Quick Hits: Epstein, Cubs, Hunter, Straily, Japan

After a 1-6 start to the Cubs’ season, Chicago fans are already pointing fingers in many directions, including criticism of ownership for not greenlighting more offseason spending, or of the team’s desultory pitching performance.  President of baseball operations Theo Epstein, however, told ESPN.com’s Jesse Rogers and other reporters that the blame falls with him.  “There is always a search for scapegoats when you get off to a tough start.  [Pitching coach] Tommy Hottovy is not the problem. He’s a big part of the solution,” Epstein said.  “[Owner] Tom Ricketts is not the problem. It’s not a resource issue. I know he’s another one that’s been taking a lot of heat. It’s not a resource problem. If people have a problem with the allocation of resources, then that’s on me. And it has been ever since I got here, with a lot of good and some bad.”

While it’s obviously still early in the season, the Cubs are already facing a big deficit in the NL Central due to the Brewers’ 7-1 start, as Rogers notes.  The Cubs can make up some of that ground in their ongoing series with Milwaukee, plus there’s also really nowhere to go but up after this opening week.  “It’s been real close to, if not, a worst-case scenario for us, defensively and in terms of our pitching….We’re sorry we’re putting our fans through this,” Epstein said.

Some more from around the National League…

  • Phillies reliever Tommy Hunter has been shut down from throwing after receiving a PRP injection in his right arm.  (MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki was among those to report the news.)  Hunter won’t resume throwing for three weeks, so factoring in those days plus the time Hunter would require to get into game readiness after missing much of Spring Training, the veteran righty might not be back in the Philadelphia bullpen until late May or perhaps early June.  A flexor strain sidelined Hunter during the spring, and while the injury wasn’t thought to be overly serious at the time, it will result in a lengthy absence for the 32-year-old.  Hunter was a solid contributor for the Phils last season, posting a 3.80 ERA, 3.40 K/BB rate, and 7.2 K/9 over 64 relief innings in the first year of a two-year, $18MM contract.
  • The Rangers and Blue Jays were two of the teams that had interest in Dan Straily before the right-hander signed with the Orioles last week, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link).  Both Texas and Toronto are dealing with rotation injuries, though the Rangers had a more immediate need for starting help now that Edinson Volquez has been sidelined with a UCL injury.
  • Japan used to be seen as something of a last resort for players that couldn’t crack the Major Leagues, though as The Athletic’s Peter Gammons writes (subscription required), more and more players are returning from stints in Nippon Professional Baseball capable of thriving at the MLB level.  Colby Lewis, Ryan Vogelsong, Miles Mikolas, and Ryan Brasier are some of the pitchers who revived or kickstarted their careers while playing in Japan, which some players and executives feel is a more conducive environment than Triple-A.  NPB not only offers a higher level of competition, but just competition in general — players are playing to win in pressurized games in front of large crowds, rather than the more developmental nature of the minor leagues.  Plus, players can earn much more in guaranteed NPB deals than in playing for meager minor league salaries or even minimum-level Major League contracts, and the extra security allows more focus on performance.  “I’m not looking over my shoulder after every outing,” said Frank Herrmann, who is in his third season as a star reliever for Rakuten Golden Eagles after tossing 135 1/3 innings for the Indians and Phillies between 2010-16.  “When you are that ’4A guy,’ a bad outing or even an extra-inning game in which you did your job could potentially be a demotion to the minors. That’s a grind mentality.”

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