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Cubs notes: Bullpen still a priority

SAN DIEGO -- What’s the Chicago Cubs No. 1 problem? If you ask manager Joe Maddon, it’s pretty simple: the bullpen.

“The big part of our problem is we have not made big pitches out of the bullpen when we’ve needed to,” Maddon said the day after losing a game late to the San Diego Padres on Tuesday. “I think that’s the No. 1 item we have to clean up.”

He’s not shocking anyone with that statement, though overall the ERA from his relief staff ranked fifth in the National League going into Wednesday’s game. So it hasn’t been all bad. The return of Justin Grimm already is making a difference and Travis Wood’s addition will be interesting to watch.

Considering his athleticism, Maddon believes Wood might take to his new role easier than one would think. The problem is the Cubs still don’t have all the roles defined. None of their three lefty relievers were part of the bullpen to begin the season. It seems like Zac Rosscup is the guy for the high leverage situations now. Or is it James Russell now? And where exactly does Wood fit in?

On the right side, things should settle down with Grimm in tow but Pedro Strop is still looking a little shaky. He gave up the game-winning double to Derek Norris on Tuesday and since May 3 he’s been tagged with nine hits and five walks in just 7 1/3 innings. And the Cubs have Yoervis Medina waiting in the wings. The arms are there but are the roles completely defined? It doesn’t sound like it.

“We need to firm up the bullpen,” Maddon said again. “Saying that, I like the arms on the people down there.”

Mental work: After Tuesday’s game, mental skills coach Darnell McDonald was seen talking to several players who made crucial errors in the 4-3 loss. Starlin Castro and Addison Russell were among them. McDonald says the conversations were nothing special, just the usual maintenance on players. The message?

“Be in the moment,” McDonald said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s at the plate or in the field. You do everything better when you’re mentally present and in the moment.”

McDonald said that even includes press interviews. Later, Maddon also echoed that sentiment when asked about overcoming a mistake or two in the field.

“I don’t ask them to be perfect,” Maddon stated. “I ask them to be present.”

And that’s the overall message to the team on a day-to-day basis. Baseball is such a grind, the mind can wander.

“It’s a challenge,” McDonald said. “Unless we’re conscious about doing it, you probably aren’t doing it.”

Baxter’s day: Spring invitee Mike Baxter had an eventful day in getting called up from Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday. Told at 10:45 a.m. he needed to get to San Diego, he boarded an afternoon flight from Oklahoma City. He arrived for the game but his equipment did not.

“I used (Hector) Rondon’s spikes, (Kris) Bryant’s outfield glove, (Chris) Coghlan’s infield glove and Edwin Jackson’s bat,” Baxter said. “It was a team effort for that one at-bat.”

After settling in, Baxter was only asked to pinch hit in the ninth inning with two outs and the Cubs down a run, 4-3. He grounded out.

“It’s the job I like,” he said. “It’s something I did a lot of in New York. I’m just excited to be back here and in a big spot.”