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Quintana says he's 'ready' after sharp outing

Lefty strikes out four in six innings, has one more spring tune-up @CarrieMuskat

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Before Thursday's game, Cubs pitcher Jose Quintana and catcher Willson Contreras hugged. It was the first time this spring that the two have been matched up together in a Cactus League game.

"I got a hug before the game," Quintana said. "I said, 'Oh, I miss you buddy.' I said, 'It's good to see you.'"

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Before Thursday's game, Cubs pitcher Jose Quintana and catcher Willson Contreras hugged. It was the first time this spring that the two have been matched up together in a Cactus League game.

"I got a hug before the game," Quintana said. "I said, 'Oh, I miss you buddy.' I said, 'It's good to see you.'"

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The two were together for six innings on Thursday in the Cubs' 4-3 loss to the Giants, and did just fine. Quintana struck out four and scattered seven hits, including a three-run homer by Buster Posey in the third.

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"I feel really good," Quintana said. "I'm ready [for the regular season]. One more left, a little shorter, in Fort Myers [Fla.] and ready to go for the season."

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Quintana will get his last tune-up on Tuesday against the Red Sox.

What's also been a smooth transition this season for the left-hander is learning to understand catching coach Mike Borzello's scouting reports. That took some time for Quintana, who joined the Cubs last July after a trade with the White Sox.

"We're on the same page now," Quintana said. "It's better preparation before the games. I like it -- it's a really good scouting report and it's simple. You can catch everything. Now I understand what he says and try to be on the same page."

Bryant staying disciplined

So far this spring, Kris Bryant has walked nine times and struck out 10 times. Compare that with his 2016 numbers when the Cubs third baseman walked three times and struck out 15 times.

"In spring, you want to get out there and swing, which is not a bad thing because everybody wants to go out and hit right away," Bryant said. "I feel I'm at my best when I'm taking my walks. I think I had two walks last Spring Training. I feel pleased in that area."

Video: CHC@TEX: Bryant skies three-run homer to left-center

Actually, he drew eight walks last year, but it might have felt like two. Manager Joe Maddon has seen the difference this spring in Bryant.

"He's not giving up," Maddon said. "He's not giving up the zone, he's not permitting pitchers to expand him. He knows in the season, if he walks into it with that mindset, his batting average will be much higher just accepting walks. By accepting your walks and forcing guys to throw over the plate, and just being good, all the numbers will be good. He knows that. That's the maturity level I've been talking about."

New hitting coach Chili Davis is encouraging the Cubs to swing at strikes, even in batting practice. Maddon said he saw that when he was with Davis and Rod Carew on the Angels.

"I love that he's getting that point across," Maddon said.

Bryant senses a difference with the Cubs this spring, period.

"Adding new people -- [coach Brian] Butterfield, Chili, [assistant hitting coach Andy Haines], plus guys getting used to themselves and who they are as players and trusting themselves, it all adds to why we're doing so good and why we think we're going to do good," Bryant said. "It's so awesome to see guys just kind of grow into themselves and realize who they are as players."

Team-first approach

The Cubs players have bought into the importance of the team over any individual. In the past, Maddon says a player often will ask about getting more at-bats. No one has done that so far this spring.

"They're so bought into the team concept, I think they think if they came to me to talk about something like that, they'd be going against the team concept," Maddon said. "It's something we've been preaching -- unity situation. I think some of the conversations that guys would normally have with me by now have not occurred. I think they get that we do our best with the right men out there, we do our best to make sure everybody gets their plate appearances."

Video: NLCS Gm3: Strop gets Puig to ground into double play

It's also true of the pitchers as well.

"I don't think about roles," reliever Pedro Strop said Thursday. "It's not a big deal for me. I like to win. If you use me in the fifth or sixth [innings] and this is the way I'm going to help the team win, I'm fine with it. I like to pitch."

Injury updates

Strop, who has been slowed because of a tender left calf, retired the side in the seventh inning on Thursday, his first Cactus League action. Whether the right-hander will be able to go on Opening Day could determine how many relievers the Cubs carry.

"I feel great. No problems at all," Strop said after Thursday's outing. "I felt [I had] good rhythm, good tempo. My secondary pitches were there whenever I wanted, whenever I wanted them for a strike. My fastball was there, my fastball command, my sinker."

What's next? The Cubs were expected to wait and see how Strop felt Friday before deciding when he'll pitch next.

"I don't know what they think," Strop said. "I know they had a little concern about how many outings I was going to get before we leave. I told them it will be enough for me because of how I feel. I don't know what they think now. I feel good."

Camp battle

Maddon said picking the backup catcher will be the toughest decision this spring. Do they go with Victor Caratini, who made his Major League debut last season, and who Maddon says could be a starting catcher on most teams now? Or, do the Cubs add veteran Chris Gimenez, who has had a good spring and is familiar with both Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey?

Video: CLE@CHC: Gimenez plates Caratini on a sacrifice fly

Maddon does have a strong belief in developing players and Caratini might find himself at Triple-A Iowa because of that. The only thing he doesn't have is experience. On Thursday, Caratini followed Contreras and grounded out in his only at-bat. Gimenez had Thursday off.

• Two giant-sized metal pink flamingos have been in the back of the Cubs' complex since Maddon saw them and bought them. He named them Ernie and Ron, after Cubs Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Ron Santo. On Thursday, players and the coaching staff autographed the metal birds' "feathers." Maddon said he was considering auctioning them off. Stay tuned.

Up next

On Friday, Tyler Chatwood makes his final Cactus League start when the Cubs play host to the Brewers at Sloan Park in Mesa for a 3:05 p.m. CT start. Chatwood has looked sharp this spring, striking out 18 over 16 innings in his five previous starts. The game can be heard on Gameday Audio.

The Cubs play their final game of 2018 at Sloan Park on Saturday night, when they play host to the Rockies and Mike Montgomery will get the start. It's half of split-squad games as the Cubs will also send a team to Peoria to play the Mariners on Saturday night. Eddie Butler will start against the Mariners.

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

Chicago Cubs, Jose Quintana