Maddon pushing buttons to harden Cubs

Maddon pushing buttons to harden Cubs

CHICAGO -- It's nearly mid-June and Joe Maddon is thinking about the playoffs, and the Cubs' manager is sending messages to the players so they realize what's necessary to get to the postseason.

"When you're playing with the ring in mind, you're not necessarily just trying to develop guys," Maddon said Friday. "When you have a group, which I believe we do, which is capable of more, you make adjustments or movement in the course of a game that tells the rest of the group, 'I realize somebody is doing better and somebody is not doing so good.' It's about the group right now."

One example, Maddon said, was his pulling closer Hector Rondon in the ninth on Saturday after he walked the first batter he faced. Pedro Strop took over and picked up the save.

Another instance occurred Thursday when Maddon quickly pulled starter Tsuyoshi Wada after throwing 73 pitches over three-plus innings.

"You've seen a couple items where you just don't stand pat," Maddon said. "You can't just sit there and attempt not to do anything. Otherwise, you do become [a .500 team]."

Maddon said the moves send a message.

"It sets the tone that it's not about one person, it's about the group," he said.

Maddon said he's always believed in the talent on the roster, but the four-game sweep of the Mets from May 11-14 made him feel the Cubs potentially had a playoff-caliber team.

"We faced a lot of really good pitching -- that's all [the Mets] have is really good pitching -- and we won some close games and then did pretty well against Kansas City to follow and played some hard fought games," Maddon said.

The Cubs split a rain-shortened series against the Royals from May 29-31.

"That's the part I'm liking is that regardless of who we're playing or where, we have that feeling in the dugout prior to the game -- guys are ready, they're ready to play," he said.

Extra bases

• Maddon said he would be comfortable using different pitchers in save situations the rest of the season, and not rely on one arm.

"I like having one guy because when you do, you're managing eight innings with your bullpen," he said. "If you don't, you're managing nine."

The Cubs do have an advantage with Rondon, Strop and Jason Motte -- who all have experience as closers -- in the bullpen. The 'pen had compiled a 0.51 ERA in the last five games prior to Friday, giving up one earned run over 17 2/3 innings. The Cubs have won four of five games in that span.

Jorge Soler, on the disabled list since June 3 with a left ankle sprain, is making progress but has yet to begin baseball activities, Maddon said. The outfielder would likely need to go on a Minor League assignment once he's healthy.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.