Cubs’ Julian Merryweather gets comfortable with new slider — and Leury García’s hustle impresses White Sox manager Pedro Grifol – The Denver Post
Crunch time is approaching with about two weeks left on the Cactus League schedule.
Coming off Monday’s day off, Cubs manager David Ross said his conversations with the front office haven’t become too serious yet as roster decisions loom. But his messaging to the team is taking on a different tone.
“We’ve talked to a couple guys already that the bats will get a little more focused, signs will start to be put on and start to implement a lot of that stuff fundamentally,” Ross said before Tuesday’s night game against the Colorado Rockies.
White Sox pitcher Dylan Cease bounced back Tuesday against the Oakland Athletics at Camelback Ranch. The right-hander allowed one earned run on three hits and struck out four in 3⅓ innings of a 5-4 Sox victory.
Cease allowed 11 earned runs in two-thirds of an inning in his previous start March 8 against the Kansas City Royals.
“Definitely very much a positive step in the right direction,” Cease said.
Chicago Tribune baseball writers LaMond Pope and Meghan Montemurro will be providing Cubs and White Sox updates throughout spring training.
Julian Merryweather hopes to slide into bullpen spot
Count right-hander Julian Merryweather in the sweeping slider club among the Cubs pitchers.
Merryweather has added the pitch to his repertoire after the Cubs claimed him off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays in January. He considers it a work in progress and was unsure he wanted to learn a new grip for his slider, which he heavily relies on. Merryweather’s slider accounted for 34% of his pitches last season.
“I was a little hesitant, like, is this going to be enough time for me to work on it?” Merryweather told the Tribune. “And the more I feel like I’ve trusted it and thrown it in games, the more comfortable you get. So that’s probably the biggest takeaway from the change. So far it’s felt good, better each time I go out.
“There’s not going to be a magical grip that’s going to work better than the other ones. It’s just about how comfortable you are throwing it.”
Merryweather, 31, was limited to 41 games last year in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, including 26 in the majors. An oblique injury set him back, and he dealt with a knee issue near the end of the season.
He’s glad he hasn’t needed to worry about how his body has felt this spring, allowing him to focus on pitching and securing a bullpen job. He knows he needs more than his upper 90s velocity to be effective.
“It’s hard to lean on velocity even in the big-league level,” Merryweather said. “Baseball is now at the point where every team is going to have a handful of guys that are in the upper echelon velocity-wise. You need that secondary pitch, which is a main focus for me.”
He hadn’t allowed an earned run in three innings this spring entering Tuesday while recording four strikeouts and one walk.
“Julian’s done a nice job of coming in and continuing to work on developing some other weapons and also stay true to who he is,” manager David Ross said. “When he’s healthy, he’s a pretty darn good pitcher and he’s got real electric stuff. Very much a veteran presence to him on the mound. Really pleased so far.”
Pedro Grifol likes Michael Kopech’s progress
Sox starter Michael Kopech worked first from the windup and then the stretch Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels.
Manager Pedro Grifol liked what he saw in both cases.
“Just a great outing for him,” Grifol said Tuesday morning. “He took what he did in the back field and took it straight to the main field, which was great.”
Kopech retired all nine batters he faced, recording one strikeout. He went from the windup for the first eight outs and then switched to the stretch.
“That third up was critical,” Grifol said. “We needed him to get a third up (and) he was able to finish it. We talked about getting him out there before that third inning and then if he runs out of pitches, he runs out of pitches.
“He was able to finish and he still had extra. He threw a little bit in the bullpen. I was really pleased with what he’s doing.”
Leury García ‘busting his butt’ this spring
Sox utility player Leury García hit a pop-up to shallow center Sunday. He took off, and when the ball landed between three Angels, García was at second with a hustle double.
“I love seeing that kind of stuff,” Grifol said Tuesday. “That’s the kind of baseball that we want to play here. Just pressure, pressure, pressure. He’s doing a nice job. He’s competing for a job.”
Grifol thought García put together some good at-bats Sunday, going 1-for-2 with a walk.
“Busted his butt on that ball that dropped,” Grifol said. “Mental mistake after that (getting doubled up on a liner to center), but I was happy with the way he went about that fly that ended up dropping and he ended up at second base.”
García is looking to bounce back after slashing .210/.233/.267 in 97 games last season. He was slowed by a lower back strain that led to a stint on the injured list in late August.
“Last year was kind of up and down, kind of a weird year,” García told the Tribune last week. “It’s a long season and a lot of things can happen. This year I came into spring training healthy with a lot of work in the offseason.”
García was 4-for-23 (.174) this spring entering Tuesday’s game. He doubled in his first at-bat.
García started Tuesday in center. He has played all three outfield spots and second, third and shortstop this spring.
“He’s busting his butt,” Grifol said. “Everything I’ve asked him to do, he’s doing. And he’s playing with an edge and we’ll see how it goes.”
World Baseball Classic news
- Cubs prospect Owen Caissie continues to impress for Team Canada. He delivered a two-out RBI single in a 5-0 win Tuesday against Colombia. Minor-leaguer Jared Young also recorded a hit and a run in the victory.
- Sox starter Lance Lynn struck out two of the three batters in the first inning, setting a tone for Team USA’s 12-1 victory against Canada in a seven-inning Pool C game Monday in Phoenix.
Lynn allowed one run on two hits with six strikeouts in five innings.
“What Lance did was huge,” Team USA manager Mark DeRosa said.
Lynn helped the team rebound after losing to Mexico on Sunday.
“You knew you had to come out with some energy,” Lynn said. “And I knew if I had to do it early on and let the kids get back in the dugout with the ability to take the lead, we had a good chance. And they put some runs up real quick (nine in the first), and we were able to go after that.”
Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, playing second base, went 2-for-3 with one walk, one RBI, one stolen base and two runs.
- Sox reliever José Ruiz struck out two in two innings in Venezuela’s 4-1 win against Nicaragua in a Pool D game in Miami.
- Cubs at Reds, 8:05 p.m., Marquee
- White Sox at Giants, 3:05 p.m.
What we’re reading this morning
“You know that your team needs you. You know you’ve got to show up. You know you’ve got to go deep. And it worked out.” — Lance Lynn on his Team USA start Monday