So far, so good for Anthony Rizzo's Cubs debut week.
With his first home run as a Cub on Saturday, the touted rookie got his second game-winning hit of the week for a 3-2 victory over the Houston Astros.
``It just feels good to get that win and get that monkey off my back to get that [first] homer,'' he said.
It was his second career homer--his first was last season in his short stay with the San Diego Padres--and was the big blow in a three-run fifth inning off J. A. Happ (6-8) that assured Matt Garza (4-6) a victory.
``He's doing his thing, so let him enjoy it,'' Garza said of Rizzo. ``But this was a great team effort.''
It featured sparkling defense with three double plays--including one turned by second baseman Darwin Barney to end a Houston threat in the fifth--and 3 2/3 innings of scoreless work from five relievers, the last Carlos Marmol (7th save.)
The Cubs have a chance today to win three straight, something they've only done once this season from May 28-30 against San Diego.
``Let's take this little attitude we've got going on to tomorrow,'' Garza said.
Garza and the Cubs trailed 2-0 until the fifth when Luis Valbuena walked and later scored on Starlin Castro's single. Castro was on base when Rizzo hammered a 1-0 pitch over the right field wall.
``The only other one I had was off a lefty, too,'' said Rizzo, a left-handed hitter. ``That's another thing I worked on [to hit lefties.]''
Rizzo was center stage again in the seventh when the Astros intentionally walked Castro with first base open and Reed Johnson (double) at third with one out. But Rizzo struck out against Fernando Arad.
``Castro's a proven All Star and I'm just a rookie,'' Rizzo said. ``I like the situation. I got a little too aggressive there, but we got the win.''
Garza again had a high pitch count because of foul balls more than walks (three), reaching 104 in only 5 1/3 innings.
``It was more a day you day had to battle your own elements,'' Garza said. ``I felt in the second inning like I was wearing a suit of water. I didn't have my best location, but the guys picked me up. A lot of double plays--and Barney had a great one himself. Not only did it end an inning but it ended a threat. And the guys in the bullpen did a great job. Hats off to the defense and the offense.''
June 2012 Archives
So far, so good for Anthony Rizzo's Cubs debut week.
Trade talks could move to the front burner now that the multi-million dollar signing of Cuban prospect Jorge Soler is official.
General manager Jed Hoyer said trade chatter has been ``probably the same the last week or two,'' but he added, ``it's our job to make sure we're in touch with every team and talking to everyone and [making] sure we know what's going on.
``Obviously a lot of teams check in with us as well. Nothing has changed that way, and I think it will sort of maintain this until we get a week out [from the July 31 deadline] and then it heats up.'
Injuries for contending teams like the New York Yankees, who have lost Andy Pettitte and C.C. Sabathia in the last week, might up the ante for Ryan Dempster and perhaps Matt Garza and others. But Hoyer said the added wild card in each league also has changed things.
``Things change from week to week. It doesn't take much of a hot streak to get into a race now,'' he said. ``Now, one hot streak and a couple of injuries to a team in the lead and all of a sudden everyone feels like they're back in the race.
``It's hard to characterize how it will play out this year.''
AWAITING ANOTHER ALL-STAR NOD
Shortstop Starlin Castro seems the likely choice today to be the Cubs All Star representative again. But more important to the 22-year-old might be that his new bosses consider him a young star for the future.
``Theo and I talk about this all the time--when we got here people questioned his ability to stay at shortstop,'' Hoyer said. ``I don't think there is any question. I think he will be an above average defensive shortstop in time. He's made some errors, but he's 22 years old. I think he's going to be a shortstop for a long time. He has really proven a lot to us in a short time and I think he's only going to get better.''
SURGERY FOR STEWART?
Surgery on his ailing wrist may be unavoidable for third baseman Ian Stewart.
``I think it's a strong likelihood,'' Hoyer said. ``He may be able to avoid it but to this point, we have tried to exhaust every option to avoid it and it may well end up with surgery.''
Medical tests have been unable to pinpoint the cause of the pain, and cortisone injections haven't solved the problem.
VOLSTAD STARTS TUESDAY
Chris Volstad will be recalled from Class AAA Iowa to make Tuesday's start in Atlanta for injured Ryan Dempster.
Dempster (sore right lat) will throw off the mound Monday in a bullpen session.
Jorge Soler, 20, has no family in the U.S., having defected from his native Cuba last year to pursue a dream to play baseball in the majors. Giving special consideration to his personal circumstance is important, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said.
``I think we have to do a really good job of focusing on assimilation,'' Hoyer said. ``For any player coming from Cuba, this is a lot different and we have to understand that and take it slowly with him. Professional baseball is hard for any player, let alone someone coming from a completely different culture, and we have to understand that.''
The Cubs have Cuban Americans on staff, including vice president of player development Oneri Fleita and international scouting coordinator Alex Suarez. ``And we have cuban players, and I think it will help, but even still, it's a different world for [Soler.]''
Soler will start in right field, but Hoyer said he could play another position eventually.
``He's a huge, huge person [6-3, 205] and has huge power, and it's hard to find power in today's game. That's a big part of why we're willing to make that kind of commitment. He's just a huge guy with bat speed and has always generated a lot of power.''
Manager Dale Sveum has liked everything he's seen from rookie catcher Steve Clevenger. But veteran Geovany Soto is still the Cubs main catcher, Sveum said.
``I don't think it's platooning,'' he said of Clevenger hitting against some right-handed pitchers. ``Soto will catch 60 to 70 percent of the time. Clevenger [a left-handed hitter] will get his at bats, but Soto will play more.''
Soto was in the lineup Saturday against Houston left-hander J. A. Happ. Soto, who missed time because of left knee arthroscopic surgery, entered the game hitting .160 with five home runs and 9 RBI.
The Cubs have signed Cuban slugging prospect Jorge Soler, 20, who becomes the first major monied player for Theo Epstein.
The Cubs were said to have out-bid the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers for rights to the Cuban outfielder. The deal is said to be a nine-year pact worth $30 million.
It is a deal based on projections, with the Cubs believing Soler will develop into a power-hitting player.
``We think he'll provide a ton of power potential for us,'' general manager Jed Hoyer said.. ``We scouted him heavily and obviously he's a significant commitment for us. We feel he fits well into what we're trying to do. He's the right age, the right talent and we're excited to get him started.''
Hoyer wouldn't project when Soler might be major league-ready.
``Let's get him in games first, but he's 20 yers old,'' Hoyer said. ``One thing his agents did a good job of was getting him in games in the Domincan Republic [after his defection.]. It wasn't just a showcase thing. We're hopeful that's a harbenger of good things, but it's hard to tell until he gets in games.''
Manager Dale Sveum has seen Soler only on video.
``You can go on and on about body types, but he is like a Glenn Braggs, and that kind of strength at that young age is pretty impressive,'' Sveum said Saturday. ``Hopefully it can translate into success at this [major league] level.''
