.

• Anyone who knows Maddon knows he likes flamingos, and there were two large metal flamingos next to a tree behind the Cubs' Spring Training complex on Wednesday.

"That's Ron and Ernie," Maddon said. "Ernie being the taller of the two."

The birds are named after Hall of Famers Ron Santo and Ernie Banks. Apparently, Maddon saw them near where he parks his RV and wanted to add them to the decor.