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Levine: Joe Maddon's Aversion To Batting Practice Is Paying Off

By Bruce Levine--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Over the years, the long, hot Chicago summers and poor handling of Cubs players have led to many a meltdowns and failures by talented teams late in the season. Now, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has a different approach to keep his team refreshed and ready.

The blackboard in the Cubs' clubhouse gives logistical instructions for the next game, and amid this postseason push, the message will often be this: Report two hours before game time, and the batting cage is only open for one hour. Maddon only sees limited value in batting practice at this time of the year.

Tracing way back to the 1969 season, many observers remember manager Leo Durocher burning out his starting eight position players by refusing to substitute. Durocher failed to take into consideration how difficult it was to play 81 day games, many in the heat and humidity, well before the advent of lights at Wrigley in 1988.

The wear and tear of the modern schedule, which includes different starting times and night games followed by day games, screams for use of moderation when it comes to pregame preparation.

Enter Maddon, the perfect man for the handling of this year's Cubs team on a playoff path. Maddon has been a proponent of the moderated batting practice schedule since his days in the minor leagues.

"It's a lot of eye wash and (butt) grabbing," he said recently about team's hitting and stretching hours before an actual game.

Maddon's an advocate of working on fielding and checking for quirks in some ballpark conditions before games that may factor during the competition, but that's about it. At least for this group of Cubs, the mental approach to the game and the idea that players should be doing other things away from the park until they show up is paying dividends.

Maddon took this different approach to his team long before the dog days of summer became a factor.

"I am a big believer in all of that," Maddon said of his schedule that features only a few days a week having conventional BP. "We are not going to change that. That is especially true with a lot of day games now when it is warm. Next year when the facility expands here, we will have indoor facility, cage wise. As I have stated before, BP on the field is overrated. I like guys taking ground balls, I like throwing to targets. Going to different ballparks to look at backdrops or how the foul lines play. How fast and slow is the grass? Things like that are important as far as the pregame goes. The batting practice -- you can get the same things done in the cage as you do on the field."

Maddon likes the fellowship part of actual batting practice days more than anything else.

"You still want to get out there," he said. "It is nice to be outside. There are things you can work on, of course there are. To go out there and just try to hit home runs for that group that likes to do that, I think is counter productive. There are certain pitchers you can face that if you hit for three hours (before the game), it would not make a difference."

Maddon seems far ahead of the general baseball rule of more practice makes for better play.

"There is such a great disconnect to it (batting practice every day) --  I really prefer fresh," Maddon said. "I prefer fresh minds and bodies. The coaches need this as well. Everyone reporting early, pitchers standing in the outfield shagging, the whole thing is so (old-fashioned) in a sense. I still like it, but you don't have to do it every day."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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