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

July 2012 Archives

Cubs trade Dempster to Texas at deadline

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Cubs confirm Ryan Dempster has been traded to the Texas Rangers for two Class A prospects.


That means the top two performing members of the Cubs' rotation have been dealt in a 24-hour period, with lefty Paul Maholm already gone, with Reed Johnson, to the Braves for prospects Monday night.

According to reports from Texas, the Cubs got third-base prospect Christian Villanueva and right-hander Kyle Hendricks from the Rangers for Dempster.

Despite final-day efforts to move Garza, he so far appears to have survived as a Cub through the deadline -- meaning an off-season trade is likely unless he and the Cubs come to an agreement on a contract extension.

The Cubs talked to the Tigers about a possible Alfonso Soriano trade without getting a deal done. But an August waiver-wire deal could be coming, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

Reed Johnson was lifted in the fifth inning of Monday night's Cubs/Pirates game for pinch hitter David DeJesus, than was hugged by teammates in the dugout. Johnson had started the game in right field against lefthanded starter Erid Bedard but right-handed reliever Chris Resop was on the mound.
Still, Johnson was thought to be a trade target as a valuable bench player, leading the majors with 13 pinch hits and hitting .448 off the bench. His game-winning pinch hit bunt Saturday gave the Cubs a 3-2 victory over St. Louis.
There was no immediate word on Johnson's status, but one report said Johnson and pitcher Paul Maholm had been traded to Atlanta, which had tried earlier to acquire Ryan Dempster
Moments later, catcher Geovany Soto also was lifted from the game. He spoke briefly in the dugout to teammates who shook his hand as he exited.
The Class AAA Iowa Cubs also lifted outfielder Brett Jackson from their game Monday night, possibly to be called up to replace Johnson.
One report said Soto had been traded to the Texas Rangers for Class AA right-hander Jacob Brigham, 24, who is 5-5 with a 4.28 ERA.

Garza Improves

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The news Monday that Matt Garza threw well in the bullpen may have a bigger impact to other teams as the 3 p.m. Tuesday trade deadline nears.
For the immediate Cubs future, it meant the right-hander can be slated to start by the end of the week if he feels no discomfort Tuesday.
``Matt threw a full bullpen and it went entirely well,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``He threw all his pitches, had velocity, he extended himself wth sliders and changeups. It went well.
``We'll see how he feels [Tuesday] and hopefully schedule him in three or four days.''
Garza hasn't pitched since July 21 when he left his start in St. Louis after three innings experiencing triceps discomfort. His name has been prominent in trade rumors along with Ryan Dempster. But unlike Dempster, he will not be a free agent and would remain under team control next season.

Carlos Marmol has been perfect in his last 12 straight save opportunities, and though they may come with ninth inning drama, they have come with the help of renewed self-confidence.
``I think now it's all confidence,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``He's been able to throw the fastball [for strikes] and he's getting swings and misses again. Now there's velocity when he throws strikes and he's getting back in counts. But his confidence has been at a high level.''
Marmol's early struggles were evident, and he was removed from the ninth inning role for a time in May, only to go on the disabled list May 12 with a pulled right hamstring.
Since his return, he has allowed runs in only two games. He has 13 saves overall in 15 opportunities.
In each of his last three appearances, he has faced four batters, giving up either a hit or a walk. But Sveum said the end results are what matters.
``He's done the job,'' he said. ``Look at any closer or any ninth inning. The winning run is going to get to the plate, whether it's a one run lead or a two run lead. A one-two-three inning in the last couple innings are hard to get. The guy on the mound is going to give up a hit.''
But a hit is preferable to a walk, Sveum added.
Marmol has allowed nine hits and seven walks in his nine July appearances, with 11 strikeouts.

Cubs pitcher Matt Garza, the subject of trade rumors, threw on flat ground Saturday in his first action since leaving his July 21 start against the Cardinals after three innings. Garza, who has felt cramping in his right triceps, threw without problems and is to throw a bullpen session Monday.
Team officials said he will be evaluated after the Monday session.
``He's gradually progressing,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``Everything is getting better each day, so that's good. We'll get him out there [pitching] late next week.''
But the future is still about the 3 p.m. Tuesday trade deadline as the Cubs weigh potential offers for the right-hander.
Tuesday will be a significant day either way for Garza. Doctors plan to induce his wife that day to deliver the couple's fourth child.
Garza, 27, left his last start in St. Louis complaining of cramping in his right upper arm. An MRI performed this week was ``clean,'' Sveum said, showing only some fluid near the triceps.
Most likely the procedure was also done to clear possible doubts about Garza's health among teams interested in him. It is also likely he wasn't placed on the disabled list to keep trade options open, though Garza will miss a start Monday.
Sveum said there still is no one scheduled for Monday's game against Pittsburgh, admitting the team may have to wait until after Sunday's game to name someone.
``We'll have someone here Monday or we might not need anyone,'' he said.
Right-hander Justin Germano, 29, whom the Cubs acquired July 19 from Boston for cash after he was designated for assignment, could be a Monday candidate. He took over for Garza in the July 21 game, allowing one run in three innings. He has appeared in 80 major league games in seasons with San Diego, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Boston, starting 36 games.

The Cubs clicked their heels as they took to the field Friday to face the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field, part of the many tributes to the late and beloved Ron Santo, who was inducted posthumously into the Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday.
Friday was Ron Santo Day at Wrigley, with the former third baseman's retired No. 10 etched onto the center field grass. No. 10 flags flew along the Wrigley Field roof in tribute as well. The team wore No. 10 patches on their jerseys as well.
On hand for the pre-game ceremonies were Santo's widow, Vicki, who gave his Hall of Fame induction speech; his three children, Ron Jr., Jeff and Linda Brown, and her sons, Sam and Spencer Brown.
Spencer, 7, threw out the ceremonial first pitch, which was caught by former Cub pitcher Kerry Wood, who became Santo's favorite current player during his nearly two decades as a Cubs broadcaster.
Santo was elected by a vote of the Golden Era veterans committee, ending a decades-long wait for Santo, who died of complications of bladder cancer a year before his election.
Though cancer eventually took his life, Santo's life and career were a daily battle with diabetes. He helped raise more than $65 million for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation through his annual walkathon, golf outings and numerous charitable sponsorships.
Santo spent 14 years with the Cubs and his final career season (1974) with the White Sox, and was one of only four players of the 1960s and early 1970s to collect 2,000 hits, 300 home runs and 1,300 RBI. The others were now fellow Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and his longtime Cubs teammate Billy Williams.
He also was the pioneer of the significant player rights ``five and ten'' clause, giving a player with 10 years of major league service and five with the same team, the right to veto or okay his own trade. The so-called ``Santo Rule'' came after he was the first player to exercise those rights, vetoing a trade to the then-California Angels and instead approving a deal to the Sox so he could remain in Chicago.
The rule is in play now for another Cub, Ryan Dempster, as he weighs the team's offers to trade him.

SORI BY THE NUMBERS

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The Cubs offense is struggling of late, with Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro, Luis Valbuena and Bryan LaHair all in minor slumps.
But Alfonso Soriano remains hot.
He needs one more home run to post his 11th consecutive 20-homer season. He would join only Boston's David Ortiz in that catagory, including the current season. Albert Pujols, now with the Los Angeles Angeles, nees two homers to reach the milestone.
His next homer also will make Soriano the only Cub to join Hall of Famer Andrew Dawson in hitting at least 20 homers in each of their first six seasons with the team.
In the field, Soriano also is the only major league left fielder to have handled at least 150 chances without an error. He is one of only four major league outfielders to have handled that many without an error. The others are Curtis Granderson (Yankees), Austin Jackson (Tigers) and Shane Victorino (Phillies).

