Craig Counsell thinks trying to beat the Cubs will help him adjust to his new job as their manager

Wed, Feb 14, 2024
MLB News (AP)

Craig Counsell thinks trying to beat the Cubs will help him adjust to his new job as their manager

MESA, Ariz. (AP) - Long before Craig Counsell joined the Chicago Cubs, he knew all about the Chicago Cubs, and they knew a lot about him. Strengths, weaknesses, tendencies. Everything.

It's a brand new day for Counsell, who managed the Milwaukee Brewers for nine seasons before he was hired by Chicago in November, replacing David Ross in a surprise move. But Counsell is more than just familiar with many of his new players.

As he begins to settle into his new job during spring training - pitchers and catchers for the Cubs held their first official workout Wednesday - the former big league infielder sees his years of facing his new team as an advantage.

"There's some familiarity from competing for sure. And that feels good. It really does," Counsell said. "There's already a connection there because of that. And I like that. And it's a place for us to start, start a conversation."

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Counsell, 53, led Milwaukee to three NL Central titles as manager of his hometown franchise, often frustrating Chicago with his ability to get the most out of his teams. The Brewers won the division last year, while the Cubs finished nine games back in second.

Just about everyone with the Cubs is interested to see what Counsell is like up close.

"I've always respected the way he's gone about it," outfielder Ian Happ said. "I think they've always had good teams. We've had great series against them for years. Always managed the bullpen really well, always felt like he was on top of matchups, on top of, you know, who was coming in. Always heard great things from guys who have played for him with the Brewers."

Japanese left-hander Shota Imanaga, who signed a $53 million, four-year contract with Chicago in January, said he had a helpful conversation with Counsell on Tuesday.

"He said, you know, don't go out there trying to prove that I can do this, I can do that," Imanaga said through a translator. "Just stay within myself and, you know, show what I've been able to do. And that was really encouraging. And it's going to allow me to play within myself."

Counsell's contract with Chicago - a five-year deal worth more than $40 million - makes him the majors' highest paid manager. Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who is beginning his sixth season in his current role, is looking forward to learning from his new boss.

"For me as a coach, I think he does a great job of coaching the coaches as well," he said. "Everybody talks about how he treats the players and what he does, but he's going to do a great job of challenging us and continue to make us better."

Counsell faces a significant challenge in Chicago, which hasn't won a playoff game since it was eliminated by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 NL Championship Series. The Cubs last made it to the postseason in 2020, when they were swept by Miami in the wild-card round.

But Counsell has a solid rotation with his new club, led by Justin Steele and strengthened by the addition of Imanaga, along with a strong group of position players that includes All-Star shortstop Dansby Swanson. Cody Bellinger remains a free agent after a resurgent season with the Cubs, but President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer had no update on that situation on Wednesday.

Counsell himself is advocating for a simple approach as the team begins spring training.

"Our job is to kind of take care of the things you take care of the first 10 days," he said. "It's not to get too far ahead of ourselves. ... So that's health, is to take care of the small things we're doing with the kind of the fundamentals we're doing with pitchers over the next 10 days. That's the job right now."

Counsell said he likes individual and small group work at this time of the year. That also should help as he tries to learn everyone's name.

"That's not easy. That's a challenge right now," he said. "I feel really bad on time No. 3 when I don't know their name, that's what I'm struggling with."

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