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

August 2012 Archives

The San Francisco Giants already knew Alfonso Soriano was worth trying to get in a trade this summer. But the veteran Cubs outfielder with veto rights didn't want to play on the West Coast.
On Friday, Soriano punished the National League West leaders again with a two-run homer that started the Cubs' four-run third off Madison Bumgarner (14-9), the margin of victory in the 6-4 final giving Chris Volstad (2-9) his second straight victory.
At age 36, Soriano is having one of his best seasons since joining the Cubs in 2007, playing errorless ball in left field--the only major leaguer in his position to do so--and now with 24 homers, all since May 15.
``I like my body feeling more warm,'' he said Friday, the 90-plus temperature good for him--and part of the reason why he didn't want to go to San Francisco.
``It's hard to play on the West Coast and in that [AT&T Park],'' he said. ``It's not the team. They have a very good team. But I wouldn't feel comfortable in the city.
``It's far from my home [the Dominican Republic] and the weather with the program I have with my [sore] knee, it's not going to help.''
Soriano chose to make the best of the last two months of the season with the Cubs, a team he likes. But two years and $36 million remain on his contract, and the off-season could spark the trade talk again.
Soriano will listen.
``If they come to me, I'd think about it,'' he said. ``If they can get something for me, I'd be happy to go somewhere I'd be comfortable.
``I don't want to have the same year losing a lot of games, but I think they're smart enough and will figure out what they want to do,'' he said.
``I like it here, but I don't like to lose, especially late now in my career. I'd like to stay here, but we'll see what happens.''
September continues to be about next year for the Cubs as rookies are evaluated and pitchers like Volstad try to make their cases to stay.
It also will be about staying true to the code of remaining competitive in a month the Cubs will try to avoid 100 losses while facing five playoff hopefuls in the Giants, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
``It's important for these guys to understand you have to [try to] beat the best,'' manager Dale Sveum said.
``We'll do our best to win ball games,'' said rookie Anthony Rizzo, whose tenth homer of the season in the fifth was his first since Aug. 5. ``We want to play .500 in September, and everyone in here wants to finish strong.
``Losing 100 is not something I want to be part of,'' he said. ``Our magic number now is 12 [wins].''

Jackson improving...

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Brett Jackson's progress at the plate is noticeable not just according to statistics but what the staff sees in his plate approach.
``Fortunately, he's not a deer in headlights up there,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``He's getting walks. You don't want to live with the strikeouts but you can as long as his OPS [on base plus slugging percentage] is around .800 and the walks are there.
``He's a guy with a lot of tools,'' he added, noting Jackson's speed in particular and how it aids his play in the outfield.
``It's understanding the adjustments you have to make while not losing your aggressiveness.''

Alfonso Soriano declined a potential trade to the San Francisco Giants, citing the weather conditions as one reason.
Former Cubs second baseman Ryan Theriot, now with the Giants, said the cool and windy conditions aren't that bad.
``You rarely find yourself sweating in a game. There's a chill in the air, no doubt, but it's something you get used to.
``National League West pitching is pretty good too, but you get used to it. We all saw what Barry [Bonds] did so it is possible to hit home runs there,'' Theriot said.

Sveum has said there will be a change in the playing time for prospect Josh Vitters as his struggles at the plate have continued. Vitters isn't discouraged.
``I'm just working on making the little adjustments that I need to right now,'' he said. ``It's just something that everybody has to do as some point. I'm just gong to have to get that out of the way early, I guess. I'm really working on making a few adjustments at the plate and with my throwing mechanics as well.''
Vitters still figures in the 2012 Cubs plans at third.
``I'm extremely confident. I know I'm going to finish strong and I have no doubts about it. I'm looking to finish on a positive note and bring it into spring training with me.''

Today's game is a 12:05 p.m. start, changed from the original 3:05 p.m. start printed on tickets.

Roster moves to come

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The Cubs recalled pitcher Jeff Beliveau Friday to replace Brooks Raley in the first of a series of moves in the next several days as rosters expand Sept. 1.
On Saturday, the team will recall outfielders Tony Campana and Dave Sappelt--who was acquired with Travis Wood in the off season deal with the Cincinnati Reds--and infielder Adrian Cardenas. On Sunday, righthanded pitcher Miguel Socolovich, who was claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles, will join the team.
Pitcher Chris Rusin will rejoin the team Tuesday and start that day against the Washington Nationals. Also to be added Tuesday will be just acquired catcher Anthony Recker, who came from the Oakland Athletics in a deal for catcher/first baseman Blake Lalli.
The added personnel won't necessarily change the everyday makeup on the field, but will bring more flexibility in changes through a game, manager Dale Sveum said.
``You don't have to worry about the innings as much with extra guys in the bullpen,'' he said, his team half way through a 20-game stretch. ``You don't have to worry about pinch-hitting for your catcher or pinch running. All those things help.''

Ryan Theriot has played in and won the College World Series at LSU, been on three playoff teams, won one World Series ring and could be in line for another if the San Francisco Giants keep churning out victories.
``I guess that's a good track record to have,'' the former Cubs second baseman said Friday. ``I've been fortunate to be on a lot of clubs that have had success. And it's no different with this [Giants] team.''
Theriot's first playoffs came with the Cubs as part of a home grown double play combination in himself and shortstop Mike Fontenot. They were in the playoffs in 2007 and 2008 and remained with the team until mid 2010 when Fontenot was traded to the Giants and Theriot to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In 2011, Theriot, now 32, signed with the St. Louis Cardinals -- famously calling it being ``on the right side of the rivalry.'' The year ended with a World Series ring, but for all the consternation his comments caused, the 2001 Cubs draft pick still feels a fondness for Wrigley Field and the team that drafted him.
``Of course,'' he said. ``This is where I had my first taste of the big leagues, and we won two division championships. You always enjoy coming back to your first club.''
Theriot keeps track of the Cubs and is a fan of the young double play combination that followed him--Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney.
He is not a regular in the lineup any more, the Giants using Marco Scutaro at second. Tendinitis in his right arm also has affected him this season. But he is still a contributor on a team expecting to play in October.
``We have a really good team. We've been scoring a lot of runs [even in the wake of Melky Cabrera's 50-game suspension for testing positive for steriods], and we run a lot. Plus the pitching,'' he said.
``It's been a lof of fun every day,'' he said of his career. ``I've won a World Series, been in the playoffs three times. You couldn't ask for anything more.''

Cubs' Samardzija on Pinkett comments: `just an excuse'

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Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija joined the list of ex-Notre Dame football players denouncing this week's controversial comments made former Irish running back and current radio analyst for the team.

``I don't agree with those comments whatsoever,'' Samardzija, the former All-America receiver, said Thursday. ``You definitely need guys with a chip on their shoulder, for sure, especially to play at that level.

``But clean records help, too,'' he added with a smile, ``in case you need to get a job afterwards, you know? ... It's just an excuse. It's just an answer for someone that doesn't have an answer.''

Discussing Notre Dame's recent struggles during an interview on WSCR-670, Pinkett said the team needed more ``criminals'' and ``bad citizens'' to help team chemistry to compete with the top teams in the country.

Given a chance in the interview to back off the ``criminal'' comment, Pinkett said, ``I absolutely meant that,'' excluding, of course, ``mass murderers and rapists.''

``You have to have a couple bad guys that sort of teeter on the edge to add to the flavor of the gys that are going to always do right because that just adds to the chemistry of the football team,'' Pinkett said. ``You just look at the teams that have won in the past, they have always had a couple criminals.''