MRI Shows Garza Fine

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A precautionary MRI was done on Matt Garza this week after the righ-thander complained of cramping in his right triceps. The results came back clean and ``real positive'', manager Dale Sveum said Friday.
``It was very clean. There was a trace of fluid where the cramping was in the triceps. He's doing better, but we'll wait to see what his throwing program will be,'' Sveum said.
With Garza not expected to throw until later next week, it leaves the Cubs without a scheduled starter for Monday--and the trade possibilities surrounding Garza in limbo as well.
Garza and rotation mate Ryan Dempster continue to draw the most rumor talk, though Cubs officials had nothing new to report Friday morning.
Dempster took part in his normal off day routines and is scheduled as the starter for Tuesday, the day the deadline expires at 3 p.m.
``I don't care who you are, it's distracting,'' Sveum said, admitting it is also a distraction for him. ``It's here and you know it's part of the game, but you want to move on.''
Sveum also said he and Dempster had ``a real good talk'' after his dugout tantrum in Pittsburgh after being taken out of the game. Sveum downplayed the situation as well.
``Players have a right to snap. It's not because of one thing or being taken out. It's a competitive sport. There are a lot of reasons why you might not have a good day.
``We had a good talk and everything is good.''
*****************
Garza has at least one other matter preoccupying him now--the impending birth of his fourth child.
Garza came home early from Pittsburgh to be with his wife and have the MRI performed.
Plans are for Serina Garza to be induced early next week.

It is Ron Santo Day at Wrigley Field, with his retired No. 10 etched into the center field grass.
But most minds are on trade talk.
Pitchers Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza remain the focus of speculation as the July 31 deadline approaches. The Cubs' weekend series against the contending St. Louis Cardinals could be a side note as the hours unfold.
Dempster's situation apparently is fluid, with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team he prefers to go to, are weighing options, including Garza and perhaps Milwaukee pitcher Zack Greinke, the free agent to-be who is also being shopped by the Brewers.



PITTSBURGH - As the Cubs turned their efforts back to the Los Angeles Dodgers in their attempt to trade Ryan Dempster for younger pitching, Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren shed light on some of the details that led up Dempster essentially killing a potential deal with the Braves for well regarded prospect Randall Delgado.

During a radio interview with 680 The Fan Wednesday morning, Wren said the Braves have ``moved on'' from pursuing Dempster after ``parameters on the deal expired'' Tuesday following more than three days of negotiations that led to the Delgado agreement.

The Cubs continued to decline comment on the Atlanta deal Wednesday.

Highlights from the Wren interview:

ON WHERE THE DEAL STANDS NOW: ``I think it's very highly unlikely. We put parameters on the deal that expired [Tuesday]. We were moving on from the time we heard that there was the potential for another club really where he wanted to go, and he had a lot of personal reasons for that. ... It's one of those bumps in the road, but at the same time we put parameters on it that expired [Tuesday]. So we've moved on.''

ON MOVING ON TO A PLAN B: ``I wouldn't say Plan B, and I'll tell you why. These things don't move in the timeframe that you want them to move, whether Ryan Dempster was our top choice, or others. We don't have control of when the other team's ready to make a deal. We've had guys that we like a lot and we think they're difference makers and there's still some of those pitchers out there, and we'll see how it goes.''

ON WHAT HAPPENED TO LOSE DEMPSTER DEAL: ``In his case, from my understanding - and I'm only getting it second hand from the Cubs - they had a meeting with him a couple weeks ago and laid it out, and the primary two suitors were use and the Dodgers. And he had positive things to say about both, and he had a slight preference to the Dodgers because of Ted Lilly. He and Ted Lilly are best of friends and he'd like to go play with his friend. And I think there were also some personal issues that suited better for him. And as it went down, from my understanding, the Cubs informed him in the last week that the Dodgers weren't really as aggressive as we were and they thought the deal was going to go with us. I think he was given a heads up along the way. I think it may be the way it was presented as far as coming out in the media [Monday]. I think that was blindsiding, not that he necessarily didn't know this was coming down.''

ON BRAVES' STANCE IF DEMPSTER WERE TO RECONSIDER TODAY: ``I'm not going to paint us in a corner one way or another. Let's just say that we have moved on. And we're looking for impact pitching, someone that can make a difference for us as we go down the stretch the last two months. We feel we can win our division. But we feel we need to improve our starting pitching.''

ON IMPACT OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN MAKING TRADES THESE DAYS: ``I think the Twitter and the internet have really changed the dynamics for how it all works. We were able to keep this deal under wraps for about three days as we worked through a lot of details, and it never leaked out. And then the second we got to ... the Cubs taking it to the player, it was out everywhere. It's a different dynamic than we've ever worked in, and it does make it sometimes more difficult to get our jobs done.''

Cubs' Dempster may take week to consider trade(s)

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PITTSBURGH - If Ryan Dempster knows nothing else, he knows they'll keep coming. The rumors, the questions, even the grumblings and shots from Cubs fans after he acknowledged holding up a would-be trade that would have sent him to the Atlanta Braves for a well regarded prospect.

``So I've got to feel pressured to do something?'' he said Tuesday. ``I'm not feeling pressure to do anything. I'm going to do what's right for me and for my family. That's what's most important.''

Dempster, who has full no-trade rights, used them to at least delay a potential trade to Atlanta for right-hander Randall Delgado, and said he might take the remaining week before the non-waiver trade deadline to weigh whatever options are available to him.

``I want to look everything over before I make any decisions,'' he said. ``And I've got time to do that. There's a week before the trading deadline. That's where I stand on it.''

Atlanta was known to be among the top two or three destinations Dempster was willing to approve, suggesting the likelihood he's holding out for a chance to join old pal Ted Lilly with the Los Angeles Dodgers - who were his hottest pursuers until the sides failed to reach an agreement over the weekend.

Dempster, whose 2.11 ERA is the best in the majors, wouldn't identify the teams he'll consider or reveal how many but said, ``Yeah, I have an idea where I want to go, where I might want to be.''

Dempster and front office sources denied a report Tuesday that Dempster was ``blindsided'' by the news that the Braves and Cubs struck a deal, provoking him into holding it up.

He said the club kept him informed --``they've been really good about that'' - but what bothered him was Monday's leak to the media.

``That's when things start to get harder, when you get everybody's opinions of what's going on and it really wasn't what went on or what took place,'' he said. ``So you don't really get to focus your full attention on what you're trying to do and you have to focus on everybody else's perception of what's going on.''

The bottom line is that as a player with 10 years service time and the last five with the same team, Dempster is one of the few players to earn no-trade rights through his longevity and stature.

``We all have tremendous respect for Ryan,'' assistant general manager Randy Bush said, ``not only that he's earned those rights but what he's meant to this organization, the type of person that he is.''

A lot of Cub fans via Twitter and e-mail don't seem to carry the same respect for those 10-5 rights, attacking him online for nixing - at least so far - a deal widely perceived as favorable to the Cubs.

The Braves already started getting more calls Tuesday from other teams now aware they're willing to part with a prospect such as Delgado, according to reports out of Atlanta.

