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

September 2012 Archives

Cubs "vitamin" leaves Sveum needing aspirin

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Just when Dale Sveum thought he was about to survive his first season as Cubs manager with at least some of his sanity still intact, along comes two more baffling base-running gaffes by yet two more young Cubs on Sunday.

``It's like a vitamin,'' Sveum said. ``One-a-day.''

Even in victory Sunday, Anthony Rizzo got picked off second by the catcher for the third out when he lost count of the strikes and jogged into no-man's land on what he thought was an inning-ending strikeout on Alfonso Soriano's strike-two swing.

The after capping the Cubs' four-run sixth with a bases-loaded, pinch single to right, Bryan LaHair got nabbed off first on a should-I-go-or-should-I-stay move on the throw from the outfield. He walked right into the tag at first, after first base coach Dave McKay had told him to continue to second to draw the throw and allow the trailer run to score on the play.

It scored anyway as the Cubs went on to a 7-2 win.

``That's stuff you just don't see,'' Sveum said of the gaffes that have become contagious and epidemic in recent weeks.

In one two-week span, the Cubs had runners thrown out trying to take third for the third outs of innings, wiping out would-be runs on would-be sacrifice flies - including once during last week's series in Colorado.

And in the same time frame, Luis Valbuena was caught napping off second after a double, rounding the bag and standing there to adjust his batting gloves while the ball was tossed back to second before ever getting back to the mound on the play.

``Strange stuff,'' Sveum said. ``Unbelievable.''

Should make for some interesting potential the next three days as the Cubs close out their season at home against the only other team in baseball as young and mistake-prone: the 106-loss Houston Astros.

Throwing error ends record streak for Cubs' Barney

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PHOENIX - For all the losses and wrong-way milestones the Cubs have reached, or are getting close to reaching, nothing had created the kind of pall in the postgame clubhouse that was felt Friday night after Darwin Barney's eighth-inning throwing error that snapped his record fielding streak.

``That was probably the sickest feeling I've ever had in the game,'' manager Dale Sveum said, ``besides a couple playoff losses when you knew you were going home.

``I know that locker room is pretty beat up right now. But it was a heck of a run. To be able to hang your hat on being one of only two people in the history of the game to ever do anything like that is something to be proud of obviously.''

Barney's errorless streak lasted 141 games over 162 days - longer than Ian Stewart's and Alex Hinshaw's days in a Cub uniforms combined.

And in the heat of the desert, in the eighth inning of an otherwise run-of-the-mill 8-3 loss to the Diamondbacks, Darwin Barney made a tough throw on an aggressive play at second base, and it was over -- snapping a 141-game streak that tied Placido Polanco for longest at the position in major-league history for a single season.

When Arizona's Justin Upton grounded a ball toward the middle with none out and Aaron Hill at second, Barney gloved it behind second and flung an off-balance throw to first that skipped under the glove of Anthony Rizzo.

Upton was awarded a hit, but when Hill was able to continue around third and score, Barney got an error - his first at second base since the eighth inning April 17 in Miami.

Afterward, in a quiet clubhouse, several players emerged from a back room about a half-hour after the game, including Barney and Rizzo, who decided to do their media interviews in tandem.

``It was fun,'' Barney said. ``It had to end sometime; that's just how the game works. A funny game. A really funny game - how you can go 141 games, and then it happens on that game.

``I'm definitely able to appreciate that. It was a big year for me defensively.
That error doesn't change that.''

Barney had no regrets about taking a shot at Upton with the risky throw, in what was a two-run game at the time.

``That's just how you play the game,'' he said. ``You can't hold that ball right there.''

Said Sveum: ``Even down the stretch here he's done a lot of things that other people might have been afraid to do. He's made some plays and turned double plays - tough double plays - when he didn't have to throw the balls.

``It's been one of the most impressive things I've seen.''

Later in the inning, during a pitching change, Barney and Rizzo chatted near first while the rest of the infield was on the mound.

``Well, Rizzo wanted to throw up,'' Barney said. ``Both of us were just talking about how we didn't want another ball. ... When your head feels like it's floating around in the air, and not connected to our body, that's kind of how we both felt.

