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

Lou won't rule out any Cubs starter for bullpen switch

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Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen?

Not likely. But for the first time, manager Lou Piniella left the door open for considering all five of his current starters for a bullpen move when Ted Lilly returns from the disabled list - possibly as soon as this weekend.

That may say more about how much of his thinking - and grief - his bullpen has consumed the first two weeks of the season than what he thinks of anyone in his rotation.

Earlier this month, Piniella confirmed his intentions were to stick with the plan throughout spring training: that one of the two guys who competed for starting jobs this spring, Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny, would move to the pen when Lilly returned.

Specifically, he has said his first three starters - Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells - would stay put when Lilly returned.

But when asked today whether the bullpen move could involve anyone but Silva or Gorzelanny, Piniella said, ``I didn't say that. I never said that. You all [media] can say what you want. All I said basically is that somebody's got to leave the rotation to go into the bullpen. That's all I said.''

Lilly is scheduled tonight for what could be his final minor-league rehab assignment.

Asked three followup questions seeking clarification, Piniella would not rule out his first three starters for a bullpen move - although it appears none of those possibilities have specifically been discussed with the staff.

``You heard what I said,'' Piniella said, ``that we have not made definite decisions. We're going to see how Lilly is, and once we find out how Lilly is, now we can put our thoughts to the other issue.

``But if Lilly's not ready, then there's no sense even addressing something like that. So let's just wait for Lilly to pitch, see how he feels, when he can join the rotation, and then we can look at the other situation.''

The other situation.

That would be the bullpen's substantial need for a right-hander capable of getting late-inning outs consistently.

Dempster, of course, has done that, as a former closer. On the other hand, he was a Cy Young contender and Game 1 playoff starter in his first year back in the rotation in 2008, and after a personally tough 2009 season, he's off to what should be a 3-0 start if not for the bullpen's problems. And good, veteran starting pitching is awfully valuable to consider moving to the bullpen.

Among the five starters, Zambrano has been the least effective and would seem to merit the demotion if the trend holds this week. But it's hard to imagine the $91 million career starter handling that well enough to be effective in the pen.

Wells has the least experience of the first three in the rotation, and has the kind of bulldog mentality to be successful in late-inning setup relief. But he also might be the Cubs' top starting pitcher since he joined the rotation last May.

The only other right-hander in the rotation, Silva, has experienced a career rebirth since a getting hot this spring, and has found a comfort zone he hasn't experienced in more than two years. The Cubs won't want to mess with that, especially if he pitches well again Wednesday in New York.

``Look, we feel good about all our starters,'' Piniella said. ``We're fortunate in that regard. Unfortunately, somebody is going to have to go into the bullpen, and we'll have some news for you later on this week.''

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This page contains a single entry by Gordon Wittenmyer published on April 19, 2010 5:55 PM.

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