``That's fine. People can say what they want to say,'' Dempster said. ``All I know is every time I put my uniform on I give 100 percent to the Cubs and I think that's all you can really ask, whether you're a player, a coach, the front office or a fan.''

Dempster, who pitches Wednesday afternoon, said he'll take the full seven days if necessary to decide whether he'll accept a trade and prefers more options.

``The more options the better,'' said Dempster, who has said a chance to win is a priority for him, but who also has personal ties to the West Coast. ``There's all kinds of things that come into play. So I've just got to look at every option and figure out what's the best decision for me. ....

``There's a lot of emotions running through the day and stuff like that,'' he added. ``But I have a little bit of control, so it makes it easier for me.''

Changing of guard for Cubs' rotation

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PITTSBURGH -- Against the backdrop of the imminent trading-deadline departure of Opening Day starter Ryan Dempster and rumors circling a dozen other teammates, Jeff Samardzija Monday night showed again what the Cubs have in mind for the next few years.

``Pretty impressive. That was no doubt the best stuff he's had,'' manager Dale Sveum said after Samardzija came within an infield hit of taking a no-hitter through eight innings -- and a long top of the ninth from a chance at a complete game.

The only hit Samardzija allowed was Andrew McCutchen's infield hit to first baseman Anthony Rizzo on an extreme shift, with Samardzija hesitating just long enough breaking from the mound to allow McCutchen to beat it. He retired the next 13 straight.

``That's on me,'' said Samardzija, who improved to 2-1 with a 1.67 ERA in four July starts after a rough June.

``That would have been interesting,'' Sveum said of how his ninth-inning decision could have been reshaped. ``Obviously I would have sent him back out there if he would have covered first base.''

As it was, Samardzija would have had the chance to go back out in the ninth -- at 95 pitches -- if the Cubs hadn't sent seven men to the plate in the ninth, forcing a pitching change along the way.

``Twenty-seven minutes,'' Sveum said. ``Just too long to wait. ... I don't think I'm on his Christmas list right now.''

Samardzija was still reaching the upper-90s with his fastball in the eighth inning and cruising.

``He's still on my Christmas list,'' he said. ``Just not tonight. Skip's been great all year. We played great as a team. it's not all about what a starting pitcher does.''

Besides, this is a temporary issue, Sveum said, as the Cubs keep a close watch on Samardzija's workload during this first full season as a big-league starter.

``He's a horse,'' Sveum said. ``Obviously things will change after this year as far as all the innings and worrying about it and all that stuff. I know he doesn't get too happy about it but he knows the issues going in. but he's proven to everybody what he is, is a starting pitcher.

``He's figuring all this out. To have an outing like that against the hottest team in all of baseball swinging the bats is pretty incredible.''


PITTSBURGH - Multiple reports say the Atlanta Braves are closing in on a trade for Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster, and a source acknowledged the Braves were strongly pursuing the right-hander Monday.

A second source said a trade for Dempster was not expected to be completed Monday night.

The reports came as news to an irritated Dempster - who has full no-trade rights -- when he awoke from a nap Monday, and he responded with a tweet from his Dempster Foundation account that read: ``THERE IS NO TRADE dont know where this info came from!''

When he got to the clubhouse at PNC Park, he declined to talk about what he and the club referred to as ``speculation.''

``There is nothing to report,'' said Cubs' assistant general manager Randy Bush, who is representing the front office on the Pittsburgh trip with team president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer back in Chicago.

Nothing in the works?

``There is nothing to report,'' Bush repeated. ``There's no news. I don't know how things like this get out there. ... Obviously, we're having a lot of trade discussions with a lot of teams.''

Talks with the Braves Monday appeared to center on 22-year-old right-hander Randall Delgado (5-10, 3.98 in 24 career big-league starts over the last 13 months).

Dempster has about $5.8 million left on the final year of his contract. Despite reports suggesting Dempster seeks an extension to approve a trade, a source close to Dempster strongly refutes that.

And manager Dale Sveum, who talked to upper management after also being caught off-guard by Monday's reports, said he was told reports about an agreement with Atlanta awaiting only Dempster's approval also were false.

``I found out about it after I came in off the field from early BP and somebody said they saw it on the website,'' Sveum said. ``I got on the website and saw it and obviously called the higher-ups to make sure. And they're like, `No, nothing's happened.' I don't know where that came from. ...

``I think we all know there can be a trade,'' he added. ``But the [specific Atlanta deal], the whole thing, was news to me. The team obviously is the one that leaked it out - or it came out of their city. But obviously we can't sit here and say it can't happen. Anything can happen at this point; we have eight days till the deadline. All the teams that are involved in wanting or needing starters are in play, there's no question.''

That prominently included the Los Angeles Dodgers - the team Dempster is believed to prefer - until focus shifted toward the Braves in the last two days.

The Braves are one of the teams Dempster is believed willing to consider waiving his rights to join. He said as recently as this past weekend that the priority is a chance to win.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, have begun looking harder at Matt Garza, even after the right-hander was forced from Saturday's start because of a triceps cramp near his pitching elbow. The Dodgers like the idea of having control over the younger, harder-throwing pitcher beyond this year with a chance to sign him to an extension, said one source.

The Braves and Dodgers also have top scouts in Philadelphia this week for the return to the Milwauke rotation of Zack Greinke on Tuesday.

Garza won't make his next start any earlier than Saturday because of the elbow, Sveum said, but Garza and the team remain optimistic the injury isn't serious and he'll avoid the DL.


ST. LOUIS - Cubs pitcher Matt Garza said he felt better the day after exiting his start early because of cramping near his elbow, and said he expects to avoid the disabled list.

``I could move it today, unlike yesterday,'' Garza said Sunday morning.

Manager Dale Sveum also sounded optimistic but suggested he could use Thursday's off day to push back Garza's next scheduled start as a precaution if necessary.

``I think we'll know a heck of a lot more [Monday], especially [Monday] evening,'' he said.

Meanwhile, contenders looking at Garza as a possible trade target between now and the July 31 non-waiver deadline closely monitored the updates on his condition Sunday.

Still interested if he stays off the DL?

``Why not?'' said one ranking National League evaluator. ``His last pitch [in Saturday's third] was 96 [mph] on the black.''

But interested at the steep price the Cubs are seeking? ``That's the thing,'' he said.


ST. LOUIS -- Who knows what the guy's real name or birth date is at this point, but the Cubs gave that hard-throwing right-hander from the Dominican $1.5 million this past week because they think the 22-year-old has a chance to start at a more advanced level and rise quicker than a typical ``amateur'' free agent.

``That was a big part of our thinking,'' Hoyer said.

Juan Carlos Paniagua had contracts with Arizona and the New York Yankees voided in the past three years and was made ineligible to sign twice over fraudulent paperwork. The Cubs signed him the day his last ineligible period expired.

The Cubs burned more than half their $2.9 million international signing allotment for the next 11 months, but that's not much different than a lot of teams at this point, Hoyer said.


Cubs stuff: New guys and goals

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Right-hander Justin Germano was ready for anything when he arrived in St. Louis after being acquired by the Cubs from the Red Sox for cash amid all the heated Dempster trade talk.

``We read stuff,'' said Germano, whose last outing was a 5 2/3-inning relief appearance two weeks ago and who didn't know if he'd be asked to start Friday. ``I had no idea. I saw that he could be traded [Friday], and I saw that I could start today. I still don't know what's going on.''

For now, the plan is to use him out of the bullpen in a similar role to Jairo Asencio, who was designated for assignment Thursday to make room for Germano.