Said Samardzija: ``I guess everyone's entitled to their own opinion. Freedom of speech. ... The thing is Notre Dame holds itself to a certain standard. You've got to have good grades. You've got to be a good student. That comes first. Obviously, you've got to be a good kid, too, to go there. They don't accept just anybody. That's how it's always been there as long as I can remember. ...

``Recruiting's recruiting, man. You've got to get good athletes. Youv'e got to get good talent. But obviously character has to become involved, too, because you're representing the school; you're representing something other than yourself. It's no different than playing for the Cubs or playing for any team: You represent not only yourself but them and that organization as a whole. It's got to come into account, at least a little bit.''

As for having so-called criminals in the program when he played, Samardzija grinned. ``We had a couple guys that had some run-ins. But nothing too serious. I don't think we had any felonies.''

Samardzija said Notre Dame's reputation as an academic institution has always come first, as it should.

``And if you're not a good student or a good citizen, they'll kick your butt out,'' he said, emphasizing the importance of integrity in the program.

``One dude's comments are not going to change that,'' he said.

Hyde tapped for Cubs' farm director job

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The Cubs' first-year front office borrowed from the Miami Marlins player development in the continuing reshape of the organization Wednesday when it filled its farm director job with Brandon Hyde.

Hyde, 38, was brought in this year as the Cubs' minor-league field coordinator after spending last season as the Marlins' bench coach and five seasons before that managing players such as Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison in one of the more productive farm systems in baseball.

``This opportunity is exciting for me,'' said Hyde, who spent much of the season evaluating players throughout the Cubs' system. ``Two of our lower-level clubs [rookie-level Mesa and low-A Boise] clubs are going to be in the playoffs, and a lot of teams showed improvement in the second half.

``We have a lot of good things coming. And [Boise's] a really exciting group of players, and we're excited about the new draft of guys. So there are a lot of good thigns on the horizon.''

Team officials, including manager Dale Sveum, already have started working with Hyde on a specific philosophy and checklist of expectations for developing and promoting prospects.

``When you're starting over again, and when you've got new people in these high positions like that, we want to build this minor league system to where we have complete players when they get here,'' Sveum said. ``An organization's got to have that kind of [methodology] etched in stone: `This is the way we want things, and you're not moving up to the different levels until these things are done.''

Hyde replaces Oneri Fleita, who was fired two weeks ago just one year after ownership gave him a four-year extension.

Also interviewed for the job were Alex Suarez, the Cubs player development/international scouting coordinator, and former Atlanta Braves farm director Kurt Kemp, now a professional scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Hyde spent four seasons as a catcher and first baseman in the White Sox system after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Long Beach State.

Castro, Cubs finalize 7-year, $60-million extension

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The Cubs and shortstop Starlin Castro finalized the language in the seven-year, $60 million contract extension that has been agreed to in principal almost two weeks ago.

According to various reports and sources, the deal calls for a $6 million signing bonus and a $1 million buyout on the eighth-year, $16 million club option for 2020; and it does not include a no-trade clause.

Castro, already a two-time All-Star and 2011 National League hits leader, doesn't turn 30 until the final week of March just ahead of the option season.

Castro, who makes $567,000 in this final season before he would have been eligible for salary arbitration, reportedly makes $5 million each of the first two years of the contract, then $6 million, $7 million, $9 million, $10 million and $11 million. Performance clauses can escalate salary levels on the back end.

The Cubs future will be on display in all the right ways Tuesday in the forms of Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro.
For Castro, the day is expected to bring the signing of a new seven-year, $60 million contract locking him up as a team cornerstone for the Theo Epstein era.
For Barney, the day could bring a National League record-tying event should he play another errorless game.
Barney played his 112th consecutive errorless game Monday in an otherwise disastrous 15-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
The National League record for second basemen is 113 games set in 2010 by David Eckstein of the San Diego Padres.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum already is on record endorsing Barney's credentials for Gold Glove honors.
Even if he were to come up short of the NL record, Barney has quietly proven he can be part of the positives for a team looking for any silver lining as it moves forward to rebuild.
Barney and Castro may be the best things going for the Cubs future.
Sources confirmed Monday that Castro, 22, could sign a deal as early as Tuesday[today] worth a total of $60 million, including $59 million for seven years with a club option for an eighth year and a $1 million buyout.
The deal is believed to be without no-trade provisions for the two-time All-Star who is in only his third major league season.
And if the adage is true that a team must be strong up the middle to succeed, at least Theo Epstein can count one less worry.
``They've done a great job, and yet you still have to realize that Castro is 22 and Barney is figuring out second base [after converting from shortstop]--although he's figured it out pretty well,'' Sveum said.
``Barney is having a Gold Glove season, but he doesn't shy away from making himself better every day. And Starlin is getting better and understanding about positioning or footwork around a double play.
``They accomplish things over a season, and hopefully the next season is when you start making strides.''
Baseball statistician John Dewan has calculated that Barney has saved more runs from scoring [28 before Monday's game] than any other National League second baseman. That also ranks among the majors best at any position.
Barney leads in fielding percentage and putouts for second basemen.
Castro leads NL shortstops in assists--but he also leads in errors with two more on Monday raising his total to 21.
``Up the middle'' defense also includes catchers, pitchers and center fielders. Behind the plate, rookie Steve Clevenger and developing Wellington Castilo still have to prove if they are elements of the future.
The pitching corps may be the most unsettled part of the formula, and Epstein has made clear that is the main focus for repair.
But center field has been another positive position, with David DeJesus playing well there before prospect Brett Jackson was called up Aug. 5.
``Our center fielders have done a really good job,'' Sveum said, Jackson also hitting his fourth homer Monday in a game the Cubs trailed 5-4 through six innings.
Sveum made improved overall defense a point of emphasis for the Cubs this season, and they have responded. A key has been his belief in positioning defenders according to how opposing hitters hit most of the time.
The result is the Cubs ranking ninth in the league in overall defense. ``Once the guys started buying into it, things started getting better,'' Sveum said.

The Milwaukee Brewers hit three consecutive home runs in the ninth inning of Monday's 15-4 pounding of the Cubs. The homers by Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart were part of an nine-run inning that saw the Cubs need outfielder Joe Mather to get the last out.
The three homers off reliever Alex Hinshaw were a first for the Brewers since Sept. 9, 2007 when Rickie Weeks, Hart and Braun did it against Cincinnati.
Ramirez had two homers in the game.
The Brewers had 21 hits off seven Cubs pitchers, including Mather. He was the first Cubs position player to take the mound since Gary Gaetti did so on July 3, 1999 at Philadelphia. Mather had pitched once before in his career in a 20-inning contest with his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals.
``Obviously, it's not what you want to do,'' Mather said. ``Unfortunately, we had to do it.
``I have a fastball and a hanging curve,'' he added.
Manager Dale Sveum said he turned to Mather because he did not want to use bullpen workhorses James Russell and Shawn Camp, who were the only relievers left along with closer Carlos Marmol.
The Brewers scored five in the ninth off Alex Hinshaw and four against Lendy Castillo. Mather gave up a single before getting the final out of the inning.

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro is expected to sign a new seven-year, $60 million contract as early as Tuesday that would lock the 22-year-old up as a key part of the team's future under Theo Epstein.
Sources confirmed Monday that Castro, already a two-time All-Star in only his third major league season, will likely make the deal final by Tuesday.
The Cubs and Castro had acknowledged that a deal was in the works, but indications are that the final details were worked out Monday.
It is said to call for a seven-year deal at $59 million with an eighth year club option containing a $1 million buyout. The deal is not believed to contain no-trade provisions.

