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

July 2010 Archives

Trade won't flatten effort, say Cubs

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If the trade of Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot Saturday was a signal from above that Cubs' long-listing season has finally been scrapped by the front office, the remaining players on the team didn't see it that way, at least for one night.

Not that it mattered by the time Carlos Gonzalez got done strafing their pitching again, this time hitting for the cycle - and saving the home run for a mile-high, mile-long bolt off Sean Marshall to win the game in the bottom of the ninth, beating the Cubs 6-5.

``The question was asked earlier,'' acting manager Alan Trammell said of the anticipated team effort following the trade. ``I think we can answer it. They played. They played hard. But we came up a little short because of Mr. Gonzalez.''

The effort the rest of the way was something general manager Jim Hendry said he was not concerned about becoming a problem.

``Not at all,'' he said. ``We always give our players a lot of respect. We didn't make moves to take away from the club until we felt like we didn't have a reasonable chance to get in.''

And if anybody still with the club feels they're a little short on motivation, they should consider their 2011 status. ``Obviously, people need to know that how they do the rest of the year certainly has an effect on how we evaluate the club moving forward,'' Hendry said.

That won't be a problem, several players said. Saturday's starter, Tom Gorzelanny, even stuck to the still-have-a-chance-to-get-back-in-the-race theme.

``It's a long road ahead of us, but a lot more than that has been overcome in this game,'' he said. ``We're not counting ourselves out just because Ted and Ryan are gone.''

Of course, Mr. Gonzalez can do that for them - his 8-for-10, 18-total-base effort the past two nights almost having a lot to do with another pair of Cub losses.

``I think we've seen enough of Mr. Gonzalez. Geesh,'' Trammell said.

And that cycle is staring to look like an annual Colorado tradition when the Cubs come to town. It was a year ago next week that Troy Tulowitzki was the last Rockie to hit for the cycle - which was also the last game Gorzelanny started at Coors Field.

If there were any positives to take out of the game for the Cubs they included Gorzelanny pitching into the seventh, if not in one of his best outings of the year, and Derrek Lee's tying three-run homer in the eighth that snapped a 22-at-bat team drought with men in scoring position - dating back to Monday in Houston.

Trammell also was able to get Carlos Zambrano into a game for the first time since his June 25 meltdown and subsequent suspension and anger-management studies.

With one out, a man on first and the Cubs trailing by three, Zambrano entered to a hefty chorus of boos in the seventh.

He walked the first batter and gave up a single to the next to load the bases, but then struck out Seth Smith with a 95-mph fastball and got Brad Hawpe to end the inning with a popup to short.

``He got himself into a little trouble, but he got out of it and was able to get back into being with the team and feeling a part of it,'' Trammell said. ``I thought that was a positive.''

Zambrano said he feels strong and fresh and that it felt good to get back on the mound in a big-league game for the first time in five weeks. ``It's been a long time,'' he said. My arm felt good, and after the walk I was able to command my pitches.''

He also said that despite pitching no more than two innings in any appearance since June 20, he's capable of filling Lilly's vacated rotation spot, as soon as Tuesday.

``Ask Lou,'' he said. ``I'm ready to pitch in any situation and any role they want me to pitch. That's the question Lou needs to answer.''

But, he added, ``I'm ready to pitch [as a starter] Tuesday, Thursday, whenever they want me to pitch. I'm ready to get back in the starting rotation if they want me.''


Cubs trade Lilly, Theriot to Dodgers

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With less than two hours before baseball's non-waiver trade deadline, the Cubs traded pitcher Ted Lilly, second baseman Ryan Theriot and cash to the Los Angeles Dodgers for infielder Blake DeWitt and two pitching prospects.

The Cubs sent $2.5 million in the deal, saving roughly half of what is owed to Theriot and Lilly combined on the remainder of contracts that run through this season.

Because DeWitt, 24, doesn't reach arbitration eligibility until after next season, the Cubs also figure to save $3 million or more on next season's payroll, given the difference between DeWitt's projected salary range and what Theriot might make through arbitration.