NOTES

-- The Cubs confirmed the $1.5 million signing of 22-year-old Dominican right-hander Juan Carlos Paniagua - a player who pitched two seasons in the Dominican Summer League under a different name before his contract was voided for fraudulent paperwork and he was made ineligible to sign for a year after that.

--Dale Sveum clarified recent comments to say his goal for the second half is to finish .500 or better for the season - acknowledging the degree of difficulty. ``You might come up a little short, but you're a lot better off than setting a crappy goal and coming up short with that,'' he said. ``Then you're really screwed.''

Cubs manager Dale Sveum never got to know Ron Santo, but he knows by reputation how much the former player and broadcaster meant to the organization -- and how much his induction into the Hall of Fame on Sunday means.
``I knew him in passing,'' Sveum said Thursday. ``Obviously he was one of those special people who come along in a lifetime.
``It's great for the organization and his family that he finally got into the Hall of Fame,'' he said. ``Talking to people about him, he was definitely one of those guys you would have liked to have gotten to know a lot better.''
The weekend events in Cooperstown will include a ``fan fest'' sponsored by the Cubs and open to the public. The team will hold a viewing part of the Sunday induction ceremony at the Captain Morgan Club at Addison and Sheffield near the Santo statue.
July 27 when the team returns to Wrigley Field will be Ron Santo Day at the park, with special pre-game ceremonies held including his family and a replica plaque of Santo's Hall of Fame plaque will be given to the first 10,000 fans. The outfield grass also will have an honorary No. 10 logo.
Santo died in December, 2010, one year before his election to the Hall by the Veteran's Committee was announced.

Day Game Adjustments

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The Cubs and Miami Marlins were playing in sunshine Thursday, a day game after two night games at Wrigley Field.
Day games still are the majority on the North Side, something manager Dale Sveum admitted took some getting used to.
``I can't lie,'' he said Thursday. ``It was difficult getting up those first few months when we had a lot of day games [even on the road.] You're use to going to bed at 2 or 3 a.m. [after night games.] It takes time for your body to adapt.
``We've been fortunate the last few months to have more night games.
``It is something, no doubt, you have to get used to. Those first six weeks, I had never played that many day games.''
New players who come to the Cubs have talked in the past of making the same kind of adjustment, as well as adjusting to dramatic weather changes that can occur in Chicago, with cold Aprils and Mays and extremes of heat and cold in the summers.
The Cubs record in day games going into Thursday is 21-25 overall and 16-11 at home.

Key moment for Cubs' Samardzija

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Jeff Samardzija lasted only five innings Wednesday and needed 97 pitches to get there, but the final inning of his start against the Miami Marlins could be one that becomes a key reference point if he becomes what the Cubs think he can for their rotation in the future.

With the score tied 1-1, Samardzija gave up a leadoff triple to Emilio Bonifacio and stranded him - despite Geovany Soto giving the Marlins a fourth out in the inning.

With the infield in, Samardzija got Carlos Lee to ground out for the first out, Bonifacio holding at third. Logan Morrison then grounded sharply to Anthony Rizzo, who caught Bonifacio in no-man's land and threw to third.

But after Luis Valbuena threw to Soto at home, Soto bobbled the ball pursuing Bonifacio, eventually dropping it as both runners were safe, at second and third.

``After that, I kind of took a second,'' Samardzija said. ``That was really what I was happy about with myself, just taking my time, not rushing and making pitches I need to make and understanding there's still a chance to get out of this.''

At which point, Samardzija struck out Hanley Ramirez looking, and then got Greg Dobbs to ground to Rizzo at first to end it.

``Things like that you learn from it,'' said Samardzija, who was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the inning and wound up with a no-decision.

``You never know when that situation's going to come up again, but at least you can go back to when it happened before and kind of rely on your past experience.''

It makes three consecutive strong starts for Samardzija since a crappy June. And despite a strict pitch count and an even closer watch on his rest between starts the remainder of the season, he views the post-All-Star schedule as much bigger than the first half.

``I'm excited to get back in that routine and really hit the second half strong,'' he said, ``and pitching strong throughout the season so there's no question marks about `first-year starter, blah, blah, blah.' ''

--

CUBS PROSPECTS BUSTED FOR PEDs - Two right-handers pitching in the Dominican Summer League in the Cubs' farm system was suspended 50 games each for violating the minor-league drug program, MLB announced Wednesday.

Juancito De la Cruz, 19, and Antonio Encarnacion, 20, both tested positive for metabolites of Stanozolol, the commissioner's office said. The suspensions are effective immediately.

De la Cruz was 1-1 with 6.30 ERA in 20 innings of relief this summer; Encarnacion had an ERA of 4.50 in six innings of relief.

2013 Cubs? You might be looking at them

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Cole Hamels? Zack Greinke? A big free agent hitter?

Even with more than $38 million coming off the books in three expiring contracts alone after this year, don't count on the Cubs bolstering its fledgling core with free agents to try to compete again by next year - no matter what manager Dale Sveum, or fans paying some of the highest ticket prices in baseball might want.

``Sometimes that works out for you; more often than not it doesn't,'' team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday. ``If you get tempted and you get impatient and you try to solve your problems in free agency, there's always a price to pay. And usually it happens pretty soon thereafter toward the end of those deals.

``Free agency's definitely a nice way to add talent to the organization without giving up talent,'' he added. ``But you cannot make an organization that way. We have a lot of steps ahead of us that we need to take care of before we're in a position to add a finishing piece or two through free agency.''

The organization-building mantra preached since last fall by Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer has always suggested a long-term process to get to a ``foundation of sustained success'' through a farm-system focus.

Since then they've repeatedly made it clear they consider the farm system they inherited worse off than perceived going in.

Despite their status as one of the game's high-revenue teams, along with the fact they get massive payroll relief through no longer paying for Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Marlon Byrd next year, they're not ready to spend that money on 2013.

``We hope we're very competitive very soon, but just sitting here wanting it to be so doesn't make it so,'' Epstein said. ``You have to build an organization. You get sick of me saying this, but there are no shortcuts.''

That doesn't mean they won't kick tires again in the free agent market. Just think more Paul Maholm than Cole Hamels, more David DeJesus than Josh Hamilton.

``We'll always look to free agency,'' Epstein said. ``We'll always be on every free agent, for the right player or the right value. But if we sat around and drew up a plan and had free agency as the answer to most of our problems, we'd be on a fool's errand there. We need to build a foundation. We need to have scouting we believe in, player development we believe in, a steady flow of prospects and developing young players. Then you can look to free agency.

``If the right deal's there ahead of schedule, great. But we're not going to count on it.''

Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen still has a special connection to the Cubs because of his long career with the crosstown White Sox. Rivalry aside, Guillen also is still a Chicagoan, and he believes the North Siders are making the right commitment to improve.
``They're going in the right direction, yes,'' he said Wednesday. ``I like what I see. I like the second baseman [Darwin Barney] very much, and the kid Rizzo-wow,'' he said of Anthony Rizzo. ``The shortstop [Starlin Castro] will be a superstar. Hopefully they put the right people around them.
``I know the general manager [team president Theo Epstein.] He knows what he's doing. He did it in Boston.''
Guillen, who has kept his permanent home in Chicago, said he wants to see the Cubs do well as well as the Sox.
``It'll be great for Chicago,'' he said of a winning Cubs team. ``We're tired of losing--yes, we. The fans here have been so good to baseball. They continue to support this team. But one championship in [100] years [between both clubs] and they still support baseball.''
Guillen often has said he doesn't like the outdated baseball facilities at Wrigley Field, but he understands the value and mystique of the old park to the franchise, and the city.
``If you're a tourist and you don't come to Wrigley Field, your visit is incomplete. It's a big part of the city and you can't deny that.
``I spend more time here than in Caracas [Venezuela, his native country]. My kids grew up here and I grew up here [in his career.] I can't say anything bac about this town.''