Soler is considered years away from the majors, though some scouts said he would have been a top ten pick had he been in this month's amateur draft.
Soler played for the Cuban national team in international competition before defecting from Cuba in 2011, going to Haiti.
The Cubs had until Monday to sign Soler to the agreed contract. As of Monday, new rules on the signing of international players caps contracts to $2.9 million annually.
The 6-3, 205-pound player batted .304 with a .500 on base percentage and .522 slugging percentage in seven games in 2010 playing in the World Junior Championships.
Small triumphs are the kind that will count as big ones for the Cubs in this transitional season.
There were several in Friday's 4-0 victory against the Houston Astros, including a shutout victory against an opponent on the heels of one of the team's worst losses in their losing season.
``I think the day off [on Thursday] helped and we could forget about Wednesday [a 17-1 loss],'' said Alfonso Soriano, who hit his 15th homer in the sixth off Bud Norris (5-5). ``And Maholm pitched a very good game.''
It was Paul Maholm's (5-6) excellence through 8 1/3 innings that marked the most significant triumph, the left hander holding the Astros to only two singles before the ninth in his 200th career start.
Brian Bixler's one out single and Carlos Lee's double ended Maholm's hopes for a complete game, with Carlos Marmol summoned to end it (sixth save).
``After the last outing, I'll take it,'' a smiling Maholm said, remembering his last start in Arrizona when he lasted only 3 1/3 innings of a 10-5 loss.
Maholm hadn't won a game since May 9, a span of eight starts, with four no decisions and four losses.
``There were four or so that I left tied or with the lead. You don't want to say you did your job if the team doesn't win, but it's much more gratifying to play well and win,'' he said.
But there is an irony to Maholm's success, one that hangs over several Cubs as management weighs whether an improving player has more value as trade bait.
Starting pitching is the most valued baseball commodity, and a successful left handed starter a tantalizing prize.
``I've dealt with that stuff for three years,'' Maholm said of trade rumors. ``[Ryan] Dempster and [Matt] Garza and Sori--it's part of it. All you can do is be prepared to do your job. I've enjoyed it here and love pitching in this park. But all I can do is be prepared for my next start in Atlanta [next week.]''
Maholm walked one and struck out five in bouncing back from his last start.
``Obviously, confidence is a huge factor. You just have to go out confident in your game plan. If you doubt your pitches, they won't be as crisp.
``In Arizona, I didn't make some pitches and I wasn't able to get out of jams that I created. Today, it was being aggressive early. Guys made plays behind me--and three home runs always help.''
The other two came from third baseman Luis Valbuena (third), who continues to make up for the loss of Ian Stewart (wrist injury), and from catcher Steve Clevenger, who hit his first career homer in the fourth with Bryan LaHair on base.
``It's a dream come true to hit a homer in the big leagues, but more important is we got the win and the shutout,'' said Clevenger, a converted shortstop.
Sveum is counting Clevenger's development behind the plate in his book of positives.
``It's the way he calls a game as much as anything,'' Sveum said. ``He's left-handed and puts the bat on the ball, but he seems to catch a lot of gems for us.''
Maholm praised Clevenger as well.
``Clevenger is a young guy who is getting his feet wet and getting confidence in a big league game. He's getting to understand how I pitch. That's always big for young guys, to be on the same page as a starter.''
Starlin Castro seems the most likely selection to represent the Cubs on the National League All-Star team, but Alfonso Soriano deserves consideration in manager Dale Sveum's opinion.
``Castro and Sori are the two guys who would be high on the list,'' he said. ``With [Ryan] Dempster being hurt, that's pretty much it.''
Castro's team-leading .301 average, his 200-hit season of 2011 and history as an All-Star last season would seem to be factors in his favor to represent the team again. His 93 hits lead all National League shortstops and his average ranks third behind Rafael Furcal and Jose Reyes.
``I think Castro is one of the young players who come around once in a while who can be as good as they want to be,'' Sveum said. ``The ceiling is high, and he can do things every day to help win ball games.'
Soriano is hitting .270 but has 15 home runs since May 15, leading the National League for that time span and tied for third most in baseball. No. 15 came in the sixth inning Friday off Houston pitcher Bud Norris.
But Soriano also has played better defense this season and is one of only three left fielders to have handled at least 100 total chances without an error this season. He has handled 123 chances leading into Friday's game, ahead of Arizona's Jason Kubel (106( and White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo (119).
Ryan Dempster won't pitch again until after the Al Star break, but an exact timetable for the right-hander's return still isn't certain.
``The earliest obviously would be some time after the All Star break, but we're still going to make sure he's built up to be ready,' manager Dale Sveum said Friday.
``Every time has been on schedule on what we're trying to do and the progress each time he throws and how he feels, but obviously there's no timetable [on his return.] We'll just keep monitoring.''
Dempster said he feels no pain any longer from the soreness in his right lat that put him on the disabled list as of June 16.
``The inflammation is out. I'm pain fee. I just don't know how I'll feel throwing.
``But it won't take long [to come back] once I get out there.''
Dempster threw on flat ground Friday, his first activity in two days. Depending on how he felt, he might throw off a mound this weekend.
``It's just day to day,'' he said.
With Dempster out, the rotation will have as many as two dates he would have thrown before the July 9-12 All Star break.
``We have a couple options, but we'll finalize that after [Friday's] game,'' Sveum said.
Because of the off day Thursday, there is some flexibility. Sveum said Casey Coleman or Chris Volstad, now pitching at Class AAA Iowa, could be used.
``It would be Volstad's day, so we have some options we're weighing,'' Sveum said.
Volstad threw seven innings Thursday against Oklahoma City, allowing two earned runs on six hits with no walks and seven strikeouts.
With righthander Bud Norris pitching Friday for Houston, left-handers Steve Clevenger and Bryan LaHair were in the lineup. They might not start the rest of the series with lefties J. A. Happ and Wandy Rodriguez scheduled.
But it won't affect rookie left-hander Anthony Rizzo, who is at first base to stay, Sveum said.
``Rizzo is batting third. I don't see me changing that,'' he said. ``He does things you want in a third hitter. The jury is still out, but you want your best hitter, and if guys are on, you have to have the maturity to get them over and in. You want a real solid guy who can do a lot of things. Those key RBI in the early innings of a game are the most important things to take an early lead on the road and to come back at home.''
There is concern that Ian Stewart's sore wrist hasn't responded to additional cortisone injections.
``The shots don't seem to be making a difference,'' Sveum said. ``We'll have to see what we do.''
Stewart has hoped to avoid surgery to try to determine an exact cause for his pain. He has had MRIs and seen specialists without a clear diagnosis of the problem.
Rookie of the Year?
Anthony Rizzo probably earns that distinction for the Cubs this year just by showing up - if barely.