``Honestly, this is a tough concept to grab right now,'' said Lilly, who was originally drafted by the Dodgers in 1996 before being traded as a minor leaguer. ``It's not something that I'm overly excited about, because ... I'm just going to miss a lot.

``Short of winning a World Series here, I couldn't have asked for a better experience in my career. I couldn't have asked for a better place to play, teammates to play with, fans to play for. All the way from the coaching staff to the front office. ...

``I really enjoyed my experience all the way around. I'm going to never forget the times that I had here. ...

``But I think that when I go over there and I put a Dodger uniform on and I meet my new teammates and I go out and start competing with them, I'll really enjoy it.''

Lilly says he'd be open to returning to the Cubs as a free agent after this season.

``I wouldn't close the door to that,'' general manager Jim Hendry said.

The player-exchange framework of this deal was in place in recent days, according to sources, with the sticking point being the cash amount.

The lefty-hitting DeWitt, who's batting .270 this season, hits especially well against the Cubs' National League Central opponents (.341, including .429 in 21 at-bats against St. Louis).

The Cubs also got a pair of minor-league right-handers in the deal. Kyle Smit, 22, is a former fifth-round draft pick recently promoted to AA, who has a 0.72 ERA in his past 10 appearances.

They also got Class A righty Brett Wallach, son of five-time All-Star third baseman Tim Wallach.

Cubs make malodorous history in Colorado

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DENVER - Players in both clubhouses said they'd never seen anything like it.

Maybe that's because it never happened in the majors until it happened to the Cubs in the eighth inning Friday night in Colorado.

That's when the Rockies made history by turning a three-run game into a 17-2 blowout.

``You don't expect an inning like that in the big leagues - anywhere,'' said Cubs manager Lou Piniella after the Rockies scored 12 times with two outs in the eighth.

``That was crazy. I don't think anything like that will ever happen again,'' said Sean Marshall, the Cubs' best reliever all season, who had two strikes on Carlos Gonzalez with two out and two on when the craziness began.

Gonzalez singled in a run - the first of a major-league record 11 straight hits by the Rockies.

They also set Colorado franchise records for runs in an inning, hits in an inning (13), extra-base hits in an inning (eight) and extra-base hits in a game (12).

For the Cubs it was the first time they'd allowed 17 runs in a game in 11 years. And the 21 hits allowed fell just four short of the 1957 Cub franchise record.

The last time they allowed 12 runs in a game was 25 years ago against the Montreal Expos, who don't even play in Montreal anymore or call themselves the Expos.

``Tomorrow if you brought out D-Lee, Ramirez and Marlon Byrd and you let them throw BP and put nine fielders out there, I'd have a real tough time believing they'd get 11 straight hits,'' said Cubs starter Ryan Dempster (8-8), who also struggled, lasting just four-plus innings.

``That's how crazy that is. That's how really remarkable that is.''

This crazy and remarkable: Until Gonzalez started the historic run, Rockies closer Huston Street was warming up for the ninth because it was a save situation.

``As much as it's success for them, it really is a fluke thing,'' Dempster said. ``You can't do that very often. Hence, the reason it's been done before.''

The Rockies sent 18 men to the plate that inning against three Cub pitchers, including rookies Andrew Cashner -- who gave up six straight, including two homers, without recording an out - and Brian Schlitter (two hits, then two walks, then the merciful final fly-ball out).

``I've never seen an inning like that,'' said Piniella, who deflected a question about going through it from the dugout. ``Forget me. I feel bad for my pitchers. I feel bad for these young kids that are trying to get the job done and they get in trouble and they don't have the answers to get out of it. I feel sorry for them. I'm not concerned about me.''

In Cashner's case, it was the second straight shelling, coming three days after he took over a scoreless game and allowed six runs in the seventh in Houston.

But Dempster and Marshall downplayed the effects an inning like Friday's will have on Cashner or Schlitter. (The two other bullpen rookies, by the way -- James Russell and Justin Berg -- combined for three scoreless innings.

``You just look forward to tomorrow. You don't dwell on it,'' Marshall said. ``I'll talk to [Cashner]. It's just baseball. That's all you talk to him about. You can't dwell on it. You've got to look to the future and learn from it.''


Anybody believe Cubs' Zambrano this time around?

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After addressing teammates today for the first time since airing them out in a raging dugout tirade June 25, Carlos Zambrano vowed to rebuild his image and performance level and be a calmer version of his former self.

He apologized to manager Lou Piniella and teammates, explained the thinking and frustration that led to his actions, and even got a few hugs after the five- to 10-minute meeting after being activated from the restricted list.

Now comes the hard part: showing why this vow to change should be trusted to succeed any more than several in the past, including as recently as five months ago in spring training.

``I don't want to talk about that,'' he said when asked why anyone should believe it will be different this time. ``You [media] are here because you want to talk about what happened June 25.''

Teammates and fans certainly can't be blamed if they're skeptical.

In Piniella's first season alone, in 2007, Zambrano held two media conferences to apologize for bad behavior - first for punching out teammate Michael Barrett in June and then in September after ripping the fans publicly for booing him.

The next year, he went off in the dugout at Dodger Stadium after pitching poorly, slamming two Gatorade jugs to the ground and whacking one with his bat. The year after that, he went off on an umpire so vigorously - pretending to throw the ump out of the game then throwing the baseball into left field - that major league baseball suspended him for ``violent' actions. A few days later, he blew off the team charter on his birthday, without telling anybody with the team.

And then before each season that followed came promises of a new outlook, a New Carlos.

Talk about a guy that has used up a career's worth of benefits of the doubt.

Leading up to Friday's anticipated reunion, several teammates took the idea of an apology with a shrug and suggested they'll believe he's a new man when they see it.

After the meeting , teammate Alfonso Soriano said he was impressed. ``This one is different, because I think it's the first one where he talked to the team in a meeting,'' Soriano said. ``I don't remember him doing that before''

Derrek Lee, who found himself in the middle of the issue when he intervened to stop Zambrano's tirade and got Z in his face for his troubles, said he was one of the players who hugged Zambrano Friday.

``He did a good job. I'm sure it had to be hard to do,'' Lee said. ``It's all over with as far as I'm concerned.''

Zambrano first meet privately with Piniella Friday, for about 10 minutes, and apologized in his first talk with the manager since the incident, before meeting with the team in the clubhouse.

``That was embarrassing for the organization, for myself, for the fans,'' Zambrano said. ``I apologize to the fans, too, and just want to move on and be at peace with everybody.''

Asked how he would have taken the apology if he were one of his teammates, Zambrano said, ``Well, this is like the war. Anytime one of your soldiers go down, you don't want to keep shooting him.

``I feel bad. Believe me, I feel embarrassed. ... I was the most affected. I got suspended for more than a month. I got demoted to the bullpen. A lot of punishment. But I have to accept it. I have to build my way back to what I was. I promise to myself and I promise to Cubs fans that I will do anything possible to coe back and be the same or better pitcher than I was.''

Cubs' Lee invokes no-trade rights to stay with team

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One possible Cubs trading chip is officially off the market, with Derrek Lee exercising his no-trade rights and telling the club he wants to remain in Chicago through the final two months of his contact, team officials said today.

While the Cubs would not get into details of the conversations and events leading to Lee's decision, major-league sources said the Cubs approached Lee only after the Los Angeles Angels proposed a trade for the former batting champion last week.

Despite the fact Lee is having a home built in Southern California and has friends playing for the Angels, he told the club he would block that trade and preferred to remain with the Cubs through this final year of his contract.

``I thought about it for a good 24 hours, really kind of agonized over it,'' Lee, 34, said. ``But I think the bottom line is family. And I like Chicago. I enjoy my teammates. So that's the decision we made.''

Lee, who has $4.9 million left on his contract, is hitting .248 with 11 homers this season.

Lee did not rule out the possibility of changing his mind if another team makes an offer, but he said he considers that unlikely because he doesn't believe another situation would be as appealing or tempting as the Angels.

Phillies Cubs Basebal_De L.jpgWith contenders struggling to find the right match for available starters Roy Oswalt and Dan Haren on the trade market, interest in Cubs left-hander Ted Lilly has stepped up dramatically and a trade could be completed by the end of the weekend, major-league sources said Friday.

Lilly's trade value skyrocketed after he held the Houston Astros to one run in 7 1/3 innings Wednesday. His next scheduled start is Tuesday in Houston, and sources say the Cubs would like to complete a deal before that outing.

The struggling New York Mets have shown the most interest in Lilly. The Detroit Tigers are also believed to be shifting their attention to Lilly after hitting a wall in their talks with the Arizona Diamondbacks centering on Haren. Scouts from several contenders, including the Mets, Tigers, Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers, were at Wrigley Field on Wednesday for Lilly's start against right-hander Brett Myers, who is being shopped by the Astros. Myers has also drawn interest from the Mets.

Lilly would give the Mets three lefties in their rotation, and allow beleaguered manager Jerry Manuel to move Hisanori Takahashi to the bullpen.

Though the Cubs are grooming Carlos Zambrano to return to the team next weekend as a reliever, they could alter that plan and stretch him out to be a starter should Lilly be dealt. That would also help the Cubs in their growing desire to trade Zambrano, who has 2 1/2 seasons left on his five-year, $91.5 million contract.

Outtakes AP S BBN IA _De L-1.jpgControversial Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano caused some confusion Thursday when he told reporters covering his minor-league tuneup opener Thursday at Class AAA Iowa that he would speak after his outing, then abruptly changed course and said he wasn't allowed to talk.

Did the Cubs tell Big Z to zip it?

''No,'' general manager Jim Hendry said Friday. ''It's up to him.''

The fact Zambrano has not apologized to his teammates after going ballistic on many of them June 25 during a start at U.S. Cellular Field against the White Sox remains a sore spot on the North Side.

''He's got ground to make up in there,'' one key member of the Cubs said Friday, pointing at the clubhouse.

According to sources, Zambrano wanted to address his teammates two days after the June 25 incident, but was told to first take care of his anger-management counseling -- ordered by Major League Baseball -- and complete a minor-league rehabilitation stint before making verbal amends. And, sources stressed, this is far from the first apology Big Z has had to make in front of the full squad.

Does manager Lou Piniella prefer that Zambrano address his teammates first, then the media?

''I think so,'' Piniella said. ''I think it's more important for him to clear that hurdle first, and once he does that, then he can talk to the media. I think that's the right approach for him.''

Piniella said Zambrano, who will return to the Cubs as a reliever after being their Opening Day starter, will likely join the team next weekend during a three-game series in Denver against the Colorado Rockies.

''We are just going to let him talk to the team, whatever he wants to say,'' Piniella said. ''Whenever he gets here, we'll have a little meeting and let Carlos say what he needs to say.''

Zambrano's teammates can't wait for the next Big Z big apology.

''When he comes back here, he has to change the attitude and apologize to the team,'' veteran left fielder Alfonso Soriano said. ''I think that's the best thing he can do for us. If he does that, if he comes back willing to help the team, he's more than welcome.''

Cubs' haste in Lou announcement: Blame it on New York

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The Cubs insist that Tuesday's announcement of Piniella's retirement was in the works for much of the past week.

And Piniella explained that the ``important'' reason for announcing the impending retirement 2 1/2 months before it takes effect was the time and flexibility it gives the club to find and hire the best replacement.

But the announcement came off looking like a scramble earlier in the day - because it was.

The Cubs say they planned it for late afternoon but word broke early in the day after a longtime New York writer and Piniella friend, Bill Madden, talked to Piniella's agent and reported it.

That's when the scramble began to move up the timeline and issue a statement.

``It caused me a headache,'' said Piniella, who was disappointed he didn't get a chance to tell his coaches and players before news broke.

``I'm not too happy with my agent,'' he said.

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