Z returns to Wrigley: ``The problem was Carlos Zambrano''

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Carlos Zambrano returned to Wrigley Field Tuesday for the first time since Theo Epstein sent him and more than $15 million of Tom Ricketts' money to the Miami Marlins for Chris Volstad.

He'll miss pitching against the Cubs again this series - as he did in April when the Cubs were in Miami. But that's the way he wants it, he said.

``To be honest, I didn't want to pitch here,'' he said, ``not this year. ... The time will come that I can come back. ... It would be emotional. It would be something weird to come out of the dugout on the other side.''

Zambrano, who talked openly the last two years about retiring after this contract, clearly plans to keep pitching after this year.

``I love Miami,'' he said. ``I will [continue to pitch after this year]. Maybe I don't know my future, but God knows it. If he wants me to still play, I will play. I'm looking forward to continuing in this city in Miami and why not finish my career here?''

Until then, Zambrano returned to the scene of many of his famous meltdowns - where he punched his catcher, destroyed a Gatorade machine, where he threw a ball into left field to show up an ump - and addressed several topics with Chicago media.

Zambrano on:

HOW HE LOOKS BACK AT CUBS CAREER -- ``Good memories. And I still love these fans. ... Out of 10 ½ years in Chicago, 8 ½ were good. The last two I know was frustrating. It was out of control. But that's in the past.''

MESSAGE TO FANS -- ``Once again, I apologize for any inconvenience and anything that I did. And the only thing that I want to do in Chicago is win. And I really apologize to the Cubs fans, to the people here who treated me good, and they deserve an apology.''

HOW EMOTIONAL BEING HERE IS -- ``When I came in the car, with some friends and my wife, when I got to the light at Addison and Clark, I saw Wrigley Field, and I said, `Wow, I can't believe it. ... Let's move on.' That's what I said in the car. But people welcomed me, from the office and from the team, with a hug.''

WHETHER HE PUT TOO MUCH PRESSURE ON HIMSELF IN THE WAKE OF MARK PRIOR AND KERRY WOOD CYCLING OUT OF THE ROTATION -- ``I think so, yeah. I think I put too much pressure on myself trying to do too much. At the same time, I have to keep pitching and keep playing good. I didn't do that in the last two years.''

WHAT'S DIFFERENT THIS YEAR WITH SEEMINGLY CONSTANT SELF CONTROL -- ``My relationship with the Lord. More focus on what God wants to do with my life. And he will take care of everything.''

QUALITY AS A TEAMMATE (New teammate Mark Buehrle said Z is one of best teammates he's had) -- ``I can be a good teammate. But I also can be a guy that some people don't like, because when I see things that are not right, I come straight to that guy and that's the way I am. I see people lazy or not hustling or people doing things they're not supposed to do, I will come to that guy. And there is where things come out. ... I appreciate that Mark said that. And I always knew he was a good guy, too.''

WHETHER HE'S HAPPY WITH HIS SEASON SO FAR (5-7, 4.22) -- ``Happy, happy? No. You take away a game against Colorado and two against Tampa Bay, and I will be much better. I got crushed by them, and now I have to get back on track and help this team in the second half. But happy happy? No. Because this team pays me to win, same thing when I was with the Cubs and I have only five wins. And it's the second half. ...''

LOSING FOUR WINS BECAUSE OF BLOWN SAVES BY HEATH BELL AND NOT LASHING OUT -- ``Before I do. But not now. People are human. We're all human, and we all make mistakes. That's part of the game. There's nothing I can do about it.''

RECEPTION IN CHICAGO -- ``I've been in the street in Chicago today and I was here last week when we played against the Brewers. I came in town to check my house, and people in the street were very, very pleased with me. Fans - I don't know if it's because of my size or whatever - but people were very pleased with me, saying, ``We miss you Z.'' I appreciate that from the fans. There's some people that still don't like me, but nothing I can do about it.''

FORMER TEAMMATES, RELATIONSHIPS ON TEAM (talked with Soriano, Soto, Garza and clubhouse guys before game) -- ``The problem wasn't them. The problem was not the Cubs. The problem was Carlos Zambrano. That's why Carlos Zambrano is now with the Miami Marlins. If you have to blame somebody, blame me.

And I think it didn't work out the last two years because of me. That's all I can say. I accept it. I admit it. I am responsible for my actions.''

Kerry Wood looks very capable of tossing an inning or two for the Cubs.
``No,'' he said with a smile on Sunday. ``I tried to play catch out there today. It [retirement] was the right decision.''
Since his farewell in May, Wood has had a full summer, spending time with his three children and wife Sarah and delving into projects for his Wood Family Foundation charity.
``It's been my first summer off in 25 years,'' he said. ``Little League games and fishing. We spent the Fourth of July in Lake Geneva. It's been great.''
Wood also filmed a national commercial for State Farm insurance that also features former teammate, Hall of Famer Andre Dawson. It first aired during the Home Run Derby at the All Star Game and drew positive feedback.
``It took nine hours for that 30 seconds,'' he said. ``But it was fun hanging out with Hawk for a few days.''
Wood's hope to continue playing this year was cut short by continuing nagging physical pains. But he doesn't regret his decision.
``I miss the guys and the competition. I don't miss getting ready for games every day. I'm enjoying family life.''
And he is spending more time with the foundation, which held a successful fundraising bowling event last month. Wood will take part in holding baseball clinics this week for kids, and his foundation also will team with the Cubs soon on groundbreaking for a new high school baseball stadium on Addison Street just west of Western Avenue and Lane Tech High.
But the future will include more involvement with the Cubs, though his role is yet to be determined.
``You'll see more of me here [at Wrigley Field] as the summer winds down,'' he said. ``We'll talk this off season I'm sure about what I'll do. I'll be at spring training.''
He won't get involved in coaching, however.
``My kids are too young for me to think about that. They spend much more time [at work] than the players do.It would be counter-productive to what I want to do right now.
``I've waited a long time for this,'' he said of ``retirement.''I have plenty of things keeping me busy.''
Wood admitted he hasn't watched much baseball on television, but already has attended to Cubs games as a fan. He even talks like a fan now.
``In fact, I'm leaving before the game today because I'm 0-2.''

This won't be a playoff year for the Cubs, but it already has been a testing year for first year manager Dale Sveum.
His boss believes he has passed his toughest tests.
``We like what we see from Dale going into the future,'' general manager Jed Hoyer said. ``We made our bed in May and June [going 20-34], so we won't change our [trade] plans. But it doesn't mean we're not happy with how we've been playing of late.
``It's good to see clean games. The defense is better and the pitching. The vibe around the team in the clubhouse is positive. I give Dale a lot of credit.''
Hoyer said Sveum has remained positive around the players through the bad early months through now, as their play has improved.
``He has stayed the same person,'' Hoyer said. ``It bodes well for the future.''

