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4 things we learned from the Chicago Cubs, including Jed Hoyer reiterating his stance not to discuss extension talks

A balanced schedule has created some quirks for the Chicago Cubs.

Their three-game series this week against the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates marks the teams’ first meeting of 2023. Until this point, the Cubs had played only four series versus National League Central teams. With 12 of their remaining 30 series representing division opponents, the Cubs will have chances to chip away at their current fourth-place standing.

The competitiveness, or lack of, within the division — the Pirates are the only team above .500 — could complicate the Cubs’ decisions leading up to the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“It’s probably rare to be at a point where you’d say that about a division in the middle of June where anyone can still win it but no one has pulled away or even pulled away from .500,” President Jed Hoyer said Wednesday. “And I think that’s one of the challenges of evaluating your team is that you’re evaluating where you are in the standings.

“But you’re also evaluating how you’re performing, and some of that is component numbers or some of that is where you are in relation to .500 as well, so all of those things are going to be a factor.”

A 10-6 victory Wednesday night at Wrigley Field sets up the Cubs to go for a sweep of the Pirates with Marcus Stroman on the mound for Thursday’s finale. The Cubs are 1-6 when they can sweep a series.

The Cubs (30-37) used a six-run sixth inning behind three walks and five singles to spark their comeback. Ian Happ provided the go-ahead two-run single while Dansby Swanson tacked on an insurance run with his RBI single to left. The Cubs added three runs in the eighth thanks to Seiya Suzuki’s two-run double and Trey Mancini’s RBI single.

The offense bailed out starter Drew Smyly, who surrendered a season-high three home runs as part of the five runs the Pirates scored in six innings off the lefty.

Public discussion on contract talks remains a nonstarter

Hoyer won’t deviate from his stance of not discussing contract extensions — even when a player shares feelings publicly.

Hoyer again reiterated his philosophy Wednesday in his first comments since Stroman expressed on Twitter and to reporters, including the Tribune, his desire to remain with the Cubs but that the front office had not been willing to engage in extension talks.

“Listen, I love the fact that he wants to be here,” Hoyer said. “And we’ve had conversations about it and I’m not going to disclose what we’ve talked about, but there’s dialogue and we’ll keep that in-house.

“In theory, in-season negotiations are more difficult. You’re getting different data every five days, and it can become more challenging, but I wouldn’t discuss it with this in particular.”

Stroman, 32, can opt out of the final year of his three-year, $71 million contract in which he would earn $21 million in 2024. That figure can increase to $23 million if he reaches 160 innings this season. Through 85⅔ innings and 14 starts, Stroman has been one of the best starts in Major League Baseball, owning a 2.42 ERA and 184 ERA+.

“We don’t talk about negotiations outside of our four walls,” Hoyer said. “We talk to the agents and we talk to the players and in this particular case, he tweeted it out, which I guess that changed the dynamic, but it doesn’t change our stance on it, which is we’re just not going to comment.

“There’s zero benefit for the relationship with them to comment on it and there’s zero benefit from the negotiating stance to comment on it. So we don’t benefit and we’re not going to do it and we’ve done that with every negotiation.”

Cody Bellinger getting reps at first base as he ramps up to rejoin team

When Bellinger comes off the injured list and rejoins the Chicago Cubs, don’t be surprised to see the Gold Glove outfielder get time at a different position.

Bellinger has played first base in his first two rehab games with Triple-A Iowa. He has continued shagging fly balls in center field while at Iowa. He went on the IL on May 16, causing him to miss the last 26 games, including Wednesday’s.

Manager David Ross said before the game that Bellinger is “getting pretty close” to being done with his rehab assignment.

The Cubs have received the second-worst WAR at first base this year (minus-1.9), better than only the Houston Astros.

“We’ve always known he has that skill set,” Hoyer said Wednesday of Bellinger. “Obviously he’s a really good first baseman and in a way it is a little bit of a waste of a really great athlete and great outfielder to put him in first, which is obviously what the Dodgers ended up deciding when they put him out there.

“We’re not doing this because we see him as our first baseman for the rest of the year but more as a way of getting him back in the lineup.”

Hoyer also cited Mike Tauchman’s performance filling in for Bellinger in center field and the quality at-bats they’ve gotten from the lefty. Asked whether the Cubs have any concerns about Bellinger’s knee handling sprints in center field as he continue to build up, Hoyer replied, “I think that’s part of it with easing him back in.”

“If we had significant concerns about his knee, we wouldn’t be bringing him back, so we feel good about where he is and hopefully he’s back real soon.”

Lefty Brandon Hughes, prospect Brennen Davis sidelined

Brandon Hughes’ left knee continues to plague the Cubs reliever.

Hughes went on the 15-day injured list Tuesday with left knee inflammation, an issue that has reoccurred since spring training. This is the third time his left knee has required Hughes, 27, go on the IL this season. Hughes’ knee problem dates to 2015 when he underwent surgery to repair the meniscus; since then, it does not have cartilage, resulting in bone-on-bone friction that creates inflammation.

The Cubs are again reevaluating what they’ve been doing to try to reduce the impact on Hughes’ knee. After coming off the IL on May 12, Hughes wore a bulky brace during the day to limit the stress.

“We’ve tried so hard to continue to get him back out there and pitching, and he’s gone through a lot to do that,” Hoyer said. “There’s been glimpses of the pitcher he was last year for us, but it’s been glimpses, and the rest of the time, he’s been dealing with some real discomfort. So by taking a step back a little bit and thinking about other ways we can attack this, because while he may be able to do it and he’s tough and he wants the ball, I also think he hasn’t been as effective.”

Hughes owns a 7.24 ERA (11 earned runs in 13⅔ innings) in 17 appearances. It’s unclear whether he will need surgery to fix the problem.

“We’re still in that process,” Hoyer said. “But I guess in theory, everything would be on the table, but that’s just to say we don’t know yet.”

Hoyer anticipates the Cubs having news in the new few days on prospect Brennen Davis, who went on the IL at Triple A last week. The organization has been working to get to the bottom of what’s ailing Davis, though Hoyer said it’s not back related. That is at least encouraging news after undergoing back surgery last June that caused him to miss most of the 2022 season.

Davis, 23, posted a .198/.316/.299 slash line in 187 plate appearances at Triple A before his undisclosed ailment. He had tallied only seven doubles and three home runs in 45 games.

“Obviously he hasn’t been impacting the ball the same way he did, the power hasn’t been there,” Hoyer said. “Just trying to get to the bottom of it because we’ve seen him when he’s right and how impactful he can be. It’s not where he is right now.”

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