``I felt more bad for Rizz, because I knew how bad he felt. That's not his fault at all. It's one of those things where the ball popped up off the Arizona dirt. That's just how it goes.

``His job is to try to make that pick, and my job is to try to make that play, and unfortunately, it didn't work out for us. Hopefully, we're doing this for a long time together. The guy's unbelievable. He's going to be a Gold Glove caliber first baseman for sure. He shouldn't feel bad.''

Barney's error in Miami was also a throwing error. He also committed a throwing error July 6 in New York, while playing shortstop.

Polanco owns the overall second base streak of 186 errorless games (2006-08).

``What he's done is incredible,'' Rizzo said of Barney. ``If he doesn't win a Gold Glove, it would be a shame.''

Cubs' Garza has "no doubt" he'll be at full strength next spring

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Injured pitcher Matt Garza hasn't thrown a baseball in more than two months, and the stress reaction near his pitching elbow hasn't completely healed.

But the former 15-game winner is working out, traveling with the team and has no concerns about being at full strength for the start of spring training.

``I'm completely confident. I have no doubt in my mind I'm going to be ready,'' said Garza. ``And I'll be in way better shape.''

The Cubs aren't sure when he'll start a throwing program, but say they're optimistic there'll be no lingering issues heading into next spring.

Garza's performance next April figures to be critical for the Cubs' efforts to start well enough to have any chance of avoiding the same kind of July sell-off and lost season they experienced this year.

And whether the Cubs revisit talks on a multi-year deal or can get a strong return if they shop him next year - as they did this season before the injury - will be all about that health and performance.

``Right now it's just about getting me ready,'' said Garza, who wouldn't get into his thoughts about his future with the club as he enters his final winter of arbitration eligibility. ``I'm not worried about anything else but getting me stronger and getting better.''

Cubs avoid Adam Greenberg circus that opens in Miami next week

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Leave it to Team Dysfunction 2012 to cap off a week of chaos during a meltdown season with a publicity stunt that not even the Cubs would touch.

The Miami Marlins announced Thursday their decision to become the official laughingstock of major league baseball by caving in to filmmaker/Cub fan Matt Liston's incessant marketing campaign to get one-time Cub Adam Greenberg another day in the big leagues.

You remember Greenberg, the marginal Cubs prospect whose only big-league plate appearance, in 2005, lasted just long enough for Marlins reliever Valerio de los Santos' first pitch to hit him in the back of the head?

It was a frightening moment with a heartbreak outcome as the well-liked kid struggled with post-concussion syndrome and eventually failed in efforts with the Cubs and three other organizations to return to the majors.

But a made-for-TV, make-believe call-up to the big leagues at 31 on a one-day contract and the assurance of his elusive at-bat next Tuesday isn't a feel-good, storybook ending as much as it's a farce.

``This was never a gimmick,'' Greenberg said Thursday.

No, it was a much bigger, slicker, more crassly engineered snookering of any team or fan foolish enough to fall for it. It's baseball's biggest publicity stunt since Bill Veeck signed midget Eddie Gaedel in the '50s - or at least since the Cubs trotted out Kerry Wood and his new deal during opening ceremonies of Cubs Convention in January.

``This is going way beyond just one at-bat, and beyond sports,'' said Greenberg, who says the agreement with the Marlins brought him to tears. ``I got to the major leagues on my own merit, and I earned that spot seven years ago. So the fact this is not my first at-bat, that's important. It's just not `Poor kid, let's give him a shot.' ''

Whatever it is, the Cubs should feel fortunate their noodle-mongering marketing department didn't bring this circus to Wrigley Field.

``It's obviously not a fit for us,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``But I wish him the best.''

Cubs take on mile-high look on basepaths

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DENVER -- The Cubs' are-you-kidding-me finish to this WTF season took another Ripley's-worthy turn in the sixth inning of a 6-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies Wednesday night when Joe Mather inexplicably became the second Cub in two weeks to wipe out a run at the plate by trying to take third on a would-be sacrifice fly.