RIGHT POSITION
Sveum credits the Cubs' improved defense to the players' work commitment but also for them ``buying into'' his formula of positioning defenders according to a hitter's tendencies.
Sveum's belief is to position the defense according to where an opposing hitter will hit the majority of the time.
``The players and the pitchers have said `wow, this really works,' '' Sveum said. ``It's a few less steps to the ball, so you'll be a little better fielder.''
He said Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro are turning double plays efficiently and first baseman Anthony Rizzo ``is a calming guy at first'' as a fielder. The outfielders have done well, he said, especially an improved Alfonso Soriano in left. ``He's done a great job on his [sore] legs,'' Sveum said.
The Cubs have turned at least one double play in each of the last nine games, including an inning-ending double play in the third Saturday. It is their longest such defensive stretch since a nine-game stretch in July, 1994.

PILING UP PITCHING
The Cubs stockpiled pitching in the June draft, with 17 hurlers among their 29 signed draftees.
Hoyer admitted it would be some time before this crop of draftees can be expected to contribute.
``Given the number of pitchers we picked, you won't see them for several years, but it's about having a number of good drafts and getting people signed,'' he said.
Baseball instituted a new system of signing draftees this year, with a July 13 deadline imposed.
``It's a good feeling to have signed so many because we're not used to going to a deadline,'' he said. ``It was a learning process for everyone.''
Top selection Albert Almora is a high school outfielder.

IN A PINCH
Reed Johnson started Saturday's game in center field and got a bunt single in the third contributing to the first run.
But his value has come more as a pinch hitter. He leads the majors with 11 pinch hits.
``It's one of the hardest things to do,'' Sveum said. ``It's hard enough trying to hit every day. But he is one of the top guys in baseball [off the bench]. He's another guy who comes to work every day at an older age who tried to make himself a better player.''

The Cubs will be one of the teams getting the most calls in the next two weeks from contending teams looking for pitching help before the trade deadline.
But Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said being ``sellers'' at the trade deadline isn't what the team wants long term.
``I don't think there's ever a good year [to be a seller],'' he said Saturday. ``There are ways to improve the organization long term [through trades], but it also means your record isn't very good, and you're giving up good players. You don't want to be in that position very often.
`Yes, you can make improvements, but there's a reason teams are calling you.''
The trade focus is most great on pitcher Ryan Dempster, who starts Saturday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. But pitchers Matt Garza and left-hander Paul Maholm, who has pitched well of late, also could be on other teams' radars. The addition of an extra wild card in the playoff mix also will fuel more trade interest from teams with a chance to get the added post-season berth.
The non-waiver trade deadline is July 31.

Alfonso Soriano has homered twice Friday, the Cubs taking a 5-1 lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field. It is Soriano's second multi-homer game of the season--the last was on June 8 at Minnesota--and the 30th of his career.
But more noteworthy is that the two homers give Soriano 149 as a Cub, moving him into 13th place on the franchise all-time list.
He passes Mark Grace, who watched Soriano's homers from the visiting broadcast booth as a broadcaster for the Diamondbacks.

The Cubs will sponsor tributes next week to the late Ron Santo leading up to his induction next Sunday in the baseball Hall of Fame.
A luncheon will be held Tuesday at Chicago's Wildfire restaurant sponsored by WGN-AM. A Cubs ``fan fest'' will be held in Cooperstown, NY, on July 21 where the Hall is located.
The Cubs will hold a ``viewing party'' on induction day, July 22, at Wrigley Field's Captain Morgan club. It will then hold ``Ron Santo Day'' at Wrigley Field on July 27, the team's first home game following the induction. The Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals that day.
The team will have a special pre-game ceremony on July 27 including members of the Santo family. The first 10,000 fans will receive a commemorative Ron Santo Hall of Fame Plaque. Commemorative memorabilia also will be available for purchase.
``Ron Santo embodied what it meant to be a Chicago Cub,'' team chairman Tom Ricketts said. ``This franchise couldn't be prouder as he is enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and we're honored he will forever represent the Chicago Cubs in Cooperstown. Our family looks forward to celebrating this well-deserved accomplishment with Cubs fans worldwide.''
Among those planning to attend the induction are some of Santo's teammates, including Hall of Fame members Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins, and Randy Hundley and Glenn Beckert. His longtime radio broadcast partner, Pat Hughes, will attend the induction as well.

TRADING TIME

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The next two weeks may be more about trade rumors than the Cubs' performance on the field. But manager Dale Sveum said trade talk is part of the game and shouldn't detract from play.
``I don't think it impacts wins and losses,'' he said Friday. ``This time of year, it's inevitable to be in the media, whether it's about all 25 guys or whoever. It's just part of the game.
``On the field, I think guys focus on the game. Off the fiend, it's something that's there and it's been that way a long time.''
The non-waiver deadline is July 31, with the Cubs at the center of expected ``sellers''.
Sveum acknowledged with more teams in the running for post-season play, the trade situation this year can be more intense.
``You have twenty-plus teams that are capable of getting in the playoffs with that extra [wild card] team. They'll think `if we put this piece of the puzzle here..' There definitely are more teams involved.'

The Cubs have signed second round pick Duane Underwood, a righthanded pitcher who was the 67th pick overall in June. He attended Pope High School in Georgia. He will report to the team's spring complex in Mesa.

His signing brings to 29 the number of draftees in the fold. All top 20 picks have been signed, including first round pick Albert Almora, a high school outfielder who signed two days ago.

Teams have until today to sign draft picks.

Cubs sign top-pick Almora

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The Cubs wasted no time getting a deal done with top draft pick Albert Almora once they got their second-round pick done late last week.

Almora, a high school outfielder taken with the No. 6 overall pick, agreed to a $3.9-million bonus, according to a Baseball America report Monday - essentially the amount the Cubs could afford to pay without penalty of losing a future draft pick once second-round pick Duane Underwood's deal got done.

Almora confirmed the signing in multiple tweets Monday.

New, rigid restrictions on draft bonuses went into effect this year. To get to $3.9 million, the Cubs went about $400,000 over the limit MLB placed on their overall draft pool - triggering steep tax penalties on that amount but falling just short of the figure that would have cost a future pick.

Almora's No. 6 slot was valued by MLB at $3.25 million.

NEW YORK -- After another strong throwing session Friday, Ryan Dempster was scheduled, as expected, to return from the disabled list to start Sunday against the New York Mets - giving teams looking for pitching an early look at his health and strength before the All-Star break.

``I can't control those things,'' said Dempster, who hasn't pitched since June 15 because of a lat muscle strain. ``I'm just glad I'm feeling good and back to being healthy. ... Especially in the last week or so it really started to turn a corner and I just feel really good.''

Manager Dale Sveum said Dempster will be on a pitch limit of 70-80, and he has the full bullpen and at least a couple starters at his disposal if necessary because it's the final game before a four-day break.

Dempster, who has a 2.11 ERA this season, could be one of the first pitchers traded between now and the July 31 non-waiver deadline if he fares well Sunday. Among several teams that have shown interest, the Los Angeles Dodgers are still considered by major league sources to be the favorites to land Dempster.

``That's OK,'' he said of trade rumors picking up again. ``They've been there. Doesn't bother me. I'm just going to try do to my job the best I can and let all those things take care of themselves.''


NOTES

--One day after saying Starlin Castro's defense was too valuable to rest him, Sveum kept Castro out of the starting lineup for the first time this year - in part because the All-Star shortstop won't get the same break next week teammates will. Until Friday, Castro was the only NL player to start all of his teams games this year.

