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Maddon keeping close eye on relievers' use

Extra-innings games, short outings from starters taxing bullpen early
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

MIAMI -- One statistic manager Joe Maddon keeps an eye on is relievers' appearances. He doesn't want his pitchers to be leading the league in that category because it usually leads to over-use. However, back-to-back extra-inning games and short outings by the starters can create a mess, and the Cubs relievers entered Sunday lead the National League in innings pitched.

"I don't remember ever having to do this -- of course, not in the American League," Maddon said of all the early relief work. "This is truly end-of-the-season, September kind of stuff, playoff kind of stuff in the first three games. Give the Marlins a lot of credit. They've been real scrappy about it and they've pitched well. They've made it hard for us. Our bullpen has risen to the occasion, and our bullpen has been the superstar of this whole series."

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MIAMI -- One statistic manager Joe Maddon keeps an eye on is relievers' appearances. He doesn't want his pitchers to be leading the league in that category because it usually leads to over-use. However, back-to-back extra-inning games and short outings by the starters can create a mess, and the Cubs relievers entered Sunday lead the National League in innings pitched.

"I don't remember ever having to do this -- of course, not in the American League," Maddon said of all the early relief work. "This is truly end-of-the-season, September kind of stuff, playoff kind of stuff in the first three games. Give the Marlins a lot of credit. They've been real scrappy about it and they've pitched well. They've made it hard for us. Our bullpen has risen to the occasion, and our bullpen has been the superstar of this whole series."

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Usually it takes Maddon one month to figure out his bullpen -- how much he can push each pitcher, how much time off they need.

"Having forced them to get out like this so often -- [Mike] Montgomery went three days in a row, and I would never do that this early," Maddon said. "He's thrown the ball great. As we get back into more civilized roles, he can go three days in a row. He has that in the back of his head."

Video: CHC@MIA: Butler throws seven strong innings in relief

Jon Lester lasted 3 1/3 innings on Opening Day on Thursday, and Yu Darvish went 4 1/3 innings on Saturday. So far, Cubs relievers have totaled 22 innings in three games.

"They've all proven their mettle already," Maddon said.

Addison Russell has drawn four walks in the first three games, and that's just what Maddon is looking for, and not just from the shortstop.

"I cannot emphasize that enough with all of our guys," Maddon said. "When you're walking, you're hitting. When you expand your strike zone, pitchers don't have to throw you strikes. When you have an organized strike zone and you're in control, you can do some damage."

In the 10th inning on Saturday, Russell drew a walk against the Marlins' Brad Ziegler, taking a tough slider.

"That told me everything," Maddon said.

Video: CHC@MIA: Russell's diving catch ends the 6th inning

• All the hard work Kyle Schwarber did this offseason to not only lose weight but improve his approach at the plate is paying off. He belted his second home run in three games on Saturday; last year, he had two home runs in his first 13 games.

"Eddie Rodriguez, one of my coaches with the Angels, used to say, 'If you can't believe hard work will pay off, what can you believe in?'" Maddon said. "When a guy does what [Schwarber] did, you've got to believe there's going to be a positive at the end of that. You've got to be rewarded by the amount of hay you put in the barn. Good for him."

But it's not just Schwarber's 20-plus pound weight loss that's changed, it's what he's doing in the batter's box.

"I think part of it is the calm approach at the plate," Maddon said. "He's not jumpy. He's very confident now. You can see there's no lack of strength or power by losing a couple pounds. He's probably stronger than he was. Give him credit. The way he's going about it, there's no reason to not believe he can sustain this."

Video: CHC@MIA: Statcast™ measures Schwarber's fastest double

• When Dexter Fowler led off for the Cubs, Maddon would tell him, "You go, we go," before every at-bat. Maddon's message to Schwarber when he batted leadoff last season was X-rated. Does Maddon have a message for Ian Happ before he steps into the batter's box?

"Not yet," Maddon said.

He's working on it.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

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