Cubs manager Dale Sveum watched Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun go from a free swinger to a disciplined hitter who was the National League MVP last season. But it had as much to do with Braun's self confidence as Sveum's ability as a hitting coach.
That is an added challenge for the young players Sveum is now nurturing with the Cubs.
``Braun swung at more pitches than anyone,'' Sveum said. ``But he went to a major college [Miami] and played a long time. He made the conclusion and was confident enough that he could hit any fastball. Obviously, he's changed some things [in his approach], but he is able to hit an 0-1 pitch with no panic. That comes with a tremendous amount of confidence.''
Sveum said confidence helps a player develop patience at the plate, one of the greatest challenges for hitters.
``Unless you `tell' them to take pitches, it's a very difficult thing to teach, because that ball that comes right down the middle is a strike and they get discouraged.''
The Cubs still rank among the better teams in striking out--ranking sixth in fewest strikeouts in the National League. But they are last in drawing walks, which has contributed to being second to last in runs scored.
For now, Sveum is less concerned about the statistics than watching for development.
``The thing you watch in development in the big leagues is not worrying about production and statistics. You're worried about bat speed and intelligence [at the plate] and willingness to make adjustments when things are out of whack,'' he said.

The Cubs completed a deal Monday acquiring catcher Anthony Recker from Oakland for catcher/first baseman Blake Lalli. At the same time, lefthanded pitcher Scott Maine was designated for assignment to make room for Recker on the 40-man roster.
Recker, who turns 29 on Wednesday, was an 18th round pick in the 2005 draft and made his major league debut last August. He was on Oakland's opening day roster but was optioned to Class AAA Sacramento on May 27. He was hitting .265 with seven doubles, nine home runs and 29 RBI when he was designated for assignment last week by the Athletics.
Lalli, 28, made his major league debut with the Cubs this season, appearing in six games. He originally signed with the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in May, 2006.
Maine, 27, has spent part of the last three seasons in the big leagues with the Cubs, going 1-1 with a 4.87 ERA in 41 career relief appearances. He went 1-1 with a 4.79 ERA in 21 outings with the Cubs this season and went 4-2 with a 2.88 ERA in 28 relief outings with Class AAA Iowa.

While it's not yet official, Chris Volstad is on the verge of winning his first game since July 17, 2011.

The Cubs were leading 5-0 after eight innings when the game was delayed by rain for the second time. For Volstad, the wait will be well worth it because he's in line for the win that will end his pursuit of the major-league record for most consecutive starts without a victory.

Volstad got a standing ovation from the few rain-drenched fans remaining when he left in the seventh inning after allowing three hits and no runs in 6 2/3 innings. The Cubs led 2-0 at the time but by leaving two men on, Volstad was one swing away from taking a 3-2 lead and sending Volstad spiralling to his 25th start without a win.

Fortunately for him, Manuel Corpas got Jonathan Herrera to ground to second to end the inning. The Cubs bullpen kept the Rockies scoreless the rest of the way for the team's ninth shutout of the season and to help Volstad snap his winless streak at 24 consecutive starts. The record, shared by Matt Keough and Jo-Jo Reyes, is 28.

Starlin Castro doubled and scored on Darwin Barney's fielder's choice in the second and the Cubs added a run in the sixth when Barney's soft single to center scored Castro again. Until his seventh-inning blooper, Barney had been in a 3-for-33 skid after hitting .340 in 14 games from July 29 through Aug. 13, prompting him to take extra batting practice after Saturday's loss.

The Cubs blew the game open with three runs in the eighth inning.

The Cubs have announced that Sunday's rain-delayed game against the Rockies will being at approximately 3:35 p.m.

Fans cheered when workers pulled the tarp from the infield.

Sunday's game between the Cubs and Rockies at Wrigley Field has been delayed by rain.

Workers pulled the tarp over the infield more than an hour before the game as a drizzle turned into a steady rain that shows no signs of subsiding as game time approached.

Today's forecast calls for rain and a heavier thundershower.

The Rockies are making their only appearance of the season at Wrigley Field, which means whether or not today's game is played is not up to the Cubs or Rockies but Major League Baseball. There are no logical makeup dates, especially considering the Cubs just started a stretch of 20 games in 20 days.

That means fans could be in for a lengthy delay because even though the game between the last-place Rockies and the fifth-place Cubs will not impact division-and-wildcard races, the league office prefers teams play their entire 162-game schedule whenever possible because a team's final record impacts draft-and-waiver orders.

Dale Sveum has been impressed with what he's seen from young lefthanders Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley of late. Both rookies turned in solid efforts and will likely be given a chance to keep proving themselves during the final month of the season.

Raley pitched five innings, giving up five hits and two runs in a 4-3 loss on Saturday. He has been solid in three of four starts and is 1-2 with a 6.64 ERA. Rusin made his major-league debut against the Brewers at Miller Park on Tuesday, allowing only an infield single in five innings. He also tripled in his first at-bat.

Although he was optioned to Class AAA Iowa before Saturday's game, it's likely Rusin will be recalled and get several more starts as the season winds down. With only Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza locks for the rotation heading into spring training, Sveum wants to look at as many pitchers as possible.

"They have been put in a situation where they have had to come up here and perform and they have done a nice job," Sveum said. "The bottom line with guys like that is they have to learn to get through a lineup the second time a team faces them and to make the adjustments after major-league hitters have seen you a couple times. But they've done a good job. They are poised and their mound presence is good. They have not been deer in headlights by no means. They've done a good job on the mound."

Darwin Barney was taking extra batting practice after Saturday's loss to the Rockies at Wrigley Field with hopes of snapping out of a 3-for-31 skid.

"He has been here on his day off hitting," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "He's just one of those guys who is a grinder and is going to do everything he can to make himself a better player."

Barney enters Sunday's game with a franchise record 110-game errorless streak at second base. His last error came in the eighth inning of a game against the Marlins on April 17. He had been on a tear at the plate, as well. He hit .340 in 14 games from July 29 through August 13.

"Sometimes you want to use a lot of things as excuses for slumps but the bottom line is they happen," Sveum said. "Also, the last two or three days he's lined out about four times, too, to the centerfielder and hit the ball hard. You can look at things with slumps and pitch selection and when to be aggressive and when not to be. Sometimes, it's not just mechanical."

Sveum believes Barney has the makings of a .300 hitter.

"He knows some of the adjustments he has to make to get some things working on the backside where he can get some length through the strike zone with his bat. His hand-eye coordination, the strength, the hand speed, it should play into a .290 to .310 hitter some day."

Chris Volstad may be closing on as dubious of a record as there is for a pitcher, but you wouldn't know it by the way he approaches the game, according to Dale Sveum.

"He has handled it as good as anybody could handle it [given] the stretch and the situation he's in," the Cubs manager said. "[The] guy stays pretty much calm and collected most of the time. He doesn't show much emotion good or bad. He just goes about his business and works and is trying to make adjustments. It's just one of those things. We haven't gotten a lot of run support for him, either. That has to do with a lot of things. He's handled everything extremely well for the adversity he has had to go through."

Volstad will make his 13th start of the season Sunday, weather permitting. He had not earned a win since July 17, 2011, a stretch of 24 games that has him four shy of the record of 28 set by Matt Keough in 1979 and Jo-Jo Reyes from 2008-11. The 25-year-old righthander is 0-14 with a 5.54 ERA during that stretch.

He has made progress in his last four starts since his latest stint in the minors, and can be solid in three-and-four-inning stretches, but has only three quality starts this season.

But owning the record for the most consecutive starts without a win isn't the only thing on his mind.

Volstad, who is making $2.65 million this season, is arbitration eligible after this season. It's unlikely he will return to the Cubs unless it's the result of a handshake deal that would allow the Cubs to avoid arbitration and sign him to a lesser salary in exchange for a guaranteed contract.