--Dempster's activation from the DL Sunday likely means the return to AAA Iowa of Chris Volstad after only one, disappointing start.

Almora signing close for Cubs?

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NEW YORK - The Cubs' $1.05-million agreement with second-round draft pick Duane Underwood could make the signing of No. 6 overall pick Albert Almora imminent as soon as Underwood passes Monday's physical.

The deadline for signing draft picks is Friday.

Strict limits this year on bonus spending for the top 10 rounds and for each team overall leave the Cubs just over $3.5 million of their allotted budget, based on bonus tracking done by Baseball America.

In addition, the Cubs can spend roughly $400,000 more without losing future draft picks (but paying a high-percentage tax on the over-limit total).

That gives the Cubs just over $3.9 million to spend on Almora, the prep outfielder from South Florida, who is the only unsigned player among the Cubs' top 20 picks.

Almora, whose slot was assigned a $3.25 million recommendation by MLP, has the leverage of a full ride scholarship to the University of Miami.

Despite the suggestion from Almora during a media conference call on draft day that he might take the scholarship, the Cubs have remained optimistic they'll sign their top pick.

Almora's advisor, Scott Boras, declined comment on the subject because of strict NCAA rules regarding advisors/agents and amateur status.

Underwood, the 67th overall pick in the draft, is a right-hander with mid-90s velocity from Marietta, Ga.


Sveum wonders where Cubs would be with Rizzo all season

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ATLANTA - After watching his team surge toward the All-Star break since promoting Anthony Rizzo from the minors, Cubs manager Dale Sveum can't help but wonder how life might have been different this year if he'd taken Rizzo north with the team from spring training.

``I'd be lying if I said I didn't,'' Sveum said before Thursday's series finale against the Atlanta Braves.

Instead, Sveum was the guy who echoed the team's position during the spring by saying, ``It's a concrete plan to let Rizzo have another season in Triple-A instead of moving him up and down.''

Woulda, coulda, shoulda? The Cubs went 25-48 without Rizzo - and they're 6-3 since he joined the lineup last week, even with Thursday's loss. He's hitting .314 with three homers and a .990 OPS in his first nine games as a Cub.

``We have more balance in the lineup,'' said Cubs home run leader Alfonso Soriano, ``and what I see from Rizzo so far, I'm impressed. He's showing that he's got the talent [for the majors], and hopefully he continues.''

Not that Rizzo would have done this all year if he opened in the big leagues - and not that he would have fixed the Cubs' bullpen problems even if he did.

But, said Sveum, ``I mean, it's obviously a more dynamic offensive team, especially so far in his eight games. So sure, you think about it. And you think about if [Luis] Valbuena was here all year and being able to produce like he has and play defense like he has.

``But unfortunately, that's not the way the game works sometimes.''

Sveum wants to see more from Cubs' LaHair vs. LHPs

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Bryan LaHair is 5-for-11 (.455) with a walk, homer and two RBIs in three games since the Cubs' right-fielder became an All-Star first-baseman.

Next up for him: Manager Dale Sveum has him in the lineup tonight in Atlanta for the finale of a four-game series, in a rare start against a left-hander (Mike Minor).

It's something Sveum would like to make a trend again, and something the manager thinks could have a significant impact on the lineup the second half of the season if LaHair can perform better against lefties than the 3-for-38, 21-strikeout effort the first 81 games of the season -- a stat that had turned him into a platoon player.

Sveum's ideal lineup, 2-through-5, goes Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Alfonso Soriano and LaHair.

Soriano has a track record for streakiness but still makes that middle-of-the-order work just well enough for Sveum as long as he has that lefty hitter producing reasonably well behind him.

``The last couple games he's been swinging really well,'' Sveum said. ``If you keep the lineup as stable as you possibly can and get him going against left-handers, [that's the goal] because you've got to have 3-4-5 guys consistent and doing it every night.''

LaHair's signs of bat life this week/month are especially encouraging since a general dip since April.

His month-by-month numbers:

April -- .390/.471/.780 (20 games)
May -- .253/.343/.448 (25)
June -- .231/.286/.400 (22)
July - That 5-for-11 in Atlanta


``I'm starting to get a little more comfortable,'' LaHair said Wednesday night. ``I made a few adjustments. I've kind of let the good and bad go a little bit on the mental side, and trust in my abilities, and those kind of things, and kind of let everything happen for me.''

Cubs' Volstad says he's ready for fresh start tonight

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As far as whether Chris Volstad fixed what was broken during his six-week stretch in the minors, ``I guess we'll see,'' he said.

``But as far as where I'm at and how I feel, yeah, I feel totally different,'' he said. ``It probably won't look that way to people watching, but from the inside for sure.''

Confidence. Perspective. Patience. Maybe even a few therapy mind tricks.

Volstad takes them to the mound against the Atlanta Braves tonight when he starts for the Cubs for the first time since May 17 - when he lost yet again as his winless streak reached 19 starts dating to last year about this time.

``It was definitely necessary,'' he said of the trip to the minors after going 0-6 with a 7.46 ERA in eight starts for the Cubs - all Cub losses. ``I'll be the first one to admit that or say that. I just needed to work on a few things, and get right. And put myself in position to get back up here as soon as possible.''

Admittedly, a streak like he's in wears on a player. For Volstad, it's about starting fresh tonight, and trying to keep up a team run by the starters that has the Cubs on a 6-for-7 roll.

Cubs starters are 5-0 with a 1.41 ERA in the six wins during that stretch.

``You look at the way things were going while I was here, and stuff was working well for most of the game,'' he said. ``Just certain situations I'd get myself into and maybe not know how to get myself out, or how to react or how to even handle it really.''

The key? ``Not trying to be perfect in those situations or putting too much pressure or stress on myself,'' he said. ``And enjoying those situations really and just continuing making pitches the way you had been before that. That was what needed to happen.''

Volstad was 2-3 with a 4.44 ERA in eight starts for AAA Iowa.

``I'm looking forward to [tonight] for sure, no matter what,'' he said. ``I know me, personally, on and off the field as a player, it's different. ... I'm excited for it.''

Surgery to end season for Cubs' Stewart

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ATLANTA - Whether Ian Stewart is the Cubs' third baseman next year, he won't be for the rest of this one.

Confirming what Stewart tweeted early Monday morning, the team says Stewart will undergo exploratory arthroscopic surgery next week in Cleveland in an effort to finally diagnose and effectively treat a left wrist injury that has bothered him for a year - and might go back to a compression fracture suffered in the minors in 2006.

Stewart, who was an offensive disappointment since being acquired from Colorado in a four-player trade last winter that included outfielder Tyler Colvin, is expected to miss the rest of the season.

Whether he returns as next year's Opening Day third baseman involves more than the health of the wrist.

``He's got all the ability to do it,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``But I'd like to see some adjustments in the swing, whether it was the hand or not. There still needs to be some adjustments.''

Stewart hit just .201 with five homers and 17 RBIs in 55 games for the Cubs - just .183 with the five homers and 23 RBIs in 301 at-bats over the last two seasons with the Cubs and Rockies.

``But the defense is something that you'll always want,'' Sveum said, ``and the power and the athleticism he brings - there's just not many around anymore at third base that have those kind of attributes. But we've got to get better than what we've been thelast 300 at-bats in the big leagues.''


