Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

March 2009 Archives

Cubs delay pitching decisions

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The Cubs hoped to have their roster finalized before breaking camp in Arizona Thursday, but they'll take their final two bullpen decisions down to the wire and into the final two exhibition games this weekend in New York.

Four pitchers remain in the mix for those jobs: Rule 5 draft pick David Patton, out-of-options pitchers Chad Gaudin and Angel Guzman, and top prospect Jeff Samardzija.

Non-roster veteran Chad Fox, who's also still in camp, was told he'll open the season at AAA Iowa.

Here's a quick glance at what's happening around the National League Central one week from Opening Day.

The Milwaukee Brewers' bullpen blues are back. Trevor Hoffman, the all-time saves leader with 554, was moved to the disabled list today. This is a blow to the Brewers, who were attracted to Hoffman because of his durability. Hoffman, who got a one-year, $6 million contract, had been on the disabled list only one other time during his 16-year career -- back in 2003, when a right shoulder problem led to surgery. Right-hander Carlos Villanueva is expected to move into the closer role while Hoffman is out.

The Cubs start the season in Houston next Monday and the Astros are certainly concerned about the status of power-hitting first baseman Lance Berkman.

The St. Louis Cardinals were set to meet today to discuss their final moves before announcing a 25-man roster. There are still some questions about the Cards' bullpen.

The Cincinnati Reds -- and manager Dusty Baker -- sent former Cub Jacque Jones to the minors.

Hill in; Bako, Stanton out

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One day after settling the closer job, the Cubs ended the final position-player battle in camp, making Koyie Hill the backup catcher and cutting veteran catcher Paul Bako, as well as former Yankee reliever Mike Stanton.

Neither veteran player had a bad spring. Bako hit .364 this spring, including a 5-for-5 streak at one point. But Hill had the inside track as a trusted backup already in the organization, and his spring was as good as Bako's -- actually hitting .381 through Sunday with a homer and four doubles.

Stanton was a longshot to make the roster from the start after missing all of last year. He had a 6.48 ERA in 10 appearances this spring -- most of the damage in 2 or 3 of the appearances.

The two roster moves leave 28 players in camp, with only the final two bullpen spots to settle.


On closers and Japanese outfielders

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The Cubs don't need the final week of spring training to make their decisions on the Opening Day roster and roles.

I mean, haven't we already seen enough of this so-called closer battle and Bako-Hill battle royale, and the never-ending string of so-called candidates for the final bullpen spots?

I know I've seen enough of Fukudome in the 2 hole after two days of watching, waving and going 1 for 7 -- including a popup on a 3-0 pitch Saturday, followed later by a swing at a 3-1 pitch out of the zone for a weak dribbler off the end of the bat for another out.

Lou says he's going to announce his closer on Sunday. Let's do the whole checklist and call it a spring. And here's how that list should get checked:

On closers and Japanese outfielders

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The Cubs don't need the final week of spring training to make their decisions on the Opening Day roster and roles.

I mean, haven't we already seen enough of this so-called closer battle and Bako-Hill battle royale, and the never-ending string of so-called candidates for the final bullpen spots?

I know I've seen enough of Fukudome in the 2 hole after two days of watching, waving and going 1 for 7 -- including a popup on a 3-0 pitch Saturday, followed later by a swing at a 3-1 pitch out of the zone for a weak dribbler off the end of the bat for another out.

Lou says he's going to announce his closer on Sunday. Let's do the whole checklist and call it a spring. And here's how that list should get checked:

Final calls to arms

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The rotation's set, and so is the position-player roster (with the exception of the Bako-Hill call on the backup catcher spot).

But the Cubs' bullpen is anything but a finished product, and the final decisions to be made over the next eight days on those arms could have a major impact on their depth over the whole season, if not their success -- considering that in several cases, eliminating a guy from the bullpen will mean losing him to the organization.

Here's how the pen breaks down heading into Wednesday's off day:

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Gordon Wittenmyer did a great job polling players on the Cubs to get their takes on several categories.

Koskie retires

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For more than two years, he was in ``la-la land,'' fighting through the fog of headaches, light and sound sensitivity, nausea and the fear of never knowing when he might live a normal day again.

And then barely two months after the fog lifted, less than a week into comeback with the Cubs, third baseman Corey Koskie dived for a grounder and felt a little light-headed.

``And I just decided after that play, `What am I doing here?' '' he said this morning.

He's not even sure the ``funky'' feeling was related to the post-concussion syndrome he fought for those two years.

But he's sure of this: Koskie, 35, is hanging it up after 15 professional seasons in baseball, nine in the big leagues, including three with playoff teams.


U-S-Nay!

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Rumors that Derrek Lee might join Team USA as an injury replacement for Kevin Youkilis in the final round of the World Baseball Classic gained little traction, considering, as Lee said Thursday, ``I'm not even playing here.''



MESA, Ariz. -- Outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who earned an All-Star start based on his sizzling first two months in the majors before spiraling the rest of the season, made his first stop in the Cubs' clubhouse this morning before Japan played an exhibition game at HoHoKam Park.

Fukudome said that for the first time in his professional career, he began the offseason with a hitting program.

Fukudome also said he plans to speak up more about his situation during Year 2 in America. As for being benched down the stretch and in the playoffs, it's clear the former Japanese star is still stinging.

''It didn't feel good at all,'' Fukudome said.

On Pedro and Marmol

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A couple of Cubs-related thoughts while watching the Dominican Republic get eliminated by the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic:

First, could Pedro Martinez be a fit for the Cubs?

It looks anything but likely at this point. But the unsigned former superstar, in at least the small sampling from the WBC, looks like he can still pitch and says he'd like to stay in the National League and pitch for a contender.


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