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Hancock gets 'boost of confidence' from Maddon

Righty 'honored' to be with Cubs after being acquired last year
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

MESA, Ariz. -- With Justin Grimm's release, there will be an opening in the Cubs bullpen. One pitcher who has gotten manager Joe Maddon's attention is Justin Hancock. The right-hander was walking by Maddon's office recently when the manager called him in. Maddon told the pitcher that he had the best arm he's never heard of.

"It caught me off guard," Hancock said, smiling. "It was a boost of confidence, especially coming from him."

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MESA, Ariz. -- With Justin Grimm's release, there will be an opening in the Cubs bullpen. One pitcher who has gotten manager Joe Maddon's attention is Justin Hancock. The right-hander was walking by Maddon's office recently when the manager called him in. Maddon told the pitcher that he had the best arm he's never heard of.

"It caught me off guard," Hancock said, smiling. "It was a boost of confidence, especially coming from him."

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The Cubs acquired Hancock, 27, from the Padres in the Matt Szczur trade last May. The right-hander has spent seven seasons in the Minor Leagues. After the deal, he reported to Triple-A Iowa and posted a 4.50 ERA in 17 games in relief.

A ninth-round pick in 2011 by the Padres, Hancock attended Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. Raise your hand if you've heard of the school.

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"[Pitching coach Jim] Hickey said the same thing -- he said, 'Where's Lincoln Trail at?'" Hancock said. "You've heard of Terre Haute [Ind.]? It's like an hour west of there in Robinson, Ill.

"There's a Walmart and McDonalds there," he said of Robinson. "That's all the fun we could have. It was baseball and school there. I was happy with it."

He's thrilled at getting an opportunity with the Cubs.

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"There's a lot of guys in here who can sling it pretty good," Hancock said. "I'm honored to be here."

• The Cubs will play the regular-season opener in two weeks on March 29 in Miami. What does Maddon want to see between now and then?

"Guys stay healthy," Maddon said. "Guys like the pitchers are trying a couple different things that we've been talking about that we think can be beneficial. There still might be some competition in certain spots, primarily in the bullpen. You're just trying to bear down on that. I'm not so much a performance-oriented coach or manager in Spring Training. When it comes down to the last dude or two, you might look at that more closely."

Hendricks, Bryant meet with Clark

Kyle Hendricks tuned up for the season on Thursday with what he called his "most normal game" so far this spring, striking out seven over six innings in a 3-2 loss to the Diamondbacks.

It was part of a busy day for Hendricks. Cubs players also had their annual spring get-together with MLB Players Association director Tony Clark. Kris Bryant, 26, is the Cubs' player representative and Hendricks, 28, is an assistant.

Often, a veteran player is a rep, but Hendricks said he and Bryant want to be involved. Hendricks will be a free agent in 2021; Bryant in 2022.

Video: CWS@CHC: Hendricks fans Abreu to end top of the 1st

"It's going to affect us more," Hendricks said. "These veteran guys have been around longer and know more. I do think it's a good thing [to have younger players as reps].

"I would say more attention is being paid overall," Hendricks said of the players' involvement. "It's being talked about more. At least all the players are aware of things. I would say a few years ago, guys would never talk about this kind of stuff."

Injury updates

Second baseman Javier Baez, sidelined since March 8 because of a sore left hamstring, was expected back in the Cubs lineup Saturday and Sunday. Baez, who underwent an MRI, blamed the problem on dehydration.

Reliever Pedro Strop, who has been slowed because of a tender left calf, threw a bullpen this week and needs to have a live batting practice session before he gets into a game. Strop's comeback was slowed when he became ill.

Lefty reliever Justin Wilson has been dealing with a blister, but was able to pitch one inning on Wednesday against the Royals.

• Cubs third base coach Brian Butterfield had a new jersey on Thursday. On the back, it said, "Mantequilla," which is Spanish for butter.

 

Camp battle

The Cubs are deciding who will back up catcher Willson Contreras, and on Thursday, Victor Caratini was behind the plate to catch Hendricks. The decision will come down to whether the Cubs want Caratini to play every day at Triple-A Iowa or prefer a veteran in Chris Gimenez.

Up next

Yu Darvish will make his third spring start on Friday when the Cubs travel to Glendale, Ariz., to face the White Sox. The game can be seen on MLB.TV and MLB Network or heard on an exclusive audio webcast. So far, Darvish has given up three earned runs over 5 1/3 innings while striking out nine.

Looking ahead, the Cubs will play split-squad games this weekend. On Saturday, Jose Quintana will start in Las Vegas while Eddie Butler starts in Mesa against a split-squad Indians team. On Sunday, Tyler Chatwood will start in Mesa against the Royals, and Rob Zastryzny will face the Indians in Las Vegas.

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

Chicago Cubs, Justin Hancock