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

May 2012 Archives

Cubs turn to Joltin' Joe for lineup ``spark''

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PITTSBURGH - With no help from the outside on the way anytime soon, Cubs manager Dale Sveum is turning to Joe Mather to pick up his flagging lineup.

It was either that or draw his lineup out of a hat.

``You never know. Sometimes you pick a lineup out of a hat and you win,'' Sveum said. ``I wasn't going to go that far.''

Considering a lineup that has been among the worst in the National League all season - and that average two runs a game over the past week - how far did Sveum come from the hat trick?

``Not too far,'' he said.

Instead, it was Mather - one of the team's most productive hitters, albeit in a part-time role - taking over the No. 3 spot in the order Friday and playing center field.

It was the first time this season the Cubs' No. 3 hitter wasn't Castro, who hit second Friday.

``It's time,'' said Sveum, who considered making this move after an ugly series against the Sox last weekend. ``The combination of not really scoring throughout the whole season and that Mather's been as good as anybody swinging the bat ... I'm going to give him an opportunity to see if he can spark us and drive the ball and do some things.''

That means a starting job until further notice, Sveum said, including some third base and possibly another position or two.

For now it means cutting into Tony Campana's playing time, but the tradeoff is extra-base potential.

``Right now, for a little while, I'm going to commit to Mather and see what happens,'' Sveum said.

Cubs got Wood again: Travis ready for Houston

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The Kerry Wood Era ended Friday.

Could Tuesday night be the start of the Travis Wood Era?

``Hopefully, I can stick around for a while this time,'' said The Other Wood who returns from AAA to join the rotation tonight in demoted Chris Volstad's spot - having made one spot start for the Cubs earlier this month in a game they eventually won in 11 innings against the Dodgers.

The Cubs will settle for ending a seven-game losing streak when Wood takes the mound tonight against Houston left-hander J.A. Happ (3-3 4.96).

Catcher Welington Castillo, who's not ready to play on a knee he sprained Friday, is expected to be placed on the 15-day DL in the corresponding move to make room for Wood being added to the roster today. The Cubs already have two other catchers on the roster in Koyie Hill and Blake Lalli.

Since a miserable spring training, Wood has steadily regained his form at Iowa (3-3, 4.57) - including 2-0 with a 3.46 ERA in two May starts.

``I just relaxed, quit pressing and just let my pitches work,'' he said. ``They're there. Just quit trying to make them too good and just let them work.''

Manager Dale Sveum agrees that was the biggest problem for Wood after being traded to the Cubs from Cincinnati for Sean Marshall.

``He's a pretty wound-up guy,'' Sveum said. ``Anybody who comes into a new organization [after a rough season], I think you're always going to come in and try to really impress the new people and make the trade look good. And you can get out of your game.

``A lot of those things definitely happen, they happen to a lot of people before they do get to that point where they do settle in and settle down.''

That's the biggest thing, Wood said.

``Whatever's going to happen's going to happen,'' he said. ``If you can just keep that mindset, you'll stay more relaxed. Once the ball leaves my hand, I've got no control over it, so I just try to make the pitches the best I can and see what happens.''

Cubs' Samardzija takes high road on Sox comments

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To Jake Peavy, certain unnamed White Sox players or anyone else who wants to tell Jeff Samardzija how to play the game:

``It's all good,'' Samardzija said, smiling.

Samardzija, who hit Paul Konerko in the face Friday with a pitch all sides agree was unintentional, said he saw the Sun-Times column in which Sox pitcher Jake Peavy suggested Samardzija and a lot of other young players don't understand baseball's unwritten code and miss the point when making intent the issue.

And saw the an unnamed Sox player quotes saying, ``the kid better learn how the game is played and stop chirping'' - a reference to Samardzija and many other Cubs reacting to Philip Humber's retaliation pitch behind Bryan LaHair's back.

``It's fine,'' Samardzija said. ``There's not much to be said about it.''

Especially, perhaps, after Samardzija already said Saturday he braced for being the one to get thrown out after hitting Konerko.

``I was ready for it,'' he told the Sun-Times Saturday. ``No worries. Sometimes you deserve it.''

