David Ross looking to manage Chicago Cubs back into playoffs

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs players attend baseball practice at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Friday, July 10, 2020.

    Chicago Cubs players attend baseball practice at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Friday, July 10, 2020. Associated Press

  • Chicago Cubs players practice at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Friday, July 10, 2020.

    Chicago Cubs players practice at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Friday, July 10, 2020. Associated Press

  • Chicago Cubs' Jason Kipnis hits a single during an intra-squad baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Friday, July 10, 2020.

    Chicago Cubs' Jason Kipnis hits a single during an intra-squad baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Friday, July 10, 2020. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this March 6, 2020, file photo, Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester pitches in the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Chicago White Sox in Mesa, Ariz. Lester begins his sixth season with the Cubs with a new manager: his old catcher, David Ross. Lester and Ross helped the Cubs win the World Series in 2016. Lester says Ross prepped for his new job during his playing career, and his energy is contagious.

    FILE - In this March 6, 2020, file photo, Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester pitches in the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Chicago White Sox in Mesa, Ariz. Lester begins his sixth season with the Cubs with a new manager: his old catcher, David Ross. Lester and Ross helped the Cubs win the World Series in 2016. Lester says Ross prepped for his new job during his playing career, and his energy is contagious. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Friday, July 3, 2020, file photo, Chicago Cubs manager David Ross gestures during baseball practice at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Ross was already stepping into some big shoes when he agreed to replace Joe Maddon as manager of the Cubs. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now Ross is a first-year skipper trying to guide his team through a brand new experience full of testing and protocols and an unforgiving 60-game season. How well he navigates the unprecedented situation is an important slice of the Cubs' hopes for returning to the playoffs.

    FILE - In this Friday, July 3, 2020, file photo, Chicago Cubs manager David Ross gestures during baseball practice at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Ross was already stepping into some big shoes when he agreed to replace Joe Maddon as manager of the Cubs. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now Ross is a first-year skipper trying to guide his team through a brand new experience full of testing and protocols and an unforgiving 60-game season. How well he navigates the unprecedented situation is an important slice of the Cubs' hopes for returning to the playoffs. Associated Press

  • Chicago Cubs centerfield Albert Almora Jr., throws during an intra-squad baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Friday, July 10, 2020.

    Chicago Cubs centerfield Albert Almora Jr., throws during an intra-squad baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Friday, July 10, 2020. Associated Press

  • Chicago Cubs pitcher Alec Mills throws a ball during baseball practice at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Friday, July 10, 2020.

    Chicago Cubs pitcher Alec Mills throws a ball during baseball practice at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Friday, July 10, 2020. Associated Press

  • Chicago Cubs pitcher Alec Mills, left, talks with catcher Willson Contreras as they walk to the dugout during baseball practice at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Friday, July 10, 2020.

    Chicago Cubs pitcher Alec Mills, left, talks with catcher Willson Contreras as they walk to the dugout during baseball practice at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Friday, July 10, 2020. Associated Press

  • Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer talks on the phone as he watches players during the baseball team's practice at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Wednesday, July 8, 2020.

    Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer talks on the phone as he watches players during the baseball team's practice at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 7/14/2020 10:57 AM

CHICAGO -- David Ross was already stepping into some big shoes when he agreed to replace Joe Maddon as manager of the Chicago Cubs.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

 

Now Ross is a first-year skipper trying to guide his team through a brand new experience full of testing and protocols and an unforgiving 60-game season. How well he navigates the unprecedented situation is an important slice of the Cubs' hopes for returning to the playoffs.

'If we can stay focused on coming to work every day, grinding at-bats, executing pitches, playing great defense, supporting one another, rooting each other on, we'll look up at the end and I think good things will happen,' Ross said.

While Ross has never managed before, he is surrounded by familiar faces. He was teammates with several of his players on the Cubs' 2016 championship team. He was a special assistant in the Cubs' front office for three seasons before he moved into the dugout in October.

Ross, 43, also has an experienced bench coach in Andy Green, a former big league infielder who managed San Diego for almost four years.

'Being a catcher for so long, he pretty much managed the games that he was in and even managed on the bench a little bit when he was there,' said left-hander Jon Lester, who is close friends with Ross. "I'm not worried about the managing side. It's just nice to see the energy. It's nice to see the excitement.

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'He cares. He walks around with a pep in his step and, like I said, it rubs off on us and it makes us enjoy our day and coming in here and getting our work done.'

Ross took some good-natured ribbing from some of his players about which side of the field he favored and his enthusiastic reactions during some of the intrasquad games in summer camp. He insisted he wanted everyone to do well.

Even with his familiar surroundings, it was clear he was enjoying his new viewpoint.

'I get kind of some fandom at moments, where I'm just like, 'Man this is really cool to watch a lot of this talent play out in front of me and we're all on the same side,'' Ross said.

FOR STARTERS

The rotation was a concern even before José Quintana had surgery July 2 to repair nerve damage in his pitching thumb, likely sidelining the left-hander for the start of the season. Lester allowed an NL-high 205 hits in 31 starts last year and finished with a 4.46 ERA, his highest number since he had a 4.82 ERA with Boston in 2012. Tyler Chatwood was much improved, but he started only five games in 38 appearances in 2019.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Look for the Cubs to lean on Yu Darvish, who had a 2.95 ERA over his last 14 starts last year, and steady Kyle Hendricks. Alec Mills could sub for Quintana after the right-hander had a 2.75 ERA in four starts and nine appearances last season.

WORTH WATCHING


Craig Kimbrel struggled in his first season with Chicago, finishing with a career-high 6.53 ERA in 23 appearances after signing a $43 million, three-year contract last June. If the seven-time All-Star closer stumbles again, Jeremy Jeffress could get a shot at some save opportunities. But Jeffress was hampered by injuries last year with Milwaukee.

LEADING OFF

Kris Bryant is the new leadoff hitter for Chicago, stepping into a role that has been an issue for the Cubs since Dexter Fowler signed with St. Louis after the 2016 season. The 28-year-old Bryant has a career on-base percentage of .385 and scored 108 times last year.

NEW LOOK

Jason Kipnis gives Ross another option at second base after the two-time All-Star signed a minor league deal in February. Kipnis, who is from suburban Chicago, spent his first nine seasons with Cleveland.

ROOKIES TO WATCH

Nico Hoerner also is expected to see time at second. Hoerner played college ball for Stanford before he was selected by Chicago in the first round of the 2018 amateur draft. He made his big league debut in September, hitting .282 with three homers in 20 games.

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Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap

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More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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