Rizzo's 128 at-bats for the San Diego Padres last season falls three short of putting him beyond rookie status. And his 44 days on the Padres' roster during the 25-man limit? Two short.
So about that N.L. Rookie of the Year? He's got some catching up to do, but if history means anything, the 89 games he had to work with when recalled from the minors Tuesday could be enough.
``That'd be cool,'' said Rizzo, who batted third and went 2-for-4 with an RBI in his Cubs debut Tuesday night. ``But do I think of that? No way.''
In 1959, another left-handed, slugging first baseman needed just 52 games to win the award for the San Francisco Giants, with Willie McCovey hitting .354 with a 1.085 OPS.
And an Atlanta Braves first baseman won it in 1978 playing the same 89 games that Rizzo gets - Bob Horner hitting .266 with 23 homers without so much as a pit stop in the minors.
``Maybe in a month or two I'll try talking about that, but it's day-to-day,'' Rizzo said of his focus. ``That'd be awesome, but that's way too far to think about.''
Cubs manager Dale Sveum liked everything he saw from rookie Anthony Rizzo, from his mannerisms fielding first base to his plate approach.
``He didn't act like a kid,'' he said, Rizzo debuting with a 2-for-4 game and RBI in the Cubs' 5-3 victory over the New York Mets Tuesday, a win that gave them another series. ``Pretty impressive. You can't teach `no panic.' ''
What Sveum didn't like was what he saw from starter Randy Wells, who lasted only into the fourth, giving up all three runs on six hits with four walks--including one to starting pitcher Dillon Gee (5-6).
``Walking the pitcher--those things aren't too acceptable,'' Sveum said.
Wells starting role while Ryan Dempster is disabled is in jeopardy. ``We have a few days to talk about it, and maybe with the off day [Thursday] we can get by,'' Sveum said. ``We'll see what we come up with.'
There is no doubting Rizzo's future, Sveum assuring he is here for the duration.
``It was awesome, a lot of fun today,'' Rizzo said of the hype-filled day. ``The guys in here welcomed me with open arms.
``I was taking deep breaths before the first at bat, but in the box I felt really good. I kept my same routine all day--hitting, fielding, and just playing a baseball game. That's how I play the game--really relaxed.
``Everyone always says it looks like I'm not really trying--that's the way I like it.''
Rizzo's first cheers from the Wrigley Field crowd of 34,064 came for his glove in the first, the left hander fielding David Wright's ground ball and flipping to Wells covering for the third out.
His first at bat lining a ball off a diving shortstop Ruben Tejada drew boos first because it as called an error. Moments later, there were cheers when the scoring was changed to a hit.
In the fourth, he hustled out a double to center that scored Steve Clevenger.
``It scored a run,'' he smiled. ``Just playing baseball.
``Once the game starts, you're like a little kid just plaing baseball.''
Rizzo admitted when he arrived at the park, ``I thought about the movie ``Rookie of the Year'' '' that was shot in Wrigley Field.
``It's been building up since day one and he did great, and he'll continue to do great,'' said pitcher Scott Maine, who will remember the game for another reason---getting his first major league win.
``This is my third year of getting called up and down,'' he said. ``My first win--the guys showered me with Mountain Dew--they know I don't drink so they were respectful of that. It was nice.''
The game also gave Carlos Marmol his 100th career save.
The all-around good feeling on a night the Cubs had 12 hits made Rizzo's arrival a positive.
``Hopefully he continues to help the team win and he'll be here a long time,'' Alfonso Soriano said.
Everything about his debut with the Cubs should be positive for Anthony Rizzo--even if he doesn't get a hit.
The touted prospect already has learned what life's challenges really are. He went through treatment for lymphoma three years ago.
Cubs center fielder Tony Campana went through the same cancer of the lymph system when he was a child. It's a life experience they have shared but never really talk about to each other.
``Here and there, but nothing too deep,'' Campana said of discussing that experience.
``It humbles you, and that helps,'' he said of being a cancer survivor. ``He's in the eye of everything right now and he knows that, but that [experience] humbles you.
Campana did reach out to Rizzo Monday night after he arrived in Chicago.
``I called him and talked to him. He's a pretty funny dude and so I gave him a hard time. I know he's excited. He told me he's ten times more excited now than he was last year [when he was called up for the first time in San Diego.] That's awesome.''
New York Mets manager Terry Collins was managing the Anaheim Angels in the late 1990s when first baseman Troy Glaus broke in and started a future All Star career. There was hype surrounding the Angels prospect, but ``not like this guy,' Collins said of Anthony Rizzo.
``He didn't have the hoopla this guy did,'' he said of Rizzo. ``Troy turned out to be a great player, and this kid will, too. He [Rizzo] has so much obvious ability, it will play out.''
The ``hoopla'' can be problematic for young players.
``Sometimes they try to do too much instead of focusing on how they play,'' he said.
Cubs outfielder Joe Mather switched his uniform number from 16 to 21.
``I had it in high school. I used to watch the tapes of Roberto Clemente running around and always saw that No. 21 and liked it. It became availlable and I asked [clubhouse manager Tom Hellmann] if I could have it.''
No. 21 was Sammy Sosa's number with the Cubs, Sosa also a Clemente fan.
Mather hit a home run Monday wearing the new number.
``It was a good way to break it in,'' he said.
Cubs left hander Travis Wood has pitched against Cy Young Award winners Justin Verlander, Jake Peavy and Barry Zito, only beating Peavy in his last outing at U.S. Cellular Field.
On Monday, it was another former Cy Young winner, Mets lefty Johan Santana, as his opponent but Wood emerged the star again.
His seven scoreless innings of five-hit ball paced the Cubs 6-1 victory, ending a four-game losing streak for the team and giving him a second straight W.
``Impressive,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``That was about as good as you can get. He had life on his fastball. Guys who are fastball hitters he was beating all night. It was the kind of life I saw a few times last year in Milwaukee on the other side [when Wood pitched for Cincinnati.]''
Wood walked one and struck out six in pitching in his fourth quality start in June. He has a 2.27 ERA in June after a 5.94 ERA in three starts in May.
``He's handled things well,'' Joe Mather said of Wood (2-3), who was sent to the minors after spring training. ``He went down after spring and didn't complain and battled to come back.''
Mather was the hitting hero with a two-run homer off Santana (5-4) in the fourth. The Cubs added four unearned runs in the seventh when the Mets committed three errors, including back-to-back three-base miscues by third baseman David Wright and right fielder Lucas Duda.
``I don't think I've ever seen two like that,'' Sveum said. ``One [by pinch hitter Adrian Cardenas] was only two feet from home plate [that Wright couldn't handle.]''
Wood has allowed three or fewer runs in seven of his eight starts while often drawing the best opposing pitchers.
``It's a sign of a guy who competes and doesn't worry about who he's competing against,' Sveum said.