Never mind the cardinal sin of chancing a third out of an inning at third base. In this case, the ball was hit to left field, with the comparatively short throw in Mather's field of vision from the outset.

``I went 30 years without seeing it, and unfortunately had to see it twice in the last two weeks,'' said manager Dale Sveum - who had plenty of time to talk to Mather and stew about it when rain halted play at that point for the next 84 minutes.

``You talk to him, but it's the same [as two weeks ago in Houston]. Just bonehead plays,'' Sveum said. ``They know they are. It's just not thinking ahead.''

Two weeks ago it was Dave Sappelt - the guy who lost the RBI Wednesday - taking an RBI from Darwin Barney by getting thrown out at third on a fly to center field in a 1-0 loss.

``I thought I could make it. I shouldn't have gone. Bad base running,'' Mather said. ``Just bad baseball.''

Whether it's a case of guys trying to do too much as they try to avoid 100 losses, ``I don't know,'' Mather said.

``It's just a bummer. It's just a bummer for everybody,'' he added. ``I have to take the blame; 100 percent of it's mine.''

All of it left the Cubs needing a 4-3 finish to avoid the century-loss mark, with Chris Volstad (3-10) starting Thursday in the first of two remaining starts. The 6-12 Travis Wood is the other guy with two starts left.

Meanwhile, the Cubs dropped to 0-15 in National League West ballparks this season - with four more left in Colorado (one) and Arizona (three).

Believe it or not.

Cubs say Garza timetable still uncertain

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DENVER -- The Cubs still are in no rush to have Matt Garza start a throwing program, nearly two months after he was shut down because of a ``stress reaction'' in a bone near his elbow.

And whether he'll be ready for full participation when spring training starts could be influenced by that timeline.

``We're still getting to the bottom of that,'' general manager Jed Hoyer said. ``The reports we've gotten so far have been positive.''

The injury hasn't fully healed, Hoyer said. But because the nature of the injury doesn't involve a rehabilitation process, his prognosis is all about leaving enough time to rebuild stamina after a long layoff.

``We're certainly hopeful he's 100 percent [for spring training],'' Hoyer said. ``We won't be able to really assess that until later on.''

Garza isn't throwing, but he's with the team continuing therapy and exercises with the arm under the supervision of the club's medical staff.

Cubs to discuss coaching staff's future in the next week

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DENVER -- General manager Jed Hoyer said commitments haven't been made yet for next year's coaching staff.

The biggest decision might involve the status of interim hitting coach James Rowson, who replaced the fired Rudy Jaramillo in June.

``We'll have a lot of conversations over the next week, with all the coaches, some with just Dale, some internally,'' Hoyer said. ``We're not in position right not to give answers on that one.''


--The Cubs plan to look at third base options outside the organization, with Ian Stewart expected to be non-tendered. And Sveum said Luis Valbuena could return in a prominent role there again if the front office doesn't sign a bona fide starter.

--Hoyer said he has mixed feelings about the significance of avoiding 100 losses this season. ``I'm not going to feel any better about a 96-loss season or a 98-loss season or a 100-loss season,'' he said.

Soriano's amazing race

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DENVER -- Looking for a distraction from the Cubs' assault on 100 losses and battle of soft-tossing with the Rockies for the No. 2 overall pick in next year's draft?

Other than the Bears -- and Darwin Barney's chase for the within-one-season errorless streak record for second basemen - keep an eye on Alfonso Soriano at the plate the next few days against the crappy pitching of the Colorado Rockies and in two of his favorite ballparks to hit: Coors Field and Arizona's Chase Field.

``I love Arizona. I love it here. Good ballparks to hit in,'' said Soriano, who has a shot in the final eight games to pull off an amazing feat:

Leading the league in RBIs while playing for the fourth-lowest-scoring team in the majors.

Never mind the fact that Soriano has never come close to leading a league in RBIs -- his 105 RBIs representing a career high and just his third 100-RBI season. And never mind what the odds might have looked like when he signed with the Cubs, considering he was a leadoff hitter then.