The bottom line is, whether it's with the Cubs or some other team, Volstad is pitching for his major league life.

"It's hard not to be aware of stuff like that," Sveum said of the record. "It's talked about. Hopefully, obviously, it doesn't happen. We all know it's getting closer and closer to that. Hopefully, today we can take care of it and score some runs. We need to score early and keep adding on. We've had a very difficult time doing that."

Yes, Sveum was aware of the blockbuster trade/salary dump between the Red Sox and Dodgers that will send Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to Los Angeles in exchange for James Loney and prospects. Like Sveum, the former Red Sox coach, said: "It was hard to miss."

"It's one of those trades that come around sometimes once in a lifetime when a quarter [billion] dollars is exchanging hands," he said. "That just doesn't happen very often. It's a very unique trade and it benefits both teams."

Sveum was asked if the Dodgers clubhouse can hold all those egos.

"When you're getting down to one month left and you've got a World Series on your mind the last thing on your mind is egos when you can put that kind of team on the field every day."

The Cubs optioned Chris Rusin to Class AAA Iowa to make room for Saturday's starter Brooks Raley but Rusin may not be there long. The rookie lefthander is expected to be among three or four pitchers called up when rosters expand next week.

"Obviously, you don't know what's going to happen yet but there's a well-above average chance he'll be back in September so we can get another look at him," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.

Tony Campana will also likely be recalled when rosters expand to 40 on Sept. 1. The struggling outfielder was sent down to make room for Brett Jackson earlier this month but his speed alone makes him a valuable bench player during the final month.

"We're not going to bring 15 guys up or anything like that," Sveum said. "Most of them are here, anyway. There are some guys coming back from injuries that we still want to take a look at."

Rusin made his major-league debut against the Brewers at Miller Park Tuesday and allowed only an infield single in five innings. He also tripled in his first at-bat.

"He's definitely a guy you want to see more of," Sveum said.

He can make the ball do a lot of things. he's got a plus changeup and keeps the ball down. You'd like to see in another enviironment where it isn't his first start where all the jitters are gone and all that stuff. He'll compete ... his command wasn't there but he battled back and got back in the count and made the pitches and kept the ball on the ground when he had to. He's def a guy you want to see more of.

Tyler Colvin returned to Wrigley Field for the first time since the Cubs traded their former first-round draft pick from 2006 along with D.J. LeMahieu to the Rockies for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers last December. Once thought to be a potential building block for the future, Colvin hit just .150 in 80 games for the Cubs last season.

"I'm on the other side," Colvin said before Friday's game. "It will definitely be different. On the other hand, I'm excited to be here and play in front of these fans again. It will be a good experience for me to be on the other side and see what it's like."

The change of scenary seems to have helped Colvin, who is hitting .294 with 14 home runs and 52 RBI this year. He has 16 hits in 25 starts so far this month.

"It puts some fresh ideas in your head," he said. "You can start with a clean slate. When I got traded that's the first thing they told me: 'Let's go back to work and get back to the guy you are.' It really helped out."

Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger continue to audition to be the full-time catcher next season. Although manager Dale Sveum said both have made great strides, the learning curve remains steep for reasons that extend well beyond the boxscore.

"They've been introduced to something they have never been introduced to before," Sveum said. "They are trying to survive in the big leagues while learning how to call games and [execute] game plans. The batting system and the videos are something that's harped on and to be able to apply that to a game when you're trying to survive your first year in the big leagues hitting, throwing, blocking, isn't the easiest thing to do. They've both grown by leaps and bounds since the beginning of the year as far as sticking to game plans and things like that."

The Cubs young pitching staff has limitations, which complicates what can otherwise be clear-cut strategic decisions. The game plan may call for fastballs up and in, for example, but that day's pitcher may be only able to throw in the mid 80s.

"We don't have the veterans who can do a lot of things according to a game plan, either," Sveum said. "Lots of times you go into a game and the curveball is the perfect pitch but we don't have any curveball guys. That becomes difficult. They have to learn how to adjust to that as well."

Castillo started Friday. He is hitting .273 in 21 games this season while Clevenger is batting .224 in 55 games.

"Swinging the bats is part of it but that's the last thing we're evaluating right now," Sveum said.

Cubs claim pitching prospect off waivers, DFA catcher Lalli

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Catcher Blake Lalli, who had two hits and two RBIs in a six-game big-league debut for the Cubs earlier this season, was designated for assignment Monday to make room on the 40-man roster for another waiver-claim acquisition of a pitcher.

The Cubs claimed right-handed reliever Miguel Socolovich from the Baltimore Orioles and optioned him to AAA Iowa.

Socolovich, 26, is a former White Sox prospect who spent most of this season at AAA Norfolk, going 4-0 with a 1.90 ERA and two saves in 28 appearances and earning International League All-Star honors.

He made six appearances for the Orioles this season (6.97 ERA, 10 1/3 innings).

Lalli, 29, was hitting .257 with seven homers at Iowa.

Cubs to switch Class A affiliate to Kane County

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The Cubs are on the verge of moving some of their highest-profile minor-league prospects closer to Chicago by next season.

Sources say the Cubs are in the process of working out a player development agreement with the Geneva-based Kane County Cougars in an effort to switch their Midwest League affiliate from Peoria - putting those Class A players 120 miles closer to Chicago.

Cubs officials declined comment on the move, which is expected to be announced early next month after the minor-league season ends.

Several high-profile players acquired in team president Theo Epstein's first draft this year could be part of next year's Kane County roster, including No. 6 overall pick Albert Almora.

Cougars general manager Curtis Haug, whose team should benefit on multiple levels from the affiliation switch from the small-market Kansas City Royals, would neither confirm nor deny the move when contacted by the Sun-Times.

``The Kane County Cougars' organization enjoys the great professional relationship with the Kansas City Royals right now,'' Haug said, ``and in accordance with major league baseball rules, we will not comment on any existing or future player development contract involving our organization or any other organization.''

The change would mean ending a relationship the Cubs have had with the Peoria Chiefs for nearly 30 years between a 10-year affiliation in the 1980s and early '90s and the current eight-year affiliation.

It's where Greg Maddux and Mark Grace played on the way to the majors, where Ryne Sandberg started his managing career, and where one of the team's top current prospects - outfielder Jorge Soler - now plays.

Peoria Chiefs president Rocky Vonachen did not return a message left Tuesday but told the Peoria Journal Star:

``[The Sun-Times report] definitely caught us off guard. It's the first we've heard anything like that.''

The Cubs' current player development contracts with two other Class A affiliates - in Daytona, Fla., and Boise, Idaho - also expire at the end of this season, but the club plans to renew ties with those teams.

Report: Cubs, Castro agree to 7-year, $60-million deal

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According to a report by ESPNDeportes Saturday, the Cubs and shortstop Starlin Castro have agreed to a seven-year, $60 million contract extension that would buy out three years of free agency.

Neither side denied the details of the report other than both sides saying a deal had not been completed.

Castro said after the Cubs' dropped a 5-3 opener of a doubleheader against Cincinnati on Saturday that he hadn't heard from his agent about the deal and knew only what he had seen on TV in the clubhouse.

``If the numbers I saw on TV are right, I'll take it,'' said Castro, who added that he hasn't been told even to be ready to take a physical, a standard formality before a long-term agreement such as this is signed.

But one source said a deal appeared close and only final details remained to be worked out. And multiple sources confirmed the parameters reported by ESPNDeportes, including a $16 million club option for 2020.

``Nothing's finalized on Starlin,'' team president Theo Epstein said. ``Other than that, I have no comment.''

