PHILADELPHIA — Wins always brighten the mood in the clubhouse.
Chicago Cubs manager David Ross joked that catcher Yan Gomes will get all the starts of the day after hitting two home runs in Sunday afternoon’s 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. The home runs were Gomes’ first since June 13.
“If the performances continue like this, I’ll be taking them all day,” a smiling Gomes said of Ross’s statement.
The Cubs (38-57) clinched their first series sweep of the season. It also represented his first three-game sweep of the Phillies in Philadelphia from July 25-27, 2000 at Veterans Stadium.
Before the Cubs play seven of their next nine games on the road, here are three thoughts on the team.
A right shoulder strain landed Hendricks on the disabled list on July 6 with the expectation that he would be weeks before it re-launched.
The Cubs initially provided a murky timeline, trusting how the right-hander’s shoulder feels going forward. Hendricks will be re-examined Monday when the team returns to Chicago to see how his shoulder is progressing, pitching coach Tommy Hottovy told the Tribune.
Hendricks told the Tribune on Sunday that he is not yet completely asymptomatic and is still experiencing some sharpness in two positional moves. However, Hendricks said his shoulder is much better than it was when he was on the disabled list. He has started a strength program and is “absolutely” optimistic that he will pitch again this season.
“You know your arm, what it must feel like to throw a baseball and be able to do that,” Hendricks said. “So when I wake up in the morning, you know where you are. But at least there is always progress. There have been no setbacks, so that’s positive for me. I just have to focus on keeping it simple, focus on the job I’m doing right now and not try to get ahead of myself.”
Following the Cubs’ brief two-game home series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Hendricks will travel with the team for their seven-game trip to San Francisco and St. Louis. The hope is that he can throw some kind of pitch during that trip.
“Once I’m symptom-free, I can really start putting on weight and things like that, and that shouldn’t take too long in that phase, and then consider lifting a baseball,” Hendricks said. “But at least we’re on track right now and getting out of the bad part.”
Hottovy believes Hendricks will be back before the season is out, in either one or five starts.
“There’s a comfort to knowing you’re healthy at the end of the year than not pitching and saying, ‘Okay, I think I’m going to be good,’ and then you start to get better and it’s just not the same. Hottovy said. “So I think it’s important to get to a point where at the end of the year he’s competing and can prove himself.”
Even veterans like Hendricks want to build confidence heading into the offseason. With more than two months remaining in the regular season, there’s still time for Hendricks to get his shoulder back in shape.
Smyly doesn’t wonder if he’s making his last starts as a Cub even as the trade deadline approaches.
The lefty pitched well Sunday in his third start since the IL. He had a perfect game until the double with two outs from Bryson Stott in the fifth that center fielder Christopher Morel nearly caught with a stellar effort. Smyly resolved Gomes’ error on a foul fly, and David Bote missed a fly ball in the sun for an infield hit. Smyly limited the Phillies to one earned run over six walkless innings and four strikeouts.
Smyly relied on a two-shot combination of sinkers and curveballs due to an ineffective cutter. That might not work for some starters, let alone go six innings while keeping the opposing lineup in check, but this is what can make Smyly so effective.
“The biggest thing with him is he just moves the pitches pretty well,” Gomes said. “He’ll be in and out of guys and going to his curveball any minute. … he has one of the funnest curveballs in the game, and he can throw it at any time.”
Starting pitchers are coveted at the trade deadline, and Smyly’s experience and veteran reliability when healthy (3.93 ERA in 12 starts) make him attractive to contenders. The 33-year-old has been traded three times in his nine years and enjoys a Cubs clubhouse that has a good mix of veterans and younger players.
“I love being here, I love being a Cub,” Smyly said. “It’s a really fun organization to be a part of. Home games are amazing. The club house is awesome. I mean, we haven’t had the best start, obviously our record isn’t where we want to be. But showing up every day, everyone has a smile on their face and being at many different clubs really soaks you in as a player, knowing that you look forward to going out on the pitch every day.
“There are winning teams that don’t have that vibe, so the Cubs have that going for them. … I’ve been on a lot of teams and it’s not always (like this). Help when you win. It’s fun when you win, but it also matters who’s in the clubhouse and the personalities that get together. That matters a lot.”
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Velazquez started just once during the Cubs’ three-game sweep at Citizens Bank Park, but the 23-year-old outfielder left the field with more career home runs than when he arrived in Philadelphia.
Velazquez hit two homers off the bench in Friday’s blowout win and then hit a fourth-inning solo shot Sunday off Phillies left-hander Bailey Falter that stood as the winning run. He is the only Cubs player this season to hit three home runs in a series of three games or less.
Velazquez is building a case for more playing time after the Aug. 2 trade deadline, when the Cubs potentially have more at-bats available.
Velazquez doesn’t seem fazed by the irregular playing time and credits his ability to stay mentally strong, have fun and not stress about things out of his control.
Since being called up on June 20, Velazquez has started just 14 games. While his batting average (.246) and on-base percentage (.307) could improve, he has shown that he can hit for power (.536 slugging percentage). Of his 15 hits since he was recalled, nine have gone for extra-base hits.
Velazquez can play center field, and his speed adds another dynamic element to his game. Ross said over the weekend that Velazquez and Seiya Suzuki are the fastest running backs on the Cubs.
“I’m really seeing the ball well,” Velazquez told the Tribune. “I’m trying to stay more in my focus of where I can do some damage and get locked up. I really want to have a chance to get ahead and I really feel much better than I did a couple of weeks ago. That’s something I’m really proud of.”