With eight games left, Soriano trails league leaders Chase Headley of San Diego and Ryan Braun of Milwaukee by just three.

``Those guys in front of me are very good,'' Soriano said. ``We'll see what happens the next eight games. I'm feeling strong, but I'm not even thinking about that. It'd be great, but right now I don't want to think about this.''

Whatever your opinion of the RBI as an achievement or how much the guy knocking in the runs actually has to do with the number, consider that the Cubs have scored only 591 runs this year - meaning Soriano has driven in 18 percent of them.

That's higher than even Headley, whose Padres rank only slightly ahead of the Cubs in runs. Braun's Brewers are among the highest-scoring teams in baseball.

Add Soriano's runs total (minus his 31 home runs), and nearly a quarter of the Cubs' runs this season have been scored by Soriano or scored by a teammate he's driven in.

Sappelt can hit a fastball, and other Cubs game-day notes

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DENVER -- Dale Sveum likes what he's seen from Dave Sappelt so far, and he's putting him in the leadoff spot to get even more of a look in Tuesday's series opener at Colorado.

``Since he's been here he's given us some really good at-bats and shown an ability to hit a fastball and get his walks as well,'' Sveum said, ``so we'll stick him in that leadoff spot and see what happens.''

With a decent finish over the final nine days, Sappelt could take the inside track next spring on the Reed Johnson-type role of versatile outfielder and right-handed bat off the bench.

``That's the kind of player he is,'' Sveum said. ``The opportunity's here to show us that he's got the chance to be that kind of guy, or the guy that if somebody goes down he can fill in for two weeks and play every day.

``The guy's got hitting ability. He's got bat speed and can hit a fastball. That's ahead of the scale right there, just to be able to do that, especially doing it off the bench when you're going to face velocity.

In other notes, center fielder Brett Jackson (flu) and Luis Valbuena (knee) were on the bench Tuesday, but Sveum said both were available.

Right-hander Arodys Vizcaino, who's rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, is with the team on the trip.

Sveum said he expects the prospect acquired from Atlanta in the Paul Maholm deal to be ready to pitch next spring but go into next season on an innings limit that might be as low as 100.

``I don't know what the exact number we're going to end up with, but it's not going to be a full blowout scale with him next year,'' Sveum said. ``He's so young [21], you're going to baby that situation as much as you can and really get him ready for the next season.''

Vizcaino has begun a throwing program but has not thrown from a mound since his March 20 surgery.

Cubs, Rockies eye "Super Bowl"

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While much of baseball wrings its hands today over the possibility of too many tiebreaker scenarios screwing up the playoff schedule, the Cubs and Colorado Rockies keep their eyes on the truly high stakes involved in these final nine days of the season.

The three-game series at Coors Field that opens tonight has the potential to put one of these teams in commanding position for what Theo Epstein and Jason McLeod call their Super Bowl of the baseball calendar: next year's draft.

The 104-loss Houston Astros have already clinched their second straight No. 1 overall pick by virtue of the worst record in baseball, but the Cubs and Rockies - with identical records entering the series - are well ``ahead'' of the Cleveland Indians in the race for No. 2.

The Rockies finish the season on the road, with three games each against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. The Cubs finish with three in Arizona and three at home against Houston.

The last time the Cubs picked as high as No. 2 overall, they got Mark Prior in 2001.

The second wild card is a good thing for baseball that is adding another level of interest, Cubs manager Dale Sveum believes.
``The more teams capable of fighting for the playoffs, it's good for the game,'' he said. ``Anyone can think at the beginning of September `if we can roll off 12 in a row we have a chance to fight in that last week for a spot.' It's good for the teams, for fans, for television. It benefits everyone and it's good for the game.
``We're going to be able to do that as well,'' he said of the Cubs in the future, adding the wild card teams have proven to be sound playoff challengers.
``The Cardinals weren't the best team the last six weeks [of the regular season] but they were the last weeks of the season and won the World Series. You never know. You have to get to the dance before you can start dancing.''
Sveum said the one-game playoff between the two wild card teams may not be the best format--``in a perfect world you'd want maybe 2 out of 3, but it's not going to happen [because it would add more days to the playoffs]. But it's like a playoff game would be [in tiebreaker situations.] And we're all going to watch that one game.''
Sveum said scoreboard watching is part of September for everyone in baseball. ``You follow everyone now--people you have a relationship with and teams you've had relationships with--but you watch to see what everyone is doing or not doing. That's part of the game now.''