``I felt going down was useful,'' said Wood, who was acquired from the Reds for left hander Sean Marshall. ``My confidence absolutely is high right now.
``I try to say it doesn't matter who I'm going against, although you know against guys like Johan, you have to bring it.'
After the game, the Cubs announced Cardenas would be optioned back to Class AAA Iowa to make room for Anthony Rizzo, who arrives Tuesday.
Whatever pressure awaits Anthony Rizzo when he joins the Cubs Tuesday shouldn't compare to the battle he faced and won in 2008.
Rizzo, now 22, was diagnosed with lymphoma in April that year and played in only 21 minor league games.
``From what I know of him, he's already dealt with cancer and I think that's definitely a positive for him,''said rookie infielder Adrian Cardenas, who played with Rizzo at Class AAA Iowa. ``You deal with so much adversity in baseball anyway, even if you're going well. I think he'll be able to handle [the pressures.]''
Outfielder Tony Campana, 26, also is a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with lymphoma as a child.
``Rizzo obviously isn't `Campana fast,' but he plays like that,'' Cardenas said. ``You won't see him jog to first. You won't see him not dive for balls if it's a blowout up or down.
``Last year [when Rizzo hit .141 in 41 games for San Diego] I'm sure he had to deal with a lot and learned from it.
``Things have a tendency to spiral downward if you're not having success right out of the shoot. It becomes difficult because this is what we've trained for all our lives. Sure, you could go back to Class AAA and work on things, but there's no guarantees you'll come back. But this game is impossible to play with inhibitions.''
Former Cubs outfielder and All-Star Marlon Byrd has been suspended by Major League Baseball for violating the league's drug policy.
The league announced the action Monday.
Byrd was traded to the Boston Red Sox in May but was designated for assignment by the Red Sox on June 12.
Reports say the former Cub tested positive for the drug Tamoxifen, which is used in the treatment of breast cancer in women. It is an estrogen-blocking drug used most often to treat estrogen-related forms of breast cancer, but with powerful side effects.
The drug is said to be used to counter some of the sid effects of steroid use.
Byrd is a free agent but would face a 50 game suspension if he were to sign with a club.
Byrd released a statement through the Players Association saying he had taken ``a medication'' after suffering a recurrence of a non-baseball condition that had required surgery.
``I made an inexcusable mistake. Several years ago, I had surgery for a condition that was private and unrelated to baseball. Last winter I suffered a recurrence of that condition and I was provided with a medication that resulted in my positive test. Although that medication is on the banned list, I absolutely did not use it for performance enhancement reasons.
``I am mortified by my careless ness and I apologize to everyone who loves this game as I do. I will serve my suspension, continue to work hard and hope that I am given an opportunity to help a club win later this season.''
By Gordon Wittenmyer
During spring training, Anthony Rizzo didn't appreciate being told that manager Dale Sveum said, ``It's a concrete plan to let Rizzo have another season in Triple-A instead of moving him up and down.''
Said Rizzo on the day in March he got optioned to AAA Iowa: ``If that's concrete, I want to know who laid that down. Nothing's concrete in this business.''
Turns out he was right.
The Cubs' top prospect, whose promotion to the big leagues has been anticipated for more than a month, was removed from Iowa's game Monday after batting twice, and the Cubs plan to have him in Chicago Tuesday to face New York Mets right-hander Dillon Gee.
Rizzo, 22, presumably finishes his Iowa season with a .342 average, 23 home runs and 62 RBIs in 70 games.
The lefty slugger spent 49 games in the big leagues with San Diego last season, struggling in his 128-at-bat debut to hit .141 with one homer.
One adjustment the Cubs had him make this season after acquiring him in an off-season trade for Andrew Cashner was to lower his hands before he swings, putting him in hitting position quicker.
Both Sveum and team president Theo Epstein said that's been a big difference maker this season.
By GORDON WITTENMYER
PHOENIX - Can Anthony Rizzo pitch?
Can he hit a five-run homer?
If Saturday night's 3 ½-hour, water-torture loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks offered anything of value to the insomniacs who watched till the end, it might be simply that it served as a reminder how much more than one Great Bright Hype from Iowa these Cubs need.
While Rizzo's imminent callup is a start for some of the things the Cubs' new front office wants to do in their big overhaul plans, it doesn't figure to provide much instant impact beyond ticket sales.
Case in point: A 10-5 loss in which the Cubs get a two-run homer from their starting pitcher for a fourth-inning lead, only to watch Paul Maholm fail to survive a bottom half of the inning in which the Diamondbacks bat around.
``Paul went out after that homer and didn't have much after that,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``That seems to be our Achilles heel.''
They have a lot more than one of those.
The Cubs actually scored more runs Saturday than they had in their previous three games combined (three), but, as Sveum said, ``We left a few people out there, too, in key spots.''
Despite 14 hits overall, the Cubs went 2-for-11 with men in scoring position - making them 3-for-19 in that situation through the first two games of the series.
``We've got to get better with men in scoring position. That's the bottom line,'' Sveum said. ``Our core guys got to start doing something in the middle of that order.''
The top two hitters in the lineup, David DeJesus and Starlin Castro, each had four hits, but neither scored Saturday night.
One of those core guys, No. 3 hitter Bryan LaHair, had men on base every time he came up Saturday, including four in scoring position and went 0-for-5. He's now 7-for-48 (.146) with men in scoring position.
Asked about moving LaHair out of a run production spot in the order, Sveum didn't seem to have many options.
``You give him a chance,'' he said, ``but the scoring position stuff's getting a little - he's struggled all year with people in scoring position and it just keeps continuing. We've got to change the approach or whatever's going on, but he's got to get better at that.''
And even after the Cubs rallied for three in the fifth to make it a 7-5 game, the bullpen gave up runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth to let it get away again.
Bottom line: The Cubs stay ½-game ahead of San Diego in the race for next year's No. 1 overall draft pick on a night the Padres also lost.
And that worst-record-in-baseball pace has them on track for a franchise-record 107 losses.
How many Rizzos they got down there?
A few thoughts and leftovers from late Friday results:
1. Dale Sveum says it's time ``monitor'' Jeff Samardzija as the guy the Cubs plan to build a rotation around seems to have hit a mid-season wall during his first full season as a big-league starter.
Samardzija sailed through three innings Friday night against the Diamondbacks before laboring to get three batters into the sixth (walk, walk and triple to those three). He hasn't gone more than 5 1/3 innings in any of four June starts after going six or more in six of seven (seven or more in four starts during that run).
Samardzija (5-6) said after Friday's loss that his arm/body feels better than it did earlier in the season, and Sveum admittedly isn't seeing any velocity drop.
But something's going on with Samardzija (83 innings so far) as he nears last season's 88-inning total as a reliever.
``I've been noticing about the 80 pitch mark the ball gets up,'' Sveum said. ``Even though there's no [loss of] velocity, the ball's getting up. That's when the walks start coming in.