Samardzija, one of the top success stories for the Cubs this season, wouldn't address whether Peavy was off base with his comments.

``Peavy's fine,'' he said. ``He's pitching today. I'm sure he's a little fired up.''


NOTES

--Reliever Blake Parker, who left Saturday's game because of a tight hamstring, had an MRI Sunday, and the team is optimistic he suffered only a cramp.

--Catcher Steve Clevenger (oblique) heads to Iowa Monday to start a minor-league rehab assignment, with limited game action starting Tuesday and building through the week to nine innings. Barring a setback, he could return to the Cubs by the May 28 opener of the next homestand.

--Reliever Carlos Marmol (hamstring) also heads to Iowa for a rehab assignment, with a bullpen scheduled Monday, simulated game Wednesday and game action Friday - putting him on a similar timeline as Clevenger.

Rizzo close to joining Cubs?

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Turn up the Anthony Rizzo buzz.

The minor-league slugger fans and media have clamored to see in the majors since spring training could be in the Cubs' lineup within the next three weeks.

``That's definitely going to be talked about,'' Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Sunday morning. ``He's really done everything he can down there. But once again, when you bring somebody like that up, he's got to play every day.

``That's the million-dollar question: How do we get that playing time?''

That's a discussion that's already been going on internally in the organization for weeks -- as the Cubs' lineup has sputtered much of the first seven weeks of the season.

Team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer both recently traveled to see Rizzo play for Iowa.

A Gold Glove-caliber first baseman, the one certainty is that Rizzo would push Bryan LaHair - the Cubs' top offensive producer this season - to another position.

LaHair told the Sun-Times earlier this month that he's comfortable and experienced enough in the outfield that ``I don't consider that a position change.''

Rizzo, who was acquired by the Cubs from San Diego for Andrew Cashner in January, is hitting .353 with 14 home runs and 39 RBIs in 40 games at AAA Iowa - and a 1.124 OPS.

``It's definitely something that we're going to talk about, and probably around the beginning of June or interleague play when we need the DH and those kinds of things, too,'' said Sveum, who said two weeks ago the ``logical'' move would involve right-fielder David DeJesus going to center field to open a corner outfield spot for LaHair.

The Cubs' first road interleague series is June 8-10 in Minnesota, with their only other DH series of the season coming June 18-20 against the Sox.

And before anybody suggests something dumb like having Rizzo play the outfield: ``I think he's a huge asset at first base,'' Sveum said. ``A left-handed first baseman, and he's really, really good over there. I don't think we'd move him around at all.''

Pain won't stop Cubs' Soriano

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Alfonso Soriano still has enough pain in his left knee every day that he might wind up with a second surgery on the knee depending on what it feels like the rest of the season, he said Saturday.

But the Cubs' left fielder refuses to sit, refuses to complain and refuses to let it alter the way he goes after balls in left during a season in which he's experiencing a defensive rebirth at the age of 36.

Kerry Wood singled out Soriano for that behind-the-scenes toughness as he looked back on the trials and travails of his own career.

``I've got respect for guys that have played this game for a long time because it's not easy to do,'' Wood said. ``I have tremendous respect for what Soriano's doing out there in left field for us this year and the way he's worked and what he's put in knowing what his body's gone through.''

As Soriano said last week in St. Louis, ``I joke with my teammate I'm a warrior.''

The fact is the knee he had surgically repaired in September 2009 because of a meniscus tear hasn't been right much of this season, contributing to issues that already have him on a regular trainer's room schedule for maintenance therapy for his quads, hamstrings and calves.

``He knows,'' Soriano said of Wood, ``because he sees me in the training room getting treatments like he does. But I don't want to say nothing, because I want to play. I know my knee is not 100 percent, but I want to keep playing.''

That attitude is a big reason why he's had the support of his new manager and field staff since they took over.

``He's the biggest surprise for me coming from the other side of the fence,'' manager Dale Sveum said, ``as far as the work ethic and the way he goes about his business and how much he wants to play every single day with the pain that he has to go through with his knee.''

Inflammation has not been a regular issue in the knee, says the team, and the idea of surgery isn't even on the medical staff's radar screen.

But Soriano - who won't blame the knee pain for going without a homer until getting three the last five games -- got a few days off recently to rest the knee and told the Sun-Times that surgery has crossed his mind.

``Maybe after the season,'' he said. ``See how far I can go and after the season check it again, see what they can find in the knee. It's not fun being in pain.''

For now, he's hopeful the warmer weather will make a difference after it seemed to get worse with recent cold-weather games.

``It's not easy,'' he said.

The warm night Saturday seemed to agree with him as he delivered three hits, including a double and a ninth-inning, two-run homer.

``He's good enough to go out there,'' Sveum said. ``He's in one of those streaks I think where he's feeling pretty good at the plate, seeing the ball good and putting good swings on the ball.''

Cubs' Sveum: Bunt a `weapon'

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Aren't bunts supposed to be bad? Isn't that was Bill James says? Isn't that how Theo Epstein's Boston Red Sox looked at things, before Epstein took over the Cubs' operation?

Maybe.

But Cubs manager Dale Sveum also considers them weapons - sometimes even with his best hitter at the plate.

And if Sabermetrics and/or Epstein disagree?

``Theo's never talked to me about [Saber]metrics,'' Sveum said. ``When you're gaining two bases for one out and staying out of a double play later in the game, it's a weapon.''

The Cubs bunted four times in the final two innings Monday night, eventually scoring a pair of runs to beat the Cardinals, but not before .331-hitting Starlin Castro bunted into a double play with two on and none out in the eighth.

``Guys battle sometimes to get first an second, and the inning's over because of a ground-ball double play,'' Sveum said. ``As a manager you have to, unfortunately, think of the bad things that might happen.

``Are you going to sacrifice for one base for one out? No. But in a situation like that, yeah. Everybody's going to say, `Oh, they're going to walk [next batter Bryan] LaHair, or bring in the left-hander to face LaHair - which is fine. He hit a game-tying home run off [Marc] Rzepczynski [April 24 in the ninth.''

On the other hand, a walk to LaHair puts Alfonso Soriano at the plate against a guy, Mitchell Boggs, who'd held him hitless in nine career at-bats with seven strikeouts.

``But we got a guy at third. A sacrifice fly, we take the lead,'' Sveum said.

As it was, Soriano singled home the go-ahead run off Boggs after a two-out walk to LaHair.

``You can go on and on about it,'' said Sveum, who had four guys bunt in a stretch of eight batters late in Monday's game.

``Are you going to do it all the time? No,'' he said. ``But later in the game ... Like I told Castro, you're hitting third, but you're not a prototypical third hitter. You're a nice hitter, don't get me wrong. But you're going to be asked to bunt. You can do things, you can run. You ca get a bunt down and let guys screw it up. You see bunts screwed up as much as anything. ... You're not just bunting to bunt sometimes. ...

``You talk about [Saber]metrics, OK, you want to talk about that, then you talk about that,'' he said. ``The team that has more people on base in the course of a game is going ot win way more games than the other team. You want to keep potentially walking guys and all that, the odds gradually become in your favor to win the game. ...

``The bottom line is I'm the one who makes the decisions. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.''

Cubs' Marmol to DL; Casey Coleman joins pen

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MILWAUKEE - The Cubs opted for versatility over their need for another lefty in their bullpen when they put Carlos Marmol on the disabled list Saturday and recalled right-hander Casey Coleman.

Coleman, who was in the starting rotation for AAA Iowa, joins the bullpen as a potential matchup reliever, obviously capable of pitching multiple innings per appearance. The Cubs' pen has been heavy on one-inning guys.

``He's the kind of guy you can use in different roles depending on what's going on that day,'' Sveum said of Coleman. ``He's got the slider, he's got different arm angles, a guy you could use if right-handers are coming up, things like that. And he's definitely a guy you're going to want to use two innings all the time, whenever he's getting used.''

Marmol was scheduled Saturday for an MRI on his injured right hamstring. Sveum wouldn't speculate on how long Marmol might be out.

``He got really, really sore, when he was walking out last night, it seemed to get actually worse,'' he said. ``We'll just have to see.''

Marmol, who was demoted out of the closer role May 4, was making progress with the fastball command the staff wanted to see from him, including Friday when he got hurt.

``His fastball was consistently 95 mph, and he was throwing strikes for the most part,'' Sveum said.

Marmol, a likely trade candidate near the July 31 deadline if he's healthy and effective by then, could also be facing at least a brief minor-league rehab assignment, Sveum said.

``It's an option,'' the manager said. ``Whenever it's leg injuries like that, you do want people a lot of times, with the adrenaline and all that, to get out there on the mound somewhere. But we'll cross those bridges when we get to them.''

Cubs' Sveum: ``I don't condone'' Wood's glove throwing

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Dale Sveum said he didn't see it, but the Cubs' manager still didn't like Kerry Wood's glove-throwing response to Tuesday's rough outing against the Atlanta Braves.

``Do I care? Of course, I care,'' Sveum said. ``I don't condone it or wish it to happen all the time, but we all know in this game there's frustrations that happen. And sometimes we regret things we do, that's for sure. We're not perfect human beings.''

That was especially true on the mound Tuesday night for Wood, who threw only nine of his 22 pitches for strikes in walking two of the first four batters in the eighth to load the bases in a tie game - before giving up the decisive two-run single to Dan Uggla.

When he eventually escaped further damage by getting an inning-ending pickoff at second - after falling behind 3-0 to Jason Heyward - Wood threw his glove and hat into the stands just before descending into the dugout.

When asked in a straightforward, respectful manner about the glove/hat-throwing, three questions into his postgame media interview, Wood snapped:

``Irrelevant, dude,'' he said. ``Why the f--- would you even bring that up? You guys have a good night.''

And then he left.

Sveum, who chatted with Wood near second base during batting practice Wednesday, said he still plans to use Wood late in games but acknowledged Wood's not where the team needs him to be since spending 20 days on the DL with shoulder fatigue.

``We've got to get him out there. We've got to get him built up and comfortable on the mound in game situations, whether it's every other day for a little while,'' Sveum said. ``It's just a matter of getting comfortable and getting in a rhythm. The bottom line is throwing strikes and being able to use your fastball and getting back in counts.''

Wood is averaging nearly three base runners an inning in his six appearances this season.

Demoted Wells not happy, unsure of future with Cubs

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Randy Wells isn't going to start demanding trades or getting an attitude.

In fact, he spent most of Thursday morning looking in the mirror after getting the expected word that he's headed back to AAA Iowa as part of a roster shuffle that included Ryan Dempster (quad) and Kerry Wood (shoulder) both returning from the disabled list.

But he wouldn't be human if he didn't start to wonder what his future with the Cubs looks like after his second demotion in five weeks following three seasons in the big-league rotation.

``I didn't pitch well. There's no one to really blame but yourself,'' he said. ``But it still sucks. You obviously want to pitch well and put yourself in a good position, but the numbers don't stack up. It is what it is.''

So is he starting to feel like he doesn't fit in here?

Nobody's told him they're looking to move him or anything like that, he said.

``I don't know. We'll see,'' he said. ``But I don't think it's that at all. I just think there's no room.''

Wells, who makes $2.7 million this year, is scheduled to rejoin the AAA Iowa rotation, where he pitched until coming up for two starts while Dempster was on the DL.

He walked nine in 8 2/3 innings in those two starts, both Cubs losses.

``He's got a future,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``We can't sit here and promise anything, but right now, that's the role he's in - a swing man, coming up when we need starts.''

Wells might have been considered for a bullpen spot if there were any options there.

As it was, Scott Maine - who pitched well and was one of only two lefties in the pen - was optioned back to the minors to make room for Wood, largely because of contract and service-time situations with many of the other relievers.

``Those are unfortunate things in this game that happen,'' Sveum said, ``because he did a good job while he was here, a very good job, and it's very nice to have those two lefties in the bullpen.''

Maine had a 1.59 ERA in five appearances, with 10 strikeouts and two walks in 5 2/3 innings.

Meanwhile, Wood will be eased back into more ``stressful'' late-inning situations, said Sveum, who plans to use him in the sixth or seventh inning his first few appearances back.

``We'll monitor him,'' Sveum said. ``It'll be every other day, and when you get him up, you get him in the game.''

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