Rookie right hander Jaye Chapman was one of two pitchers the Cubs acquired from the Atlanta Braves for pitcher Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson at the July 31 deadline. The other, right hander Arodys Vizcaino, was the key to the deal even though he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
But Chapman has impressed the bosses since joining the team Sept. 4 from Class AA Tennessee.
``Chapman has impressed us with his mound presence and how he has faced hitters,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``He's opened our eyes.''
Chapman is 0-1 with a 1.93 ERA in 10 appearances, his loss coming Saturday after allowing a run in the 10th in his third appearance in four days.
But eight of his 10 appearances have been scoreless outings.
Sveum has hopes that relievers Rafael Dolis (2-4, 6.48 ERA, four saves) and Alberto Cabrera (1-1, 5.30 ERA) will continue to improve to be part of the 2013 outlook.
``Dolis has made strikes, and Cabrera as well. Those young guys with power arms are what we're looking for in spring training and next year in the bullpen. Bullpens are very difficult to put together, and finding diamonds in the rough like we did with Shawn Camp [signed in spring training] is a hard thing to do.''

Kerry Wood will have a new role with the Cubs in the future, likely as an on-field instructor of some kind. But the former Cubs pitching star hopes he is not the only one from his era who comes back to the team as an ambassador for the future.
Specifically, Wood would like to see Sammy Sosa as well as ex-stars like Mark Grace, Greg Maddux and Ryne Sandberg find a home here again.
``I get those situations and how it worked out,'' he said of Sandberg and Maddux separating from the team. ``Hopefully we get them back. And it wouldn't be bad to see Sammy come back. He did a lot for this team and the city.
``It's part of the history of the team, but they have more to offer than just that. And Grace, too.
``Certainly things ended in some ways. But Sammy and [Mark] McGwire practically saved baseball [in the aftermath of the 1994 strike]. Sammy did tremendous things for this town, and one mistake at the end shouldn't determine his future.''
Wood spoke Sunday on the day the organization set aside to commemorate his career. Wood spent 14 of his 16 seasons as a Cub.
Wood, who retired in May, was a teammate of Sosa, Grace and Maddux. His 1998 season as National League rookie of the year was also the season Sosa and McGwire broke the then-single season home run record, with Sosa going on to win the MVP honors that season with 66 homers and 158 RBI while the Cubs reached the playoffs as the wild card team. Sosa's 13-year career with the Cubs ended on a sour note with the right fielder leaving the park during one of the last games of the 2004 season without permission. He was traded in the off season to Baltimore.
Sosa played in 2005 for the Orioles and finished his career in 2007 playing for the Texas Rangers. His reputation has been tainted with the brush of steriod use and was among the players called to testify before Congress during its inquiry into baseball's steriod problems. He has lived in his native Dominican Republic since his retirement and is among a number of past stars who will be eligible for the Hall of Fame this year under the cloud of the steriod years.
The Cubs chose not to resign Grace after the 2000 season after his 13 years as a Cub. He signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks and was part of their World Series championship team in 2001. He retired after 2003 and has been a broadcaster with the Diamondbacks. But he was suspended earlier this month after being charged with a second drunken driving change and faces the risk of more criminal prosecution connected to the charge.
Maddux had two tenures with the Cubs and was a special assistant to former general manager Jim Hendry after his retirement in 2008. But he left the organization after Hendry was fired and now works with the Texas Rangers, where his brother Mike is the pitching coach.
Hall of Famer Sandberg left the organization after 2010 after being passed over for the team's managerial job following four seasons managing in the farm system. Sandberg also was passed over for consideration by Theo Epstein when he became president of the organization last year. Sandberg returned to the Philadelphia organization in 2011 and has been managing its Class AAA affiliate in Lehigh Valley. He is considered a candidate to succeed Phillies manager Charlie Manuel in the future.
Wood said he hopes to have some kind of role ``in uniform'' with the Cubs next season, but said keeping a link to other past stars is important.
``You can never fill the role of Ron Santo and Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins,'' he said. ``Those ambassadors can't be replaced. But [Sosa, Sandberg, Maddux and Grace] have something to offer.''