One week has seen pieces suddenly falling into place for the new Cubs.
Anthony Rizzo's arrival has proven a success, the rookie getting his third game winning hit Sunday in a 3-0 victory over the Houston Astros, completing only the second three-game sweep of the year.
The bullpen was excellent in all three games, not allowing a run and securing Carlos Marmol in the closer role with saves in all three games.
And starter Travis Wood, the pitcher Theo Epstein's team valued enough to trade away lefthander Sean Marshall, made his second straight strong outing with 7 2/3 scoreless innings.
``That was another pretty dominating outing,'' manager Dale Sveum said as Wood (3-3) extending his scoreless inning streak to 18 2/3 innings, dating to June 19 against the White Sox. ``It was impressive how he kept the ball inside as well as [execute] all his pitches. He stuck to a game plan, no walks, there wasn't even a lot of hard contact.
``That was as good as it gets--though he had that the last time out, too.''
Wood allowed only three hits--and delivered his own offense with a leadoff double in the sixth when the Cubs scored all their runs off Wandy Rodriguez (6-6).
``I love hitting and being on the bases,'' Wood said smiling. ``It's part of the game.''
After a disappointing spring and time in the minors this year, Wood, 25, is riding high on confidence.
``You feel relaxed out there and things keep rolling into place,'' he said.
``The confidence he has now if off the charts,'' Sveum said. ``That's the reason we traded a quality reliever like Sean Marshall for him because that's what we thought about him, and what I saw across the field when he was with Cincinnati.''
The Cubs provided another day of great defensive work for their pitchers, with second baseman Darwin Barney making two circus-like catches, one in foul territory and another in short right field.
``He was running all over the place,'' Wood said.
Improving the Cubs woeful defense of 2011 was one of Sveum's priorities. He has seen progress there and in other areas as the All Star break nears.
``I think things are falling into place as far as the bullpen goes--it's much more stable than it has been--and the lineup will be more stable than it has been.
``The addition of Rizzo and a power-hitting left-handed bat makes a difference. It always has.
``We had so many one-run games [we lost] where we didn't get a big hit or a home run. Those things should be a little better in the second half where we win more games than we have because of that.''
Sveum's first tenure as a manager has been less about learning how to do the job than dealing with the unexpected--particularly how poorly the team has performed against left-handed pitching.
``I think I've learned about lineups and such, but we just for whatever reason haven't done much against left-handed pitching, which should have been a strength.
``You roll with it or give guys a little longer and do whatever you can.''
The Cubs recorded back-to-back victories against starting left-handers in the series, though that statistic is still 6-17.
The shutout was the second of the series and the sixth of the season.
-30-

Alfonso Soriano was as happy for Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair making the All-Star team as his teammates were disappointed at him being left out.
``I'm very happy for Castro and LaHair because they deserve it,' Soriano said. ``They worked hard to be All Stars.
``I've gone seven times,'' he said. ``There are a lot of good left fielders out there and everyone has had good numbers.''
Manager Dale Sveum said Soriano's numbers--leading the National League in homers (15) since May 1--made him deserving.
``The outfielders who are going obviously deserve it, but what Soriano has done for us, going out every day and on those [sore] legs, and leading all of the league in homers since May--it's a tribute to a wonderful guy.
``You wish someone else would appreciate him,'' he added.
``I thought he would make it,'' Castro said. ``He's played very good.''
In addition to Castro and LaHair, first base coach Dave McKay will be part of the NL coaching staff, having been on the world champion St. Louis Cardinals staff under Tony La Russa last season.


BAT AND GLOVE
Anthony Rizzo's bat gets the attention--he collected his third game winning hit in Sunday's 3-0 victory--but his defense is above average and another plus for the team.
``He's the prototypical left-handed first baseman,'' Sveum said. ``It's the one position on the field really made for lefties for a lot of reasons.''
Rizzo showed range on Saturday in fielding a grounder in the third inning and throwing home to retire Astros second baseman Scott Moore trying to score from third.
``My go-to place is fielding,'' Rizzo said. ``It's something I pride myself on, to play well [defensively] all the time.''

CLOSING ACT
Carlos Marmol has recorded saves in each of his last seven opportunities, including all three of the victories in the weekend sweep of the Astros. He has allowed only one earned run in his last 7 2/3 innings (1.17 ERA), walking five and striking out 13.

NOTES
--Second round pick Duane Underwood, a pitcher from Pope High School in Marietta, GA, threw in the bullpen Sunday as president Theo Epstein and scouting director Jason McLeod watched.
Negotiations are continuing to sign first round pick Albert Almora, a high school outfielder from Florida, before the July 13 deadline.

Cubs manager Dale Sveum will look forward to the three-day All-Star break to spend time at his Phoenix home.
``I try to get away--just go home and do nothing for three days,'' he said. ``I don't get a chance to see the family much, but for once everyone will be home.''
The Cubs play the final seven games before the All-Star break on the road, with four games in Atlanta and three in New York against the Mets.

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro has been named to his second National League All-Star team--but the surprise is the Cubs' second selection.
First baseman Bryan LaHair was selected for the first time Sunday, LaHair chosen on the strength of his early power numbers--he has 13 home runs, second only to Alfonso Soriano's 15 homers. LaHair is hitting .284 with 28 RBI in his first full season after spending years in the minor leagues.
Ironically, LaHair lost his first base job last week when top prospect Anthony Rizzo was promoted. LaHair will play in the outfield now.
LaHair, 29, was the Class AAA Pacific Coast League most valuable player in 2011 when he set a new record for Class AAA Iowa with 38 home runs and led the PCL with 76 extra base hits, 303 total bases and a .664 slugging percentage.
LaHair was promoted to the Cubs in September and .288 with two home runs and six RBI in 20 games.
LaHair's only other major league experience was in 2008 when he played in 45 games for the Seattle Mariners, hitting three homers in 45 games. He had spent the next three years in the minors, joining the Cubs organization in 2010.
The new Cubs management team under Theo Epstein gave LaHair the first base job to start this season before Rizzo's promotion.
Castro, 22, will be in his second straight All-Star game in only his second full season in the majors. He was fourth in the majors last season with 207 hits and was the youngest Cub All-Star evern last season.
This season, he is hitting .298 with six home runs and 40 RBI and a team-high 94 hits.
-30-


Alfonso Soriano had Sunday off despite Houston starting lefty Wandy Rodriguez.
``It's a little breather with the hot weather we've had and how hot it will be in Atlanta [the next four-game series],'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``And he doesn't like Wandy too much. He wasn't fighting me much [about the day off.]''
Soriano has hit only .105 (4-for-38) against Rodriguez.
Sveum's lineup had Reed Johnson in center field, Jeff Baker in right and Joe Mather in left. The only left-handed hitters were Anthony Rizzo at first and Luis Valbuena at third. Left-hander Travis Wood was to start for the Cubs.

BAT AND GLOVE
Rizzo's bat gets the attention, but his defense is above average and another plus for the team.
``He's the prototypical left-handed first baseman,'' Sveum said. ``It's the one position on the field really made for lefties for a lot of reasons.''
Rizzo showed range on Saturday in fielding a grounder in the third inning and throwing home to retire Astros second baseman Scott Moore trying to score from third.
``My go-to place is fielding,'' Rizzo said. ``It's something I pride myself on, to play well [defensively] all the time.'

NOTES
Second round pick Duane Underwood, a pitcher from Pope High School in Marietta, GA, threw in the bullpen Sunday as president Theo Epstein and scouting director Jason McLeod watched.
Negotiations are continuing to sign first round pick Albert Almora, a high school outfielder from Florida, before the July 13 deadline.

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