``So we're going to have to monitor that, because it's definitely getting to be a pattern.''
2. ESPN stats people point out Cubs' awful 70-game start this season surpassed in failure by only two previous Cub teams: 1901 and 1966, both of whom began 22-48 - with the '66 team going on to match the franchise record for losses (103).
The good news: If the Cubs are going to be this bad, they might as well go all the way. And when they lost to Arizona Friday, while San Diego was beating Seattle, they took a step in that direction - dropping behind the Padres again for worst record in baseball.
With 92 games left, the race is on for the top overall pick in next year's draft, with the leader board looking like this entering play Saturday (top 5 2013 draft order if season ended now): 1, Cubs; 2, San Diego (½ game back); 3, Colorado (2 ½); 4, Houston (4); 5, Minnesota (4 ½).
3. Can we call Darwin Barney a potential core player for the Rizzo-Castro next-generation Cubs contender the new front office plans? Sveum says he thinks so - especially if Barney continues making strides driving the ball.
One big reason: Good enough skills and focus in the field to give Barney a 57-game (471 1/3-inning) errorless streak entering Saturday night's game. The last Cubs' middle infielder with a streak that long was Mike Fontenot in 2008 (90 games) and Fontenot didn't reach as many balls.
``When you're playing second base, and you have to turn double plays and have relay throws and all that stuff where some of the errors come in, to get to 50 games is pretty impressive,'' said Sveum, a former middle infielder. ``It doesn't happen too often with middle infielders.
``And he's got good range, especially to his left. He's got tremendous range to his left. He's sucked up a lot of left-handed balls to the hole and done a great job. Far and above what I saw from the other side of the fence. He's done an unbelievable job at second base.''
Can Starlin Castro develop into the kind of hitter that even begins to approximate the ``selective aggressiveness'' that the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer front office wants to make and organizational hallmark the way they did in Boston?
That's at least debatable. But Epstein said he believes that the increasing power he anticipates from Castro will indirectly push that process in the coming years.
Meanwhile, the most important indicator might be Castro himself. The 22-year-old shortstop with the innate ability to hit almost any pitch almost anywhere his bat can reach says he's confident he can be a much better, more selective hitter than he is.
``I can be better than I am right now, with a little more experience, a little more patience at the plate,'' he said, recognizing the shortcoming before it could specifically be raised. ``When I [improve at] not swinging at bad pitches.''
Castro has only six walks in 298 plate appearances. That's just .02 BB/PA - worst in the majors for qualifying hitters. And only six National League qualifiers see fewer pitches (3.51 per PA).
Even Castro sees that as an issue, despite his ability to make good contact even on pitches out of the strike zone.
``You can hit bad pitches, but you're going to swing at pitcher's pitches,'' he said. ``But if you can eliminate that, you can swing at better pitches.''
Sounds at least like he's listening to his manager and coaches.
Those who have seen Castro since he was a teenage rookie-ball player say just keep watching.
``I think if you want him to do something, he's so talented that if he worked at anything, he'd be good at it,'' said teammate Tony Campana, who was a rookie-ball teammate, too. ``If you wanted him to sit there and take pitches and hit with two strikes, he could do it.
``I think he's just so competitive, it's, `Well, whatever the pitcher throws up there, I can hit it anyway, so I'm going to hit it, whether it's [early in the count or not] - and he does. He's the most unbelievable person I've ever seen at getting the barrel to the ball, no matter where the pitch is, whether it's in the dirt, or over his head or right down the middle.''
That's the part that has had scouts and instructors drooling over his potential for years - and that still informs the Cubs' visions of Castro in his prime.
``With any 22 year old,'' team president Epstein said, ``I think it's time to step back and look at the age and understand ... close your eyes and think, `What's this guy going to be like when he's 27?' ''
For starters, he should be hitting more home runs as a natural progression of his career, given his size and early indications.
Another notorious bad-ball hitter from another generation, Kirby Puckett, was a .296 hitter his rookie season but walked only 16 times and hit no homers in 583 plate appearances. Two years later, he had 31 home runs, and 41 walks, with a .328 average and .366 on-base percentage.
He never came close to leading the league in walks or getting confused with a ``grind-at-bats'' guy. But he learned the pitchers in the league well enough and was comfortable and confident enough in his ability to hit in any count, that he often got his pitch to hit - especially in big spots -- by setting up pitchers early in counts or in early-game at-bats.
That's something to consider before dismissing Castro for being undisciplined - something to consider when looking at his rare hitting ability at this young age, this early in his big-league career.
``There's a lot of different ways to get it done offensively in the big leagues,'' Epstein said. ``We're not asking all our hitters to be cookie-cutter hitters and do it the same way.''
And for his part, Castro isn't waiting for next year or his next hitting coach -- or next week -- to work on his shortcomings.
``The game is not only one month or two months,'' he said. ``We've got  games left this season.''
Third baseman Ian Stewart was back with the team Wednesday after doctors at the Cleveland Clinic examined his sore wrist and injected another dose of cortisone in a new area to ease the discomfort.
``Part of me is glad they found something different, which they did,'' he said. Doctors found an area where some bones may be rubbing, perhaps after healing from an old injury. ``He showed me the other hand [images] and it looked different,' he said.
For now, doctors have advised he rest several more days to allow the cortisone to take proper effect, then begin working back to be able to play when he is eligible to come off the disabled list June 29.
There is still a chance he faces off season surgery to correct the condition.
``The cortisone has helped other players get through the season,'' he said. ``We'll give it six weeks or so. If it doesn't feel better, we might have to go the other route.''
The Cubs head to Arizona after Wednesday's series finale against the White Sox, and for manager Dale Sveum, it means home, family and sleeping in his own bed.
``You always look forward to home and sleeping in your own bed,'' he said Wednesday. ``My son has a game tomorrow night so I'll get to see him play. That all works out when you get home, and it'll be nice to have an off day [Thursday] at home.''
The Cubs open a three-game series against the Diamondbacks on Friday before returning to Wirlgley Field Monday to open a six-game homestand.
Bryan LaHair said he feels comfortable in right field, welcomes the imminent addition to the lineup of Anthony Rizzo at first base and expects to get his outfield legs under him fairly quickly.
But one of the best reasons for optimism in him making the move at this point in the season - other than the nice running catch Monday night - is that the painful nerve issue in his right foot is almost gone.
``My foot's doing a lot better,'' said LaHair, who's dealt with the issue since the end of spring training - with the nerve that runs the length of the back of his leg originally flaring in pain from the back down, before subsiding week-by-week until leaving only pain in the foot.
``It's feeling pretty good,'' he said. ``I pumped up on some of the meds to get it moving faster. The nerve has really calmed down. I haven't been taking the medicine every day now. I'm trying to back off as much as possible. But I notice after about two or three days when I don't take it that - it's not painful, but I feel like it's coming. So before I go to bed, I take some of the medicine again and it's right back [to being better].''
LaHair, who's tied with Alfonso Soriano for the Cubs' home run lead at 13, has played first base all year until Monday. And he'll probably be in the outfield for nearly the rest of the way with Rizzo on the verge of a callup.
But LaHair has said for months that he doesn't consider that a position change.
``I've played so much in the outfield my whole life,'' he said. ``Even in high school I was a center fielder. In college I played the corner outfield. I've got a lot of experience, and I've worked on a lot of fundamental drills growing up as a kid, so I'm pretty comfortable out there.
``I'm OK wherever they want me to go. Not a big deal for me.''
Just one reason he would seem to have no reason to view Rizzo as a threat.
``I believe I can control what I can control,'' LaHair said. ``He's a great hitter, and he deserves to be here. Obviously, he's putting up great numbers, and when it's his time to be here, he'll be here. And we'll be pulling for each other.''
Hitters can't just ``turn it on'' when they want to break a slump, can they?
``Yes they can,'' Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. He was talking about Starlin Castro, whose average had slipped below .300 before getting consecutive three-hit games Sunday and Monday.
"[It's probably because] his average dropped under .300," said Sveum, a former hitting coach . "I've noticed a lot of good hitters, when that average gets below .300, I think they start turning it up a notch, too."
Castro's average was at .303 entering Tuesday's game against the White Sox.
Cubs outfielder David DeJesus had never seen a player get hit by a pitch twice in the same inning. ``When I got to first base the second time [in the seventh inning Monday after being hit a second time], I thought `that's got to be a major league record.' ''
DeJesus actually tied the record. ``At least i'm in there for something,'' he said with a smile.
``I'd never seen it happen, but that only helps my on-base percentage.''
The more he talked about it after the game Monday night, the more Cubs pitcher Matt Garza got riled up.
And it wasn't about the seven starts he endured without a win before beating the White Sox on Monday, or about the home runs he gave up to A.J. Pierzynksi or Paul Konerko.
It was the verbal beating teammate Alfonso Soriano continues to take from fans and some media for perceived indifference or lack of effort - which came up again Saturday when he didn't run upon hitting a line drive to third that was dropped.
Never mind the natural-reaction element that applies to most hitters in such a case, or the fact he likely gets thrown out by 40 feet even if he runs.
``I get pissed off when the fans treat him the way they do,'' said Garza, echoing teammates and other club personnel in even stronger language. ``That's freaking ridiculous. The guy's doing everything he can. He's hit 20 plus homers every season. He's a gamer. He games up and he does things he shouldn't be doing.
``I love the guy to death. I'll back him till the end. He's a great dude. I love to have him out there. I love having him in the lineup, and he cares so much about what he does and takes a lot of pride in his craft, and it's a lot of respect right there.
``And he deserves a lot more respect from the fans than what he's getting.''
Soriano, who defended Saturday's perceived lapse that night in part by suggesting ``maybe [the fans] don't understand the game because it's a line drive'', on Monday shrugged off the boos that have come and gone, and come again, since the Cubs signed him to that eight-year, $136-million deal before the 2007 season.
Soriano, who hit the longest homer of Monday's game, is the Cubs' hottest run producer, with 13 homers since May 15. And at age 36 he has earned raves from staff and notice from rival scouts about his improved fielding this year.
``When you give somebody the amount of money they give him, fans expect him to be 28 forever,'' Garza said. ``I'm sorry, but time catches up. And for this guy to still be doing what he does, it's amazing. It's outstanding. And not a lot of guys his age can keep doing what he does. And the few that do it, they're well respected. And this guy catches grief.''
Like Kerry Wood noted upon his retirement last month, Garza talked about the physical therapy Soriano undergoes daily just to keep playing with a balky left knee that has flared repeatedly this season.
``He games up every day and he's ready to go,'' Garza said, adding of fans who boo him, ``They need to stop seeing what they see and just look at the man himself. He's in the lineup every day and when he's not he's pissed off. That tells you he's a gamer right there. And he's done it for plenty of years, and he's going to keep doing it until they tell him to stop.''
be working the Cubs-White Sox series this week. But they'll take time Tuesday morning to go to Comer Children's Hospital to visit children dealing with cancer and other serious illinesses. They will bring Build-A-Bear stuffed animals as gifts as well, and the White Sox mascot Southpaw will also take part.
The event is made possible by UMPS CARE Charities, a non-profit organization founded by MLB Umpires to help at-risk youth and children coping with serious illness. MLB Umpires have hosted 68 children's hospital events since the program began in 2006.
Jeff Santo has produced an update of the movie about his father, the late Ron Santo, with new interviews, including the last he did with his son a week before his death in December, 2010. It also includes the call the family received from the Hall of Fame announcing Santo's election for induction next month. Information is available at www.santofilms.com.
Talk about taking the trade winds out of the Cubs' sails.
Ryan Dempster, one of the hottest pitchers in the majors and the top pitcher available in the early trade market, was placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday because of tightness in the lat muscle just below his right shoulder blade.
Dempster, who has three of the Cubs' four wins this month, has a 22-inning scoreless streak despite pitching through the growing problem the past three starts.
The Cubs say there's no timetable on Dempster's return.
``We're going to play it conservatively,'' team president Theo Epstein said. ``As well as he's throwing, we want to nip this in the bud to make sure it doesn't turn into a strain or anything like that.''
Dempster said he won't throw for at least another few days and didn't seem to anticipate a lengthy stay on the DL.
``It's gotten better the last couple days, which is a nice sign, that's it's loosening up,'' he said. ``We'll just get it back and get it ready.''
Dempster, who has the second-ranked ERA (2.11) in the National League, was considered the most certain Cub to be traded before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, and officials from other teams anticipated a possible quick strike by interested contenders.
Dempster won't be eliigible to return from the DL until July 1, and would have only two potential starts before the All-Star break to prove his fitness -- pushing a potential trade closer to the deadline.
``Generally when players have minor injuries, it's typical to wait until they come back and re-establish health before engaging in any serious trade talks,'' Epstein said. ``That's the fair thing to do.''
Left-hander Scott Maine was recalled from AAA Iowa to join the Cubs' bullpen, taking Dempster's roster spot.
And Randy Wells (1-1 4.50) moves from the bullpen to rejoin the rotation in Dempster's place, starting Wednesday against the White Sox.
Hospital of Chicago was dedicated Saturday, with players and management officials joining the Ricketts family for the ribbon-cutting. The classroom will be part of the new hospital's education programming for children while hospitalized.
Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine , who played in and managed teams in Wrigley Field, was asked what memories he has of the park.
"The real memorable one was probably when a couple of our [Mets] guys got arrested for assaulting a [police] horse," he said.
Whether it's nerve damage, whether it's structural, or whether it even requires exploratory surgery, Ian Stewart just wants to finally find out what's wrong with an ailing left wrist that hasn't been right in more than a year.
The Cubs' third baseman was placed on the disabled list Thursday with the lingering pain that has recently worsened. He's scheduled to travel in the next few days to Cleveland, where he plans to see a specialist on Monday.
Infielder Luis Valbuena - who was acquired on waivers by the Cubs at the end of spring training - was called up from AAA Iowa and immediately pout in the lineup at third.
In other moves Thursday, respected veteran catcher Koyie Hill was designated for assignment after a nearly four-week, second-time-around stint with the Cubs. That made room for Welington Castillo (groin), who was activated from the disabled list.
The bigger issue is the long-term prognosis of Stewart's wrist, which put him on the disabled list with the Colorado Rockies last season but seemed well enough entering this season to make him believe he could manger the occasional flare-ups with regular treatment.
A battery of medical tests last season, including exams for nerve damage, revealed no significant problems with the wrist, he said.
``Hopefully, he sees something different,'' said Stewart of the Cleveland specialist. ``When I was still with the Rockies, nothing ever came out of [the tests]. That was good at the time, and now it's almost disappointing because you don't ever want to be hurt, but when something lingers like this you almost wish they could just go ahead and find something and fix it, and you kind of move on from that and it's behind you.''
Whether the solution might involve surgery, ``I don't know at this point,'' Stewart said. ``With all the MRI and x-ray results, nothing of major value came up in there that they said, `we've got to get this done now,' or it would have been taken care of a long time ago. But there have been instances where things didn't show up on those, and they can go in [surgically] and look and see if there are other things, so I don't know if we'll go that route, but that's definitely a possibility.''
The top-hand pain has affected Stewart all season. He is hitting just .201 with five homers.
Sveum wasted no time getting Valbuena in the lineup, in part because one of his two hits against Justin Verlander (in 16 at-bats) is a grand slam.
As for Hill, Sveum said he hopes the organization won't lose him on waivers.
``He filled a big void for us with those two guys [Castillo, Geo Soto] going down on back-to-back days basically,'' said Sveum, who likes the idea of keeping Hill for depth. ``On the other hand, he's just an ultimate professional. You'd like to see him get claimed on waivers, too, and go straight to the big leagues with somebody.''
Some rival executives consider the Cubs one of the few teams - if not the only one - decisively in seller's mode almost seven weeks before the trading deadline.
And that could prompt a team in need of a starting pitcher to strike fast with a strong offer for somebody like Ryan Dempster, one exec said Wednesday - a pace of action that only seemed more plausible with Dempster's lengthy, visible conversation with team president Theo Epstein before batting practice Wednesday.
The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers are among the likeliest landing spots, say baseball insiders.
Dempster, who has said he would consider waiving his no-trade rights, is only one of at least a half-dozen Cubs who could be traded by the deadline.
Another could be starter Matt Garza, who would take a major package to get because he's under club control for another season.
``It's not my choice,'' said Garza, who sailed through five innings Wednesday before a rough sixth cost him in an 8-4 loss to Detroit. ``I love the city. My kids love the city. It'd be a great place to have them grow up, but its out of my control. ... I just want to keep playing. It doesn't matter where. I'll pitch on the freakin' moon.''
NOTES FROM WEDNESDAY
-- Ian Stewart is headed to the disabled list because of continuing trouble with his left wrist, and will seek a second medical opinion for the injury, manager Dale Sveum said.
The Cubs havn't decided who will be called up from Iowa to replace Stewart, but former first-round draft pick Josh Vitters is not ready, Sveum said. Luis Valbuena is a possibility.
--Dempster and Jeff Samardzija will swap spots in the rotation, putting Dempster on his natural fifth day Friday against Boston, a move Sveum said was in part due to matchups in upcoming series.
--Top prospect Anthony Rizzo - who could make his Cubs debut this month -- missed Wednesday's game for AAA Iowa the day after banging his knee against a dugout fence trying to make a catch, but Sveum said it was ``no big deal.''
--Samardzija misses next week's White Sox series because of the switch. ``I drive by there all the time, going home taking the Skyway,'' said a disappointed Samardzija. ``Hopefully, I get another crack at them.''
Players talking in the wake of Rudy Jaramillo's firing Tuesday expressed remorse over not performing well enough as a team to keep their hitting coach employed, but also of a legacy he left behind in 2 ½ years with the team.
``Rudy's one of those guys who almost took my career to the next level,'' second baseman Darwin Barney said of the only big-league hitting coach he has had. ``He taught me how to hit in the big leagues. But I guess there's a time and a place, and it's time.
``The hard thing as an offensive player, you feel that can be part of your responsibility. But that's part of baseball. You hope you can go on and succeed.''
First-year Cubs manager Dale Sveum was part of the decision-making process and one of the team officials to inform Jaramillo.
``It's been a tough 24 hours thinking about it and then telling a great man with an outstanding hitting coach career,'' Sveum said. ``I think we all have to suffer the consequences of the results. Rudy never changed. He worked as hard as any coach I've seen. We're just searching for a different philosophy or message.''
Team president Theo Epstein said that's what the move boiled down to: the desire to move from a more mechanical-based approach to a ``selectively aggressive'' message that gets players to see more pitches.
``Rudy and I talked about that - how to take walks while still being aggressive,'' Barney said. ``Hopefully, over time, it's something that gets better.''
Barney, Alfonso Soriano and Bryan LaHair have been some of Jaramillo's successes with the Cubs.
``I learned a lot from Rudy - separation of hands and balance,'' LaHair said. ``I'm glad I know now what I'm doing.''
Said Soriano, who's been on a power surge for three weeks: ``What he did for me, positioning my foot different, I saw results with him. I felt comfortable with him. But I don't have control over that situation. The general manager and manager have control.''
Bottom line, LaHir said, ``At the end of the day it's our job to perform. We can do a better job of scoring runs, but maybe there's a difference in philosophy between Rudy and the staff. Rudy's really good at what he does, and I'm sure he'll find a job.''
Said Barney: ``You can't think `It's my fault' or `his fault.' But that's the reality of it. Butyou can't blame yourself.''
The next couple of starts for the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija could be important benchmarks for his development as a pitcher the Cubs plan to build a rotation around.
And not just because they come against potentially tough lineups with the Boston Red Sox Friday and the White Sox five days later.
After command problems in his last two starts, including his worst start of the year Saturday in Minnesota, Samardzija was putting extra work in with pitching coach Chris Bosio Sunday morning and figures to put in some more overtime before Friday's home start.
``I don't think it's just [Saturday]. I think it's starting to be a little breakdown in mechanics again,'' manager Dale Sveum said, ``and trying to bully his way through a lineup sometimes and not being able to concentrate. And that's all coming with the whole thing; I think everybody's trying to do too much, whether it's Samardzija on the mound or whoever on the mound.''
Saturday against the Twins, Samardzija only walked one batter, but he had only real good control of his fastball, and it got hit. Without good command of his splitter, he gave up nine hits and a career-high eight runs, lasting just 3 2/3 innings.
In his previous start, at San Francisco, he gutted out five innings in a one-run loss but walked five and needed 110 pitches to get as deep as he did in the game.
``It's just getting the ball down,'' Sveum said. ``Pitching in spring training and early in the season, he was down in the strike zone. His head wasn't flying off to the first base side, all of that. Now he's losing a little bit of concentration, I think, and the ball's going to get up. And you're definitely not going to have command arm-side down to the left-handed hitter, so you saw [Saturday] he pull-jerked about three pitches that [catcher Steve] Clevenger couldn't even catch. He was flying wide open with nothing on the baseball.''
For a pitcher who has always had the powerful look and fastball to suggest big things as a starter, the command of secondary pitches has been the biggest thing keeping him from breaking out as a starting pitcher before now.
He still has the team lead in wins (five) and has a better ERA (3.96) than Matt Garza (3.99). And he has had four or five of the club's best starts this season.
But where he goes from here, especially in the next few starts, will be worth watching for where the Cubs are headed as they made longer-term decisions over the next several months.
The Cubs have the third-fewest runs in the National League. They have the third-lowest slugging percentage, the third-lowest on-base percentage, and they're hitting just .235 with men in scoring position.
How much is Dale Sveum looking forward to having an extra hitter when the Cubs get to Minnesota Friday and can use a designated hitter?
``Quite a bit,'' said the Cubs manager.
And almost as big a benefit for the Cubs as the extra hitter for three days is that their oldest player and hottest slugger - Alfonso Soriano - will get a three-day reprieve from the pounding his sore left knee takes when he plays left field.
``It's coming just at the right time,'' Sveum said of the trip to Minnesota, where he plans to DH Soriano all three days. ``I've been playing him every day. He's that one threat in our lineup, so it's hard to give him days off. And to his credit, too, he doesn't want any days off, and he's not taking any days off from [pregame] work.''
Soriano, 36, for the most part has continued to run hard on the bases and has been especially aggressive in the outfield this year despite pain that requires daily treatment. But it takes him longer to come to a stop because of the balky knee.
``Yeah, everybody sees that,'' Sveum said, ``how painful that knee gets, the [worry] of possibly blowing it out if he comes to a stop too quick. That's something he just deals with himself.''
It's also something Sveum has come to learn about Soriano, and admire, since watching him for years as an opposing coach.
``Looking from the other side of the fence, a lot of people can have a really wrong perception of Soriano. There's no doubt,'' Sveum said. ``And then when you're around him, you're talking about probably having as much admiration for somebody as I've come across in my career. To see how he works, on and off the field, and tries to make himself a better outfielder every day and comes to play. He loves to play, doesn't want days off and just to deal with that kind of pain. ... He's been far and above everything I expected.''
Soriano has nine home runs in his last 21 games, dating to May 15 - more than anybody else in the majors in that span. He had none in the 30 games before that.
On the day the Cubs concluded the three-day draft, they also returned their sights strongly toward touted Cuban outfield prospect Jorge Soler, who worked out for many teams - including the Cubs - on Wednesday.
``We've obviously scouted him extensively. A lot of teams have,'' general manager Jed Hoyer said. ``We had a similar situation with [Yoenis] Cesepedes this winter. It'll be intriguing. But certainly we've done our work on him.''
According to sources last November, the Cubs targeted Soler, 20, more than Cespedes, who eventually signed a four-year deal with Oakland for the same $36 million the Cubs were offering over six.
Soler, a Cuban defector who only became an eligible free agent this month, has until July 2 to sign a deal before baseball's new restrictions on international free agent signings take effect.
``Judging from all the information we've gathered and articles I've read, I think [the field of interested teams] is very wide,'' Hoyer said. ``It's not surprising. He's really talented. And there is that July 2 uniqueness that adds to it.''
Meanwhile, the Cubs finished off a pitching-heavy draft Wednesday, having used 22 of their 42 picks on pitchers, including 13 of their first 19.
``It went about according to plan as far as we talked about adding pitching depth to the system,'' Hoyer said. ``We really pounded away on pitching after we took [center fielder Albert] Almora with the first pick.
``I think a lot of teams feel good about their draft today. Everyone had a good draft, and we'll find out in five years if we were right.''
The Cubs continued their emphasis on pitching into the third and final day of the draft, adding six more arms in their first 11 picks of the day.
Along the way, they also drafted Simeon High catcher Blake Hickman in the 20th round.
When the Cubs selected Michael Hamann, a right-hander from Toledo, and Nathan Dorris, a lefty from SIU, in the 16th and 17th rounds Wednesday, it gave them 13 pitchers among their first 19 picks.
The Cubs then added University of Maine right-hander Stephen Perakslis in the 21st round, Cal right-hander Eduaro Orozco in the 22nd and Pennsylvania prep lefty Jake Drossner in the 23rd.
Also selected Wednesday were Kansas junior college shortstop Davie Bote in the 18th round, Louisiana prep catcher Jameson Fisher in the 24th, Massachusetts prep outfielder Rhett Wiseman in the 25th and SUNY-Stony Brook right-hander Jasvir Rakkar in the 26th.
Fourteen more rounds remain.
To hear new Cubs draft pick Albert Almora talk, he's ready to sign but concentrating on college and is waiting only for the Cubs to negotiate with themselves to determine whether he'll skip the University of Miami and go pro.
That or he's having trouble reading ``advisor'' Scott Boras' draft-day media conference script.
``In my mind right now I trust my abilities, and I know what I can do on the field,'' said the No. 6 overall draft pick during a conference call Tuesday. ``That's not the problem right now.
``Right now we have to let the process play out and let the cards fall where they have to fall. I can't control that. That's something that Chicago has to talk to with their organization and come to an agreement.''
That comment came after he was asked to clarify earlier comments in which he said his ``main priority now is college'' but added, ``I guarantee I'm ready for major league baseball, but we'll have to see what happens when it's time.''
MLB's suggested bonus for that slot in the draft is $3.25 million. If the Cubs exceed that, it'll come from what's left of a $7.934 million allotment for their top 12 picks.
Under new restrictions in the collective bargaining agreement, if the Cubs exceed the larger total, they start paying heavy fines, up to loss of future draft picks.
Almora, a center fielder who has played for Team USA in more international tournaments than any other player, said he was ``overjoyed'' when his name was called but didn't spend a lot of time anticipating or projecting where in the draft he would be selected (even though Baseball America correctly projected him to be selected by the Cubs).
On being the first draft pick of Theo Epstein's new Cubs front office: ``I'm just happy to be picked by a major league club,'' he said. ``It's something I've worked for my entire life. And I'm happy I got there.''