The Cubs keep giving the St. Louis Cardinals headaches in this final weekend meeting, with two extra inning games that have made manager Mike Matheny go deep into his bullpen and his bench.
It was Carlos Beltran's ninth inning home run (30th) off Cubs closer Carlos Marmol that rescued the Cardinals from another loss, and a 10th inning double by Jon Jay off rookie Jaye Chapman (0-1) that pushed across the eventual winning run in the 5-4 final.
But the Cardinals stranded 13 runners before it was over.
``We've been in both games. Win or lose, you don't make it easy on anyone,'' Sveum said.
``Especially when you're playing contenders,'' starter Travis Wood said. ``You're trying to knock teams out of the playoffs and trying not to lose 100 games.''
The close games are giving Sveum and the front office a better measuring stick than a spring training environment offers.
``You're evaluating how they handle situations--men on base with less than two outs, game-winning situations, two outs and two strikes,'' Sveum said. ``When it's all said and done in September and October with everything on the line, you want players you can trust, so it's nice to see guys in these situations.''
Marmol, who had 19 straight saves before Saturday, said the attitude of the young players is another measure of potential.
``We have a lot of good young players and they're playing hard, and that's what the front office wants to see,'' he said. ``We're playing hard and don't quit.''
Marmol hadn't blown a save since April 24, also against the Cardinals, and hadn't allowed a home run since the All-Star break.
It was only his third blown save of the season.
Sveum used six relievers after Wood worked five innings, with the bullpen posting a 2.85 ERA (19 runs/60 innings) since Sept. 6.
NOTES: Three of the Cubs victories on the home stand have gone to rookie pitchers getting their first major league victories. They include Chris Rusin on Sept. 14 against Pittsburgh, Jeff Beliveau on Sept. 16 against Pittsburgh and Alberto Cabrera Friday against St. Louis.
The Cubs have had six pitchers record their first career victories this season, including Rafael Dolis (April 23 against St. Louis), Scott Maine (now with Cleveland, who won on June 26 against the New York Mets) and Brooks Raley (Aug. 18 against Cincinnati).
--Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina left the game during his ninth inning at-bat when he suffered lower back spasms.
--Second baseman Darwin Barney's errorless game streak reached 137, now within four of tying the major league record. Sveum believes first baseman Anthony Rizzo also will become a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman. ``The key to defense is not panicking and being able to slow the game down,'' he said of Barney and Rizzo. ``I call it the `no heart rate' [ability.]''

The adage in baseball says not to judge players by what they do in spring training or September.
But this September is all about judging Cubs players as the team tries to move forward in developing a contending team for 2013.
What makes this September evaluation valid is the schedule and contending teams as opponents.
``When you're playing people who are contending, you see how they're handling situations,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``You're facing pitchers with `stuff' like a Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright or Kyle Lohse [with the Cardinals]. Or you're facing good hitters. You get to evaluate against some of the best because contenders aren't relying on September call-ups.''
Since the start of September, the Cubs have played the San Francisco Giants (going 1-2), the National League East-champion Washington Nationals (0-4), the wild card-hopeful Pittsburgh Pirates (5-2), National League Central-champion Cincinnati Reds (0-3) and wild card hopeful St. Louis Cardinals (1-0 before Saturday). They didn't match up well with the Nationals but played close games with the Reds. They dominated the Pirates and helped deflate that team's fading playoff hopes.
``You're evaluating how they handle situations--men on base with less than two outs, game-winning situations, two outs and two strikes,'' Sveum said. ``When it's all said and done in September and October with everything on the line, you want players you can trust, so it's nice to see guys coming through in these situations.''

His former Milwaukee Brewers would like nothing better than for Dale Sveum to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals out of the playoff picture this weekend.
``Even if we sweep them, they're not out of it,'' the Cubs manager said Friday. ``Hopefully you do knock them down a little.''
The Cubs did just that in a stunning comeback thanks to a two-out, two strike, two-run homer by Darwin Barney in the ninth tying the game at 4-4; and then a two-out single from David DeJesus sending pinch runner Brett Jackson home from the 5-4 victory in the 11th inning.
``It's great when you get a chance to be `that other team'--and I've been on a few,'' said DeJesus, whose career with the Kansas City Royals before coming to the Cubs was often about playing spoiler.
``But it helps you play up to the game, too,'' he added.
Character building is not to be ignored in this otherwise disappointing Cubs season.
It took Barney and DeJesus in the end, but six relievers had to pitch in for starter Chris Volstad, who worked five innings and gave up three hits.
``Chris kept it close and [Alberto] Cabrera got his first major league win, and that's great,'' DeJesus said.
It also took a great defensive stretch at first base by Anthony Rizzo in the top of the 10th to help Barney see his errorless streak reach 136 games.
Barney's throw after fielding Matt Carpenter's ground ball was wide of the bag, but Rizzo reached it, and then stretched his foot back to tag the base ahead of Carpenter.
``It was unbelievable,'' Barney said. ``I rushed it a little and thought he'd get down the line a little faster than he did.
``I don't know what I'm going to get [Rizzo], but I'll get him something.''
What the Cubs got was a game closer to their goal of avoiding 100 losses--they need four more victories for that.
And they got a measure of satisfaction over the rival Cardinals, who are trying to grab the second wild card and defend their world championship status.
They saw their lead over the charging Brewers shrink to 2 games as the Brewers prepared to play the Washington Nationals.
``We have a lot of young guys, so the rivalry [with the Cardinals] has to build up,'' Sveum said. ``But a rivalry is a rivalry, and it's more so because it's a big game for us to get to our goal and possibly knock someone out of the playoffs.''
That is the September obligation for every non-contender, while for the hopeful Cardinals, it's the reason a pitcher like former Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter would be put into service in game 151 after missing the season after a shoulder injury.
Carpenter has missed all of this season after undergoing surgery to relieve the shoulder nerve condition called thoracic outlet syndrome. His lifetime 11-6 record and 3.05 ERA against the Cubs were valid credentials for the ``season debut'' with only 12 games left.
Carpenter worked five innings, giving up two runs on five hits, walking one and striking out two and would have gotten the victory had the Cardinals reliever Fernando Salas not given up Barney's seventh homer and Joe Kelly (5-7) retired DeJesus.
``It's a goal for us to beat a team like that,'' Barney said. ``It's good playing games that matter. When you're not playing a contender, it's just not as exciting.
``We played ourselves out of [contention] early, so it's good to be playing these games.''

The Cubs have reached a licensing agreement with the city's Dept. of Aviation and HMSHost to open ``The Cubs Bar & Grill'' in Terminal 3 of O'Hare Airport.
The new sports bar, formerly the O'Hare Bar & Grill, will open next Tuesday with a Cubs-themed menu throughout the day from 6 a.m to 9 p.m. More than 20 beers also will be available along with other liquors and wines. The facility will have a replica Wrigley Field marquee at its entrance as well as Cubs memorabilia in its decor. Patrons will be able to purchase Cubs souvenirs as well.

The weekend series against the St. Louis Cardinals still has playoff implications in the National League wild card picture. Because of that, the Cubs lineup will continue to feature the team regulars.
But after Sunday, when the Cubs make their last road trip to Colorado and Arizona, that is likely to change.
``No doubt about it,'' manager Dale Sveum said Friday. ``We'll be giving other guys paying time and evaluate a little bit against Colorado. We'll see where Arizona is [the Diamondbacks currently are 5 1/2 games out of of a wild card spot], but we'll change it up a little.''
Sveum said bullpen workhorses Shawn Camp and James Russell already know they won't be used anymore in games the Cubs trail. Both are among the league leaders in appearances and relief innings. ``We're committed to keeping them out of games we're not winning. But the [Rafael] Dolises and [Alberto] Cabreras and [Jaye] Chapmans--we'll get a good look at them the next 12 games,'' Sveum said.
The players who are likely to continue playing include second baseman Darwin Barney, who is pursuing a major league record for errorless games in a season, and shortstop Starlin Castro.
``I don't think Barney will be going anywhere in the lineup,'' Sveum said. ``With the off day Monday, I think he'll be ready. He's been battle tested.''

Dale Sveum was still chapped, his mind still ``boggled,'' a day after Luis Valbuena got caught napping off second base and was picked off to end a sixth-inning rally in what turned into an 11-inning loss Wednesday night.

``It seems we have one of these things every three or four days that are just not even explainable,'' the Cubs manager said. ``You obviously don't practice staying on a base when a pitcher isn't on the mound - these are things that just boggle your mind.

``For major league players who have played a lot of baseball to be looking off into left field before the pitcher's on the mound, these things get unacceptable. And why these things happen drives you crazy as a manager, because you just have no rhyme or reason for things like that to happen.''

The .219-hitting Valbuena was back in the lineup Thursday.

``He feels as bad as anybody,'' Sveum said. ``It's not one of those things where he was dogging it or anything like that. Why these brain farts happen, it's not to bench somebody over it. You just ... it's hard to fathom something like that happening, especially at a key moment in the ballgame when we had them on the ropes right there.''

Asked if such things are a reflection on the manager and coaching staff, Sveum said, ``I don't take it that way, because that's more [related to] screwing up bunt plays or fundamental breakdowns. That can be a reflection.

``But I don't take anything to heart when a player gets picked off standing and gazing at the stars.''

One thing Sveum seemed more adamant about was that lapses by this team at this time of year shouldn't have anything to do with a fifth-place team having nothing to play for.

``We don't have people here that are guaranteed jobs or anything like that. That alone is a motivating factor for stuff like that to not happen,'' he said, ``to where you've got to learn how to focus 300 pitches a game, nine innings, 10 innings, whatever it might be - to never let your guard down.

``Those are the things we're evaluating for people that we want in this organization when we get ready to win.''

Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker remained in a local hospital Thursday undergoing more tests related to an irregular heartbeat, but he expects to be released to fly to Cincinnati on Friday, said acting manager Chris Speier.

Speier said he talked to Baker Wednesday night and got an update from one of the manager's friends Thursday morning.

``Everything sounded good,'' Speier said.

Baker, 63, left Wrigley Field before batting practice Wednesday for chest x-rays in an effort to rule out pneumonia after he was examined by the Cubs' team doctor.

The former Cubs manager has a history of irregular heartbeat, team officials said Wednesday night.

Baker is expected to rejoin the team Friday for the Reds' series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Whether he resumes managing on Friday likely will be a matter of doctor's orders, Speier said, adding ``knowing Dusty, he will.''

``All our prayers go out, and hopefully everything's good for Dusty,'' Cubs manager Dale Sveum said, ``because he's a great guy. And the rest of the year will be very important for him to be around to help his club.''

The Reds have an 11-game lead in the National League Central and hope to clinch their second division title in three years during their upcoming home series.

Reds' Baker hospitalized for irregular heartbeat

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Reds manager Dusty Baker remained at Northwestern Memorial Hospital overnight for observation and further testing after tests Wednesday afternoon revealed an irregular heartbeat, Reds officials said.

The 63-year-old former Cubs manager won't return to Wrigley Field for Thursday's series finale.

A team spokesman said Baker reported feeling fine after the game and that he expects to rejoin the team Friday in Cincinnati.

Baker left the ballpark about two hours before the game to have precautionary x-rays in an effort to rule out pneumonia, the Reds said, after being checked by the Cubs' team doctor for a persistent cough.

Team officials indicated Baker has had some history of irregular heartbeat.

Cincinnati bench coach Chris Speier, a former Cubs coