GENEVA – Organize duffel. Acknowledge conversation. Flash sheepish smile.
Any doubts of whether Cubs right-hander Scott Baker has assimilated to the Cougars’ clubhouse during the first stages of his minor league rehab assignment passed subtly during last week’s homestand. Just the way Baker likes it.
“I think it’s all about leading by example,” Baker said. “I come in here and get my work in, and I really just be a professional. Everybody kind of knows to work hard, but you have to work smart and be as coachable as you can, and that’s how you move up.”
Mending from April 2012 Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow, Baker was on target to start today’s series opener at Beloit. It would mark his third appearance with the Cougars since July 14 and a hopeful turning point after compiling a 15.88 ERA in 5⅔ innings over his first two starts. Baker signed with the Cubs for one year and $5.5 million in November but has not pitched in the majors since September 2011.
With the Cubs on a 10-game western road trip, Baker commuted from Chicago to Fifth Third Bank Ballpark last week to work with the Cougars’ training staff. Baker said he felt “fine” and everything went well during Sunday’s bullpen session of 35 to 40 pitches, which came two days after he sputtered in a home start against Great Lakes.
A handful of Cougars have approached Baker, a veteran of seven Major League seasons, about life in the bigs. It’s taken some of the load from righty Lendy Castillo, a converted infielder and Rule 5 draft pick who pitched with the Cubs last season and answered his share of teammates’ questions about the experience.
“About clubhouse stuff, field stuff, all of that,” Castillo said.
Still, the way Baker sees it, his impact on Cubs farmhands resonates most when he does things unprovoked. He treated the team to dinner at a nearby Outback Steakhouse after his July 14 start at West Michigan and won’t deter from his rehab routine until he rejoins the Cubs.
“He’s been a class act,” Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. “Absolutely.”
Idle hours almost up: Tuesday marked the Cougars’ second-to-last scheduled off day of the season. Beginning today, the team is set to play games on 39 of the next 40 days, getting only Aug. 13 as a breather.
“Yeah, soak it up as much as you can,” Johnson said. “You’ve just got that one day and the one day in the middle of [August], so it’s going to be a grind. The last month’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a test. It’s going to be a gut check for everybody, so we’ve just got to pick our spots and be efficient with our energy and drink a lot of water and rest.
“This is when people start getting irritated at each other and things like that, so you’ve just go to kind of take care of your business.”
Million fan march: George Spelius leans on longevity as the 27th-year president of the Midwest League.
He also calls it a catalyst behind the Cougars’ ability to attract 10 million fans, a milestone the club reached Saturday.
“There’s nothing you can do but just keep those people that are coming enjoying winning or losing at the ball yard,” Spelius said.
Minor League Baseball confirmed the Cougars – who moved to Geneva from Wausau, Wis., before the 1991 season – are the first Class-A team to reach 10 million fans.
Look for MWL counterpart Dayton to join the club in a few seasons. The Dragons surpassed the 8 million mark in June.
Kris and tell: Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer on Monday told MLB Network Radio that first-round draft pick Kris Bryant could wind up in a Cougars uniform this season.
“He’s kind of rusty right now,” Hoyer said. “If he’s able to get past the point he’s rusty, [he] may go to Kane County this season.”
Bryant, a third baseman drafted second overall out of the University of San Diego, entered Tuesday 1 for 6 in his first two games at Rookie League Mesa (Ariz.).