Castro's agent, Paul Kinzer, said the report was premature and talks were ``ongoing'' but declined to elaborate on how close to an agreement the sides were.

Castro, a two-time All-Star who led the National League in hits last year, doesn't turn 30 until a few days before the start of what would be that 2020 option season of the deal.

``It's something we'd like to get done,'' Epstein said Friday, addressing the ongoing talks. ``I think it'd be a good thing for Starlin and for the ballclub. We've got an extremely talented 22-year-old who has proven to us he can play shortstop at this level. And we project the bat to get better and better as he matures into his prime.''

Cubs' Epstein answers Castro critics with pending extension

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The fact the Cubs are on the verge of signing Starlin Castro to a long-term extension not only signals another key step in the new front office's long-term rebuilding plan, but also should quiet much of the growing criticism of the All-Star shortstop.

Not to mention stop the blather about this guy not being a legitimate, high-quality, big-league shortstop talent.

``I know he's one of the more elite defensive shortstops that's played the game this year,'' manager Dale Sveum said.

As for the guy who'll be on the hook for the deal that could range from four to six years, depending on option years, team president Theo Epstein says he's been impressed by Castro's big defensive improvement, his ``sky's the limit'' hitting ability and his leadership potential.

And as for the critics who seem to come out of the woodwork in numbers every time Castro commits an error or strikes out in a big situation: ``I think people forget how young this guy is,'' Epstein said.

``He's at an age where he'd be appropriate or even young for his level if he was at AA right now. I think we all know what kind of numbers he'd put up if he were in AA right now. He continues to mature at a very young age at the big-league level.

``It's the easiest thing in the world to look at a very young player like this in the big leagues and point out what he can't do or what he doesn't yet do consistently. I think it's important to acknowledge those things and identify them as areas for continued growth and development.

``Then you have to step back and look what the player can do. He's extraordinarily athletic at shortstop. He's proven he has the range; he has the arm, and then some. He has the hands, when he has the proper footwork to go with it. ...

``Sure, he's made a few careless errors through the course of the year, and lately, as all shortstops do. But he's showing he can make every play that we need him to make, and he's showing that, as we've demanded of him, that he can show greater growth in his consistency.

``Offensively ... obviously patience and discipline at the plate have not come yet, but what he's doing even without that at his age is still impressive. And you take someone who's done what he's done at age 20 to 22 and project what they're capable of doing in their mid-20s and late-20s, I'd be shocked if he's not an impact offensive player for the position.''

Spoiler Alert: Here come the Cubs ... and there they go

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The veterans are gone. The idea of a competitive season is long gone. And another wave of change is rumbling through the front office.

And still the Cubs had 46 games to play entering the day Friday, including four in a 46-hour-span against the first-place Reds.

Why bother?

Reason No. 1 might be that more than half of the remaining schedule includes games against playoff contenders.

``This time of year when you're really not in a pennant race and not really looking forward to the postseason, when you do play the better teams, you do want to step it up,'' Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. ``you do want to maybe be a spoiler.

``In the same tone, you're just playing the game as hard as you possibly can. I'm just going by my nature: When I was out of the pennant races, I think those are the teams you really wanted to beat. Not that you have anything against the Cincinnati Reds or whoever's in first place, but one motivating factor is knocking people out of the playoffs.''


For Friday's starting pitcher, Travis Wood, getting another shot at the team that traded you to the Cubs isn't a bad place to start for motivation.

Wood, who was acquired by the Cubs in the winter trade that sent Sean Marshall to the Reds, pitched seven strong innings against his former club just six days ago - allowing only one run on five hits and a walk, with eight strikeouts. He got no decision in a 4-2 loss.

``The other day he got the ball to 94 miles an hour a few times, which he's not going to do too often,'' Sveum said. ``There's no doubt, whenever you play one of your old teams, there's an added adrenaline rush.''

Friday, Wood took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the fourth inning, having allowed only an unearned run and two hits. He also drove in a run with a fourth-inning single.

It didn't last long.

Three batters into the Ciincinnati fourth, the Reds had two home runs -- a first-pitch shot by Ryan Ludwick leading off and a two-run shot by Todd Frazier -- and a 4-3 lead, on the way to a 7-3 Reds win over Wood and the Cubs.

Sveum said Wood spent all his energy and emotion in that last start against the Reds -- though Wood disputed that -- and had little to show for his stuff Friday.

``He was basically out there in a gun fight with a knife tonight,'' Sveum said.

Cubs, Castro nearing contract

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Starlin Castro's agent confirmed he and the Cubs are discussing a multi-year contract extension for the two-time All-Star shortstop.

``We're talking,'' agent Paul Kinzer said. ``Starlin loves Chicago. If he has his way, this is where he'd end his career.''

Castro is eligible for arbitration for the first time at the end of this season. Because he's a ``Super 2'' player -- one of a handful of players to qualify with less than the requisite three years service time -- he would have four years of arbitration eligibility.

Kinzer declined to provide specifics related to the talks.

But sources say the deal is expected to cover all four years of arbitration plus at least an option year on his first year of free agency.

Jose Reyes signed a deal of similar length with the New York Mets before the 2007 season, getting roughly $34 million for five years. Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus last winter signed a three-year extension for $14.4 million.

Don't assume the sudden loss of Melky Cabrera to a 50 game suspension for using steroids means Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano might be heading to the San Francisco Giants.
Soriano, who has veto rights in any trade, already has turned down overtures from the Giants before the non-waiver deadline July 31. Soriano has cleared waivers now, but he repeated Wednesday a reluctance to go to the West Coast.
``San Francisco is not good weather to play in. I've never played on the west coach, but we'll see what happens,'' he said Wednesday. ``I want to talk to my family and see.''
Soriano said he hasn't been approached again by the Cubs about a deal.
``Now there's six weeks left to the season. I'll try to enjoy it with these young guys and see what happens in the off season. I'll just try to do the best I can and not think about trade deadlines,'' he said.
Cabrera, 28, was suspended Wednesday following a positive test for testosterone, leaving the Giants without their best offensive weapon and one of the best hitters in baseball. He was hitting .346--second best in the National League--with 11 homers and 60 RBI.
``I feel sorry for him because he's having an unbelievable year and now he's caught,'' Soriano said. ``I don't know why people use that stuff.''

Cubs manager Dale Sveum knows the baseball profile of the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Cubs are probably the highest in baseball. He's been around all three teams as a player, coach and manager.
But he also knew in taking the Cubs manager job, he could be part of what he said will be ``the biggest event in sports''--a Cubs World Series championship.
``That's our goal,'' he said. ``It's going to happen and that's just the way I think. We're building to that goal and we're building to that every day.''
Sveum, who coached in Boston when the Red Sox broke their 87 World Series drought, said he was never offered the Red Sox job last season, contrary to some opinions.
``Theo [Epstein] offered me the job here and I took it,'' he said. He said he didn't think much about the rebuilding job ahead, ''especially your first managerial job,'' he said. ``A place like this, you don't hesitate [to accept.] You understand where the organization might be and where it's going.. You're just thankful they offered the job. When you get offered a job like this, and this organization and getting a chance to come to Wrigley Field every day, you just at the chance.
``It'll be the biggest event in sports, that's for sure,'' he said of a Cubs championship.

The changing of the guard under Theo Epstein continued Wednesday at Wrigley Field with the firing of longtime vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita.
The move comes days after the team promoted amateur scouting director Tim Wilken to a special assistant role and hired Jeron Madison from the San Diego Padres to replace him.
Sources said at least four more people who are veteran Cubs staffers in the player development and baseball operations departments will be let go as well.
One of them is longtime manager of baseball information Chuck Wasserstrom, whose job has been eliminated.
Another, Ari Kaplan who has been manager of statistical analysis, is moving out of the organization and into a consulting role.
Sources say Scott Nelson, the director of baseball operations, will be offered a different role in the organization.
Fleita, 45, had been with the Cubs since 1995 and was a close friend of former general manager Jim Hendry, who also coached him in college at Creighton. After Hendry was fired last year, team owner Tom Ricketts moved to retain the popular Fleita and signed him to a four-year contract extension amid reports other teams were interested in hiring him away.
``All of us with the Cubs owe Oneri a debt of gratitude for his tremendous service to the organization over many years,'' Epstein said in a statement. ``Oneri has impacted countless people here in a positive way and we wish him well as he continues his career elsewhere.''
Fleita began as a Class A manager in the organization before moving into scouting and coordinator of Latin American operations and overseeing the organization's minor league system and international scouting in 2001. He was named vice president of player personnel in October, 2007.
He was instrumental in the Cubs acquiring and developing many of its Latin players, including Starlin Castro.
``I feel real bad,'' Castro said. ``He was a father to me. I talked to him all the time in the Dominican [Republic] and here. I feel real bad, but it's a business.''

Cubs manager Dale Sveum was a coach for two years wtih the Boston Red Sox where he got to know Johnny Pesky, the beloved Red Sox infielder who teamed with Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr in storied times for the Red Sox. Pesky died Monday at the age of 92.
``He was just one of those special people who that come around once in a while,'' Sveum said. ``It was great for the two years I was there, it was great to be able to talk to him and talk to him a ton, actually. It's obviously a sad day for any baseball people, especually the people in Boston and the people who've been around him a lot. He was just one of them guys, a special guy we loved to talk. to and listen to his stories. Just a tough day for people who knew him well.
``I guess he was probably 83, 84 when I was there, still hitting fungos, very interactive with all the players. He was great. He was one of them special human beings.''

Matt Garza wants to try to come back before the end of the season, but the calendar is working against the veteran Cubs right-hander.
``It's going to be unlikely, but it would probably take a lot of hard work and things to happen in the healing process,'' manager Dale Sveum said Tuesday. ``You run out of time for rehab starts [in the minors]. it would be tough, but some guys heal faster than others.''
But the nature of Garza's injury--a stress reaction in the back of his right elbow--is troublesome enough that he has been shut down from throwing since Aug. 10. Sveum said he is more than a week from possibly resuming any throwing.
And he hasn't been in a game since July 21 when he left his start after three innings feeling cramping in his triceps.
Garza has said he wants to come back this season, but with fewer than 50 games left, he could only hope to get one or two starts in the most optimistic outlook.
``We don't know if we'll risk it,'' Sveum said. ``You'd never risk something for at most two starts.
``I think he wants to come back. He's trying to do whatever he can to get that [elbow] healed. In his mind he wants to come back and pitch.''
He is scheduled to undergo another MRI on Sept. 1, which would leave little time to resume a throwing program or minor league rehab, since the season in the minors ends around Labor Day.

The best defensive players sometimes need to count on their bats as much as their gloves to win the coveted Gold Glove prize.
But if that holds true this year, Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney might be helping his cause.
His two-run homer in the second Monday off Houston Astros starter Armando Galarraga (0-3) were the first runs in a 7-1 victory for Jeff Samardzija (8-10), part of his 2-for-2 night batting eighth.
``I'm not up there trying to do that,'' Barney said, though his fifth homer of the season--like his career total of eight--came at Wrigley Field and at a good time for the home team.
``When he does hit them, they seem to come at timely times,'' manager Dale Sveum said.
Barney's 2-for-2 night gave him 18 hits in his last 14 games, but it is his defensive work that continues to stand out more.
He played his 100th consecutive errorless game Monday, continuing to extend the franchise record at second that was once held by Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg (90 consecutive errorless games.)
``I haven't sent him that text yet,'' Barney said with a smile, his admiration for Sandberg entrenched in the four seasons he played for the former Cubs legend in the minor leagues. ``I've got nothing on Ryne Sandberg.''
But he credits Sandberg for guiding him in the minors while he was a shortstop, their long talks about preparation and developing a daily routine as vital to success in the majors as talent.
It was Starlin Castro's promotion from Class AA to the majors three years ago that brought an abrupt change of thinking to Barney about his path to the majors--not unlike Sandberg's move from third baseman to second baseman.
Barney's successful transition is paying off for the Cubs as they set about rebuilding.
Sveum believes Barney already is ahead of the pack for Gold Glove consideration.
``I know other guys have done a good job, but it's hard to imagine anyone better at things like the pop ups down the line, turning the double plays,'' he said. ``It's not just not making errors. It's everything in his toolbox. There's no doubt in my mind he should win the Gold Glove.''

Losing stretches have a direct effect on closers. For Cubs closer Carlos Marmol, it means having only two save opportunities in his last seven appearances.
``It's tough situation. They know and I know, but it's the way it is. You have to take whatever the situation is,'' Marmol said Monday.
``You have to do a little more work [on the side] because of it to keep yourself ready when the opportunity does come. I'm not complaining or anything. You just wait for the opportunities.''
The circumstances of rebuilding at mid-season came as Marmol had hit a stride of converting 11 consecutive save opportunities through June and July before the July 31 trade deadline.
``So far, the tough times we've had the last two weeks he's handled well,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``He's had some good innings and some pitch efficient innings. In the past, you'd see closers who can't really handle the situations where they aren't in a save situation. There's a different blood flow when they're not `the guy on center stage [in a save situation.]'
Sveum gives Marmol high marks since coming back from a time in May when he was demoted from the closer role in one of the new manager's first major decisions. Sveum has been Marmol's biggest supporter since.
``He's been as good as anyone in baseball in save opportunities we've had,'' Sveum said. ``He's under contract through next year and he'll be the guy in that role next year who has closed.
``I'm comfortable with him. He's done a great job. People don't realize those last three outs are tough even for the Trevor Hoffmans [601 career saves].''

The promotion Friday of amateur scouting director Tim Wilken into a more prominent, wide-ranging role underscored one of the management traits new team president Theo Epstein was said to bring to the Cubs: blending old-guard strengths into a new front office culture.

Long considered one of the top talent evaluators in the game, Wilken seemed to suffer at times from a guilt-by-association public perception in the nearly 10 months of Theo worship that by extension seemed to dismiss all that came before him.

But he was quickly identified as a key resource for the new regime's big plans and his duties as special assistant to Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer under the multiyear extension will include evaluating key international prospects as well as pro players the Cubs have their eye on.

``We're pretty excited to have the opportunity to do this'' said Jason McLeod, the Cubs' top player development and scouting executive. ``It allows us to utilize his strengths, and I've already started using him in the process of some of our minor-league evaluations. I know he's really excited. He's been in amateur scouting for so long, I think he felt a little energized. He felt he was ready to contribute in other area.''

Wilken, who was aware of some of the outside perceptions, already had a relationship with McLeod but not the rest of the new front office.

``I think we've grown together pretty well in a short time period,'' he said. ``There's a lot of things that were in common that people thought we were on different ends of the scale.''

That included things as fundamental a looking for similar traits in pitching mechanics to things such as Wilken's failed attempts to get hand-held video devices for scouts when he took over in 2006 - which the Cubs' instituted this year.

``I think our ideas mesh pretty good,'' Wilken said. ``To much of the people from the outside, I think it kind of fooled people. I think they thought it was a little bit of old school and a little bit of an [advanced system] here coming in, and it wasn't going to mesh. But basically the ideas are the same.

``It's been positive.''

Cubs to test new rule for doubleheader

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A new roster rule that took effect this year allows teams to add a 26th player on days they're forced into doubleheaders - as the Cubs are Saturday at Cincinnati.

It gives them an opportunity to bring up a starting pitcher for one of the games. But the likeliest candidate, Casey Coleman, left Saturday's start at AAA with shoulder soreness, and his status may not be known for at least a few days.

Next-in-line candidate, Chris Rusin, isn't on the 40-man roster. And neither is Ryan Rowland-Smith, who's pitched well since joining the Iowa rotation with Brooks Raley's promotion, and whose regular day would fall on Saturday. Either could be added by shifting a DL guy to the 60-day.

The Cubs could add a bullpen guy and use Thursday's off day to double up Raley and Jeff Samardzija Saturday - delaying the issue for three days.

The Cubs farm system isn't ``barren,'' but the new team hierarchy believes the organization is in strong need of starting pitching candidates.
That need was reflected in the first amateur draft in June conducted under Theo Epstein's team and player development director Jason McLeod repeated it Saturday.
``I wouldn't say it's barren, but we're looking for more upper level starting candidates,'' he said. ``We're trying to build [a pipeline] of starting pitching that can come up here to be a number three or better. But the Brooks Raleys [promoted this week from Class AAA Iowa] have come up and we're trying to add more.''
McLeod touched on a range of topics as he discussed the promotion of longtime amateur scouting director Tim Wilken to the new post of special assistant to Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, with expanded duties scouting all talent in the organization as well as internationally and at the major league level.
With Wilken's promotion, the team also hired Jaron Madison as director of amateur scouting, Madison coming from the San Diego Padres where he worked with McLeod and Hoyer.
``We're pretty excited to have the opportunity to do this,'' McLeod said of the moves. ``It allows us to utilize [Wilken's] strengths and I've already started using him in the process of some of our minor league evaluations. I know he's really excited. He's been in amateur scouting for so long, I think he felt a little energized. He felt he was ready contribute in other areas.
``We knew Jaron in San Diego. He understands the system we're trying to put in place. Certainly the Padres saw him as an asset, but to their credit they gave him the opportunity to make the decision. He hadn't worked with Theo but I think that and the fact of what we're trying to do with this franchise swayed him.''

Castillo returning soon

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Pitcher Lendy Castillo, out since May with a left groin strain, could be activated by this weekend.
Castillo returned Friday to be examined by the team's medical staff. Castillo had been on rehab assignment most recently with Class AA Tennessee.
Manager Dale Sveum said the righthanded reliever would be likely be activated this weekend.

Cubs' Garza: `This is the toughest thing for me to face'

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Not even his trademark over-the-top optimism and exuberance has Cubs pitcher Matt Garza convinced he can return to the Cubs' rotation this season.

``I'm hoping,'' said Garza, who was shut down indefinitely this week because of a ``stress reaction'' in his pitching elbow. ``That's why I'm working my tail off to get back. ... I was definitely surprised [by Monday's diagnosis]. I was throwing through this thing. But the doc said I've got to shut it down. I've got to listen to the doc.''

The injury isn't considered serious, but Garza hasn't pitched in almost three weeks, and there's only eight weeks left in the season.

``It's kinda like they told me I can't breathe,'' he tweeted a few days ago.

Garza, whose injury amounts to an irritation at the tip of one of the bones in his elbow, has even made adjustments to his diet to identify foods richer in nutrients to help the healing process.

``I don't like not playing,'' he said. ``This is the toughest thing for me to face, just not being able to do anything, like hold me back from going out there and wanting to throw. That's why I fought so long to [avoid the disabled list] and told them I'll be able to come back, be able to come back. ...''

One of the most significant byproducts of the injury that cut short his July 21 start was that the Cubs were unable to trade him at last week's trade deadline, and general manager Jed Hoyer said he anticipated having him on next year's roster - which Garza says is all good to him.

``As long as they keep wanting me,'' he said. ``Somebody keeps wanting me to play, I'm all for it. I'm not looking ahead to anything. I'm just trying to get to where I can get back on the field and start playing. Hopefully soon.''

Rough big-league start for new Cubs Raley, Jackson

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Josh Vitters got his first big-league hit - a two-run pinch double in the seventh.

Other than that, it was a rough Tuesday night for the younger Cubs, whether rookies or two-time All-Stars - as the team lost for the seventh straight time since last week's trade deadline.

Left-hander Brooks Raley, who made his first big-league start just 19 hours after arriving in San Diego, struck out the first batter he faced, walked the second, but was done in by a four-run third and a three-run homer by Carlos Quentin in the fourth.

Manager Dale Sveum confirmed after the 7-4 loss what he said before: Raley will be on the mound again Sunday against Cincinnati and for at least another couple starts after that as the Cubs take an extended look at a handful of prospects.

Raley, who acknowledged being ``definitely nervous,'' sounded confident even after the rough, four-inning debut - and said he appreciates getting a longer audition than just a spot start.

``I'm going to try to take advantage of that,'' he said. ``I'm glad they gave me the opportunity. I think I belong here, so I'm going to try and get better.''

Brett Jackson, another prospect who debuted Sunday with the promise of a lengthy look the rest of the way, continued to struggle.

After getting a walk and two singles in his first three trips to the plate in the majors, Jackson hasn't put the ball in play since. He has struck out eight times in that span, including three times Tuesday, with a walk. He fell behind in the count 0-2 on six of the strikeouts.

Meanwhile, the suddenly senior member of this young core, Starlin Castro, has slumped badly since the team left Wrigley last Wednesday.

He's 0-for-19 since then, including a strikeout with two men on base to end the seventh Tuesday that sent him to the bench so angry he slammed his helmet loud enough to be heard in the press box.

``It's very tough,'' he said. ``It's the kind of thing that never happened to me. I don't know what's happening. I see the video last year and this year and it's not too different. It's just something that's happening in the game.

``But tomorrow's going to be different. Tomorrow it's going to be gone for sure.''

Cubs' Garza shut down; rest of season in doubt

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SAN DIEGO -- Remember when the Cubs' starting rotation was the backbone of an impressive run from late June through July?

That's fast becoming a distant memory since the top two performers were traded and the third not in danger of missing the rest of the season.

Matt Garza, who hasn't pitched since experiencing stiffness in his pitching elbow in his July 21 start, was shut down indefinitely Monday after new x-rays revealed what the team called a ``stress reaction'' in the back of the elbow.

It amounts to an irritation at the tip of one of the bones in the elbow, and his status is to be re-evaluated homestand-by-homestand, says the team. General manager Jed Hoyer said Garza won't be allowed to pick up a baseball for at least two weeks.

``He felt really good on Saturday [when he threw a bullpen session]. I think that's probably the surprise of it,'' Hoyer said.

When Garza tried to play catch Sunday, the stiffness returned.

Hoyer wouldn't rule out a return to the mound at some point this season for Garza, mostly because Garza's expected to push for it, the GM said.

An added benefit to a successful return, of course, is keeping alive the Cubs' option of re-opening trade talks involving Garza with several teams next winter.

``That's the last thing we're thinking about. We're just trying to get this guy healthy,'' Hoyer said. ``He's under control for next year [as an arbitration eligible player]. He's likely to be a member of the Cubs in 2013, and we're excited to have him.''

Meanwhile, left-hander Brooks Raley - the Cubs' minor league pitcher of the month for July - gets the first shot at filling Garza's rotation void. He's scheduled to make his major league debut Tuesday in San Diego.

Garza was placed on the 15-day DL, retroactive to July 22.

That leaves Chris Volstad as the only healthy pitcher in the Cubs' organization with even one full season of continuous starting experience in the majors. (Rodrigo Lopez and Randy Wells are both on the minor league DL).

Lilly: Dempster to Dodgers ``would have been great''

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LOS ANGELES - Ryan Dempster wasn't the only one disappointed with the Cubs' inability to get a deal done with the Los Angeles Dodgers before trading the pitcher to the Texas Rangers at Tuesday's trade deadline.

``It would have been great,'' said Dempster's pal Ted Lilly, the Dodger pitcher who was a big reason Dempster used his no-trade rights to create - as Cubs brass called it -- ``a market of one [team].''

``And along with that there's no doubt that he would have made our team better, with the exception of Thursday,'' Lilly deadpanned, referring to Dempster's rough debut for Texas.

Lilly said he and Dempster didn't talk as much as some might think leading up to the deadline as Dempster blocked a trade to Atlanta and stayed focused on L.A.

``I talked to him a little bit but I kind of let him call me,'' said Lilly, who hasn't talked to him since the trade. ``I just imagined that he had a lot of people probably putting in different directions. Obviously, he was one of the prized pitching targets out there for a lot of clubs. I'm sure besides myself there were a lot of guys that would have liked to have added him to their teams.''

Lilly said he also didn't talk to Dodgers management on Dempster's behalf at any point in the process.

``I don't think he really needs me or anyone else to vouch for his character and his work ethic and what he's all about,'' said Lilly, whose shoulder injury is one of the reasons the Dodgers were looking for pitching and eventually traded for Joe Blanton in a waiver deal Friday.

Lilly defended Dempster's side in a weeklong saga that put the longtime fan favorite in the crosshairs of widespread fan backlash for rejecting Atlanta's hard deadline on a trade the teams had agreed to involving high-end Braves pitching prospect Randall Delgado.

``Why even have that in play if it's never going to be used?'' Lilly, a former player-union team representative, said of Dempster's rights as a 10-year veteran with at least five years with his current team. ``He caught a lot of heat for it. So what's the point of having 10-5 [rights] if you put that player in [that] position? ... It kind of puts a player in a tough spot.''

New ace Samardzija trumped, Cubs remain winless since trades

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LOS ANGELES - He is the one left standing, the one who is supposed to be the key to the eventual turnaround, the one who could be starting Opening Day perhaps as soon as next season.

For now, Jeff Samardzija is the guy who couldn't pitch out of the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in his first start since the clubhouse-shaking, rotation-crushing flurry of trades a few days ago.

He's the guy who pitched well for four innings despite command of his good split-finger pitch, then watched a tie game go up in the smoke of nine bases worth of hits by the final nine batters he faced in a 6-1 loss.

It left the Cubs winless in three games against Pittsburgh and L.A. since Tuesday's trade deadline, with 0-for-a-year Chris Volstad pitching Saturday against reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.

``I think we need to get our feet back under us,'' Samardzija said. ``That's a whirlwind of a few days there with all that stuff that's going on, and then you lose a couple team leaders and a couple veteran guys like Paulie [Maholm] and Demp [Ryan Dempster].

``But not to make excuses we still need to come out and play every day and play the way we can play, and speaking only for myself, you've got to get that ball down in the zone and get some clutch outs when you need them and keep the team in the game.''

This was Samardzija's first loss in nearly a month. He responded to an ugly, winless June with a 2-1, 1.91 July - then responded to his newly ascended spot in the rotation with a dud in a pitcher's park in pitchers' conditions.

``I expect a lot of myself regardless,'' he said. ``Obviously, with those guys gone, every start that I make is important and I need to pitch deep into games and be efficient and really give our bullpen a rest when I get the chance.

``You can sit and make all the excuses you want, but those guys aren't coming back, and you've got to work your way around it and figure out what you need to do to make it work.''

The Cubs have 58 games left, whether they figure out anything or not. A two-month stretch that's been reduced even more to evaluations and a weeding-out process than the first 104 games.

``I'm not here to make excuses,'' Samardzija (7-9). ``That's the way the business goes and we need to find out what we can do now with the guys we have here to win ballgames. We're going to do that for sure. We've fought all year and fought through some different things, and we're not going to stop doing that.''

Cubs' Epstein: `not fair' to criticize Dempster

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The day after sending Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers in an unusual, grinding last-minute deal at the trading deadline, Cubs team president Theo Epstein disputed reports the process got contentious between the veteran pitcher and the club.

Admittedly disappointed that Dempster used his no-trade rights to nix a more desirable trade with Atlanta last week and severely limit the club's ability to ``maximize our return,'' Epstein nonetheless defended the longtime fan favorite who was widely criticized by fans and media.

``I don't think Ryan deserves any criticism,'' Epstein said before Wednesday's game against Pittsburgh. ``It's not fair for anyone to criticize Ryan unless they've been in that spot. It's a right he's earned.''

Faced Monday of last week with a 1 p.m. deadline the following day to approve a trade for touted Atlanta pitcher/prospect Randall Delgado, Dempster refused to approve the trade on that timeline and held out for a possible deal to his top choice, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Cubs never came close to agreeing on a prospect or package of prospects with the Dodgers, who - unlike the Braves - were willing to take on all of Dempster's remaining salary, further dampening their willingness to part with one of their better prospects.

Dempster, who spent the afternoon leading up to Tuesday's 3 p.m. deadline in the team's office, consented in the final half hour to opening the process to the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers.

The Cubs got a pair of Class prospects in return, right-hander Kyle Hendricks and third baseman Christian Villanueva.

``Do we wish that he would have had 12 places that were an ideal destination for him instead of one? Sure,'' Epstein said. ``The Atlanta deal we had lined up I thought was an outstanding deal for the organization. Would we have liked to have executed it? Absolutely.''

Dempster has said publicly the front office communicated well with him, and there was no animosity through the process. But privately, sources say, he was upset at being pushed into a decision with a week left before the deadline and felt as though his rights weren't being respected by the club - emotions made worse last week when news of the Delgado agreement was leaked almost immediately after he was informed.

Contrary to some reports and widespread assumption, Dempster never said in advance of negotiations that he would necessarily approve a deal to the Braves, but indicated it would be among those he would consider.

``There was one spot that was a clear No. 1,'' Epstein said, referring to the Dodgers.

Epstein said Dempster was told two or three days in advance that a deal with Atlanta could be a realistic possibility and that the Dodgers might not.

``Also, the day before the deal, I told Ryan, `OK, it looks like tomorrow morning, we're going to have to [make a final decision] with the Braves,'' Epstein said. ``So [then] it was time to make a final decision. So we consummated a deal with Atlanta quietly, and I told Ryan, `We have a deal, so now, you don't have to decide right away, but I know you've been thinking about it for a couple days, keep thinking about it.'

``And that was a good conversation. And then an hour later, the story leaked and with the nature of technology and social media these things obviously spread quickly like wildfire. So Ryan never got the opportunity for more than I'd say an hour to fully contemplate Atlanta with a deal actually in place.

``I feel for him, because then all of a sudden instead of having time to contemplate it privately, he had everyone telling him what to do, everyone asking questions about it, and it became a nuisance for him.

``I think it's really hard to criticize Ryan. I think it's unfortunate. But he clearly wasn't blindsided because we'd been telling him for days that Atlanta was a very likely destination. ...''

As for the idea that things became contentious, Epstein said that never was the case.

``We were on great terms throughout the entire process,'' he said. ``We talked about it every day. We joked about it every day. And in the end once he came to our office and actually heard the conversations we were having with LA, he realized, `OK, maybe that's actually not going to happen. '

``He had a clear No. 1, which is his right, and he wanted to see that through. I don't hold that against him.''

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