CHICAGO -- Cubs manager David Ross is exploring ways to get the energy level up without fans in the stands at Wrigley Field. One idea that he has started testing this week has been pumping crowd noise through the ballpark's speaker system during intrasquad games.
That began with Tuesday's three-inning scrimmage at the Friendly Confines. Batters had walk-up music played before their at-bats, closer Craig Kimbrel's entrance music blared as he warmed up and shortstop Javier Báez even had "Javy! Javy!" chants played while he was in the batter's box.
"I just wanted some energy," Ross explained in a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday. "Walk-up songs, the Javy chants they played yesterday. And I think the scoreboard crew, they're working through what it might look like for them.
Players also had their names announced as they walked to the plate, and the ballpark staff worked in a few other in-game elements, including having the old scoreboard in center field operational for balls and strikes. At one point, there was even a between-innings birthday announcement for bench coach Andy Green, as players and staff cheered and clapped on the field.
"I think that it's more just to put us in that mindset of what it's going to be like this year," Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber said. "It's a little different, but at the same time, you're still getting that adrenaline rush. ... In terms of the noise, I don't know. For me, personally, it doesn't affect me. I think when we're all in the box, and you can ask any player, we're all locked in on what we're trying to do."
Before home games at Wrigley Field, Schwarber has typically jogged out to his position in left field and offered a pregame salute to the fans in the bleacher seats. With the seats empty this season, Schwarber may have to look beyond the ballpark's walls and tip his cap to the fans on the Wrigleyville rooftops.
"I'm going to have to launch some balls up to the rooftops," Schwarber quipped. "And give them the good little shimmy dance out there."
Kimbrel pleased with first camp outing
Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel was not worried about the two-run homer he surrendered to Willson Contreras in Tuesday's intrasquad game. Given how long it had been since Kimbrel faced a hitter, his primary goal in his one-inning Summer Camp appearance was to find the strike zone.
"I felt pretty good about [Tuesday's inning]," Kimbrel said on Wednesday. "I was just trying to throw the ball over the plate. I mean, that's the first time I've had guys in the box taking swings off me in the last three months, so to be able to get out there and throw the ball over the plate and get some pretty good feedback, it was a good day."
To that end, Kimbrel fired 15 of his 19 pitches for strikes, ending with two strikeouts, one groundout and two runs allowed on a pair of hits (a leadoff single by Kris Bryant and the Contreras blast).
Kimbrel was able to stay on a weight-lifting program and get throwing in at his home during baseball's shutdown period, while self-isolating with his family on their farm in Tennessee. The closer had initial concerns about returning to play, but he said those thoughts have been calmed since seeing how the Cubs have run camp.
"I think with some of the protocols put into place," Kimbrel said, "the way that we're going to be tested, and just from what I see, the seriousness in our clubhouse ... that in itself makes things a little more comforting being here."
Morrow released by Cubs
Right-hander Brandon Morrow, who was re-signed in December as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, has been released by the Cubs. Morrow, 35, posted a 1.47 ERA in 35 games for Chicago in 2018 before a variety of injuries derailed his time with the ballclub. The right-hander missed all of 2019 due to health woes, endured another round of injury setbacks in February prior to this season and was not included in the Cubs' 60-player pool.
"He unfortunately has had a number of issues that he's been dealing with," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said at the start of Summer Camp. "And we didn't see that there's a realistic scenario where he would contribute this year. We certainly wish him the best going forward, in and out of baseball."
• The Cubs have added utility man Hernán Pérez to their 60-man player pool, giving Chicago 51 players. Pérez was in camp with the Cubs during Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, and he offers depth all around the infield. He has spent parts of eight years in the Majors with the Tigers and Brewers.
"[We were] just trying to see how things shape out here, what we needed," Ross said. "It just felt like we needed him here. And as we looked at things, where we were short maybe a position player, he fit right into a multifaceted skill set that we need here, and it's nice to have his energy around. It's good to see him back."
• Veteran lefty Jon Lester worked two simulated innings against live hitters on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. Lester was on a conservative throwing program over the past three months, and Ross noted that Wednesday's session was his first multi-inning workout since Spring Training.
"To get up and down is new for him. Being out of the stretch is a little new," Ross said. "As we ramp this thing up and get him in live competitions, all that stuff will fall in place. He's a professional. He's been doing it a long time. I was definitely encouraged by that first inning that he threw."
• Ross said that first baseman Anthony Rizzo remains day to day with lower-back tightness, which is an issue that has popped up at times in recent seasons. The manager said the Cubs are just "getting ahead of it" while it's still early in Summer Camp.
• Lefty reliever Kyle Ryan had been in a "process-based delay" in getting to Summer Camp, but Ross noted that the pitcher is scheduled to land in Chicago on Thursday. Ryan will need to go through the intake testing process before being cleared to join the team's workouts.
"Maybe we'll do something with our feet. I don't think there's anything about hitting each other's feet, so if we're not doing high-fives, maybe we're doing foot taps or something." -- Kimbrel, on not being able to do traditional celebrations due to the COVID-19 protocols
Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.