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

August 2010 Archives

Lou's wild ride with the Cubs

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Lou Piniella won't soon be forgotten on the North Side for a nearly four-year run of great highs, heartbreaking defeats, a few memorable outbursts and a personality every bit as big and brash as the franchise's famous fan base.

A remarkably consistent, genuine and honest manager and man -- sometimes too honest for his own best interests -- he's the first Cub manager since Frank Chance to reach the postseason in back-to-back seasons and first since Leo Durocher to manage three straight winning seasons.

Some of the highlights of the Piniella Cubs' era:

It's a way of life

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A few notes and musings left in the rubble of the Cubs' post-Derrek Lee loss to the Padres today - most of it falling under the category of ``here we go again.''

Anyone notice the new guy hitting for Carlos Zambrano in the sixth inning wasn't Micah Hoffpauir, but Sam Fuld?

The Cubs planned to call up Hoffpauir to take the traded Lee's place on the roster today and even sent him to the airport with bags packed Wednesday - before somebody realized he wasn't eligible to return to the big leagues after getting sent back down to AAA for only a week. An optioned player must spend a minimum 10 days before his next recall except in the case of an injury on the big-league roster.

Not sure how many management guys - from Jim Hendry down to AAA manager Ryne Sandberg -- this got past before it was caught, but Hoffpauir had to be called back from the airport, with Fuld getting a surprise call to hurry to Chicago, via redeye flight from San Francisco (after driving from nearby Sacramento, where Iowa was playing).

Fuld's arrival at least provided a pregame laugh when Alfonso Soriano noticed him occupying Lee's vacated locker space.

``Look who we get for D-Lee,'' Soriano said, with a huge smile. ``Sammy Fuld. That's good. He's faster. Left-hand hitter. ... And 5-10.''

Soriano also had fun with a suggestion in the Tribune that he and Aramis Ramirez would be a viable option at first base for the Cubs next year.

``Whoa,'' he said, smiling, shaking his head in disbelief and then shrugging. ``Well, I don't like playing second base, and I played there five years.''

Said Ramirez: ``I don't think so.''

But it was what happened near Ramirez's corner at third in the sixth inning today that underscored the way this summer has gone for the tailspinning Cubs.

After the Cubs' best reliever this season, Sean Marshall, got a rare blown save on Will Venable's one-out, two-run single (the runners going to second and third on the throw home), rookie Justin Berg took over.

Berg quickly induced a grounder to Ramirez, who threw home to Koyie Hill, who ran Chase Headley back to third, where Venable had arrived from second, and tagged out Headley for the second out.

Hill then gestured with one hand toward the umpire to call time, but didn't get the call. Assuming time was called, Hill turned his back and started walking toward the mound and Berg, who was also walking there. And with Padres third-base coach Glenn Hoffman telling Venable, ``No timeout, no timeout,'' Venable bolted toward the unmanned plate.

First baseman Xavier Nady then rushed to cover, taking a throw from Hill, but Venable slid just under the tag.

``Credit X for getting to home plate,'' said Hill, who took responsibility even though he said he felt he'd called time, with the similar gesture he'd used countless other times. ``Berg was on the same page with me, thinking the play is dead. I probably need to be more careful there, but I thought we had the play taken care of.

``What's frustrating was it wasn't a lack of concentration. It wasn't cluelessness. It just happened. I felt like I'd asked for timeout. Ultimately, it's the player's responsibility, and I'll be accountable for it. That play's on me. ... But I guarantee it won't happen again.''

Undoubtedly, it'll be something else. With 10 rookies on the roster and two more who have yet to complete a full year in the big-leagues - and more promised over the final 40 games - anything's possible.

Derrek Lee hasn't even had his first at-bat against the Cubs' bullpen yet.

Cubs' Gorzelanny: `I've been successful this year'

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Cubs starter Tom Gorzelanny stumbled in the seventh inning Monday night and lost to the San Diego Padres, but he said he believes he's earned a spot in next year's rotation.

``I feel I've done a pretty good job this year,'' said Gorzelanny (6-7), who has the starting staff's second-best ERA (3.85) even after giving up five runs in 6 1/3 innings.

``I've gone out there and pitched every fifth day and done what they've asked of me and felt like I've been successful this year. I've had a couple bad games, I guess. I've pitched deep into games. ... I feel like I've done a good job here, and if I've earned a spot, it's great. I feel like I've done that. But if they need me to compete [in spring training], I'll compete. And prove to them again that [I belong there].''

Gorzelanny hasn't won since a four-game winning streak in July, despite pitching at least six innings in all four starts since. Monday he didn't allow a hit until the fourth and didn't allow a run until giving up a two-out, run-scoring double to pitcher Kevin Correia in the fifth.

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Also Monday, The Cubs signed four of their June draft picks on the final day before a midnight deadline, including seventh-rounder Ben Wells, a high-school right-hander from Arkansas, and ninth-rounder Kevin Rhoderick, a right-hander from Oregon State University.

They signed lefty Casey Harmon (29th round) from Clemson and left-hander Brian Smith (40th) from St. Mary's Catholic School in Ontario, Canada.

In all, the Cubs signed 29 of their 50 picks, including 15 of their top 16.

The only top pick they didn't sign was sixth-rounder Ivan DeJesus (no relation to the Cubs coach), a high school outfielder from Puerto Rico.

Cubs trade Fontenot to Giants for prospect

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The Cubs today traded infielder Mike Fontenot across the diamond to the San Francisco Giants for an outfield prospect, finishing off through waivers part of a trade that was discussed at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

``I was surprised. I wasn't expecting it, especially right now,'' said Fontenot, who hit .284 with one homer for the Cubs during a season in which his playing time dwindled drastically after Starlin Castro joined the roster and Ryan Theriot moved from short to second base.

``It's a little strange when you're in the same town and you just walk across to the other dugout. ... I'm glad I packed a few more long-sleeve [shirts].''

The Cubs traded Fontenot's college teammate, Theriot, and pitcher Ted Lilly to the Los Angeles Dodgers with less than two hours before the July 31 deadline. After that deal was done, they came close to trading Fontenot and outfielder Xavier Nady to the Giants but ran out of time.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and Giants general manager Brian Sabean got this part of the deal done today while in Minneapolis together for owners meetings.

The Cubs acquired Class A outfielder Evan Crawford, a ninth-round pick in last year's June draft. He's a right-handed hitting center fielder with good speed - hitting .255 with 24 stolen bases in 109 games for Augusta of the advanced-A Florida State League.

In other news today, theCubs announced that pitcher John Grabow will miss the rest of the season after an MRI today revealed a tear in the MCL of his left knee, two days after he felt a ``pop'' in the knee while pitching in a rehabilitation outing in Arizona.

Nothing easy for Cubs these days -- even winning

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If games like last week's 18-1 loss to Milwaukee and Sunday's 11-4 loss to Cincinnati are the kinds of potholes the Cubs will have to live with during this transition/audition process down the stretch this year, then so will sloppy wins like Tuesday night's in San Francisco.

The way the Cubs jumped on one of the best pitchers in baseball, Tim Lincecum, for four quick runs in the first inning and a two-run, knockout punch in the fourth, this one should have been easier to close out than the 8-6, tying-run-on-base ending suggested.

``Wow, we make it hard on ourselves,'' acting manager Alan Trammell said after the Cubs survived for their second win in 13 games, first in five games with Trammell at the helm for Lou Piniella. ``I think we can say we've watched enough of our games this year [to see] we make it too difficult, not making plays and putting ourselves in a bind.

``But we won, so certainly you're going to enjoy that. But it's just the fact that we give other teams too many opportunities, and we know at this level that usually comes back to haunt you.''

The Cubs committed three errors, should have been charged with a fourth (on Tyler Colvin's muff of a two-out fly in the seventh that allowed two runs) and added a few other sloppy plays in the game - turning a should-have-been-blowout into a nail biter.

Consider it the continued growing pains of a team with nine rookies on its roster, including a shortstop who made one of the errors on a seventh-inning throw, and a just-arrived-from-Iowa Micah Hoffpauir, who committed a second-inning fielding error.

They keep changing names and faces, and keep coming up with the same results.

And after losing yet another one-run game, 4-3 in 11 innings, to the San Francisco Giants in Carlos Zambrano's return as a starter late Monday night, the Cubs made more roster moves.

First baseman Derrek Lee, who left the team Monday to drive to Sacramento to be with his ailing grandfather, will go on baseball's bereavement list Tuesday, putting him out of action at least through the four-game series in San Francisco that opened Monday.

Micah Hoffpauir, one of the hottest hitters at AAA Iowa, returns to the majors for the first time this season today to replace Lee on the roster.

The Cubs also said catcher Geovany Soto will go on the 15-day DL today because of continuing soreness in his right shoulder, which affects him when he hits but not when he throws. Acting manager Alan Trammell said the club can't afford to chance playing with just one catcher on a day-to-day basis and will recall Welington Castillo from Iowa.

Castillo would be the eighth player to make his major league debut with the Cubs this season - with Monday night's losing pitcher, Marcos Mateo, being the seventh.

For all the late-night roster shuffling, the story of the day, if not this week, was Zambrano's first start since getting suspended after going off on his teammates in the first inning of a June 25 start on the South Side.

He tied his career high with seven walks and threw 95 pitches - about 20 more than expected - just to get through five innings, but somehow managed to depart with a 3-2 lead.

Zambrano blamed the lack of command on having too much movement on all of his pitches.

``You throw like in the middle or the corner, and the pitch runs too much, and it's a ball,'' he said. ``It's hard to come in your first start when you have too much movement. ... But I was able to control the ball when I had men on base, so that was good.''

Said Trammell: ``It was pretty apparent he wasn't real crisp with his command. ... But he competed. And this is his first start in quite awhile, so we're not going to look too much into that.

Cubs' Silva has heart procedure

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Carlos Silva had a cardiac ablation procedure today to fix his recurring irregular heartbeat - similar to what Mark DeRosa had in spring 2008 - and could be back on a mound for the Cubs by September.

Silva underwent the outpatient procedure after Monday's scheduled diagnostic identified the need, and he's expected to be able to resume like cardio work and shoulder exercises right away. He could be throwing from a mound by sometime next week, with a probable rehabilitation to follow soon after.

In other Cubs news today, the team is without first-baseman Derrek Lee, as well as manager Lou Piniella, in San Francisco because of illnesses in the family.

Piniella is home in Tampa, where his mother has been hospitalized in recent days.

Lee drove to his hometown of Sacramento today because his grandfather has fallen ill. It hasn't been determined how long he'll be away from the team.

Xavier Nady takes Lee's place in the No. 3 spot in the order and at first base. Tyler Colvin is back in the leadoff spot after two days out of the lineup.

Geo Soto, who has been bothered by a sore shoulder, is also back behind the plate, batting eighth.

Oh, and Carlos Zambrano is batting ninth, and pitching.

Big Z ``dedicated'' as he returns to Cubs rotation

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Carlos Zambrano is officially back in the Cubs' starting rotation. And whether the 11 starts he figures to get over the final two months winds up being his final 11 as a Cub, the embattled right-hander says he's relishing the assignment with newfound perspective.

``Sometimes you don't know what you have until you lose it,'' said Zambrano, who on Monday in San Francisco makes his first start since airing out teammates at U.S. Cellular Field on June 25 - earning a suspension and month-long restricted-list exile for anger management.

``When you lose it, you realize that you had something good - in your career, in your life. And I don't want to lose this opportunity. ... Look, I just want to pitch here and just want to be happy here, in Chicago. And I just want people to be happy, and the way to do that is pitch good.''

Zambrano is 3-6 with a 5.71 ERA this season - 3-5, 6.12 in nine starts.

After throwing 53 pitches in a relief appearance Sunday manager Lou Piniella said Zambrano will be on a limit of about 75-80 Monday.

After that his effectiveness over the next two months could go a long way toward helping the Cubs build a market for a possible off-season trade of their six-time Opening Day starter and the $40 million left on his contract at that point.

Zambrano, whose fastball was in the mid-90s during two relief appearances since his return, has a full no-trade clause but said over the weekend in Colorado that he would waive it if the Cubs asked. That doesn't mean he wants to leave, he reiterated today.

``I came with a mission, and I never quit,'' he said. ``For me to be traded is like quitting. And I love this city. I think this city deserves to watch a game in the World Series. This city deserves, these fans deserve, to celebrate a championship with us. That is what I'm here for.''

And he said he returns from this latest turmoil a changed man that he plans to translate into a changed pitcher as well.

``It's time to do some work, man, believe me,'' he said after getting the news today of his return to starting. ``I've been hard on myself, and I've been dedicated this last month to come back and be the best again, be one of the top [pitchers] in the National League.''


Cubs will get worse before they get better

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It didn't take long for the bad to get ugly after Saturday's trade of Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot ushered in the Cubs' efforts for 2011 - not to mention a few more rookies on the roster.

Not to mention ushering out fans by the hundreds - if not thousands -- if Monday's series opening crowd against division-rival Milwaukee is any indication.

It's the obvious, most-immediate risk the Cubs and first-year Ricketts ownership takes in blowing things up now for next year - turning off fans now and turning next April into a prove-it-before-I-come-back proposition.

It certainly can't hurt to get the head start on next year after watching this season disintegrate since that season-opening blowout loss in Atlanta. But it's probably going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

The Cubs haven't won a game since Monday. They've scored more than two runs only twice since then. And the young pitching staff - which got significantly younger with the trade of Lilly and Monday's DL move of Carlos Silva - is getting scorched.

Cubs' Silva placed on DL for heart issue

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A few hours after being released from a Denver hospital this morning, the Cubs placed pitcher Carlos Silva on the disabled list for more cardiac evaluation.

Silva, who left Sunday's start at Colorado after just four batters because of an abnormally high heart rate, went straight to Wrigley Field from the airport to meet with team doctors.

It was not the first time the big right-hander has experienced an episode of rapid heartbeat in his career, he said, a fact the team did not learn until today.

``Before when that happened, I'd just take a deep breath and try to calm down, so that's what I had in my mind, that if I do that I'm going to be fine,'' said Silva, who didn't leave Sunday's game until the second visit to the mound by trainers.

``But it started getting worse and worse,'' he added. ``It was a very scary moment. I was feeling bad, but when they put me inside the ambulance, I think that was the first time I ever put my family before baseball. The only thing I was thinking about was my kids and my family.''

Silva, 31, scoffed at the idea the condition might be career-threatening.

Team officials stressed the causes and extent of the condition won't be known until further tests and evaluation by Dr. Mark Upton, the team cardiologist.

Two years ago in spring training, infielder Mark DeRosa described similar symptoms and said he had been diagnosed with a ``minor,'' chronic condition when he was younger. He had a minimally invasive surgical procedure to correct the condition and has had no apparent recurrence.

``To be honest, I don't even know if it was the altitude or, I don't know,'' Silva said. ``I feel better today. I'm normal right now. But that's why the doctors are going to do studies, to find out what this is so it doesn't happen again.''

The Cubs called up two starting pitchers from AAA Iowa to take Silva's and recently traded Ted Lilly roster spots: right-handers Thomas Diamond, who's scheduled to start today, and Casey Coleman, who joins an overtaxed bullpen tonight.

Each will be making his major-league debut when he gets in his first game for the team.

Silva is 10-5 with a 3.92 ERA in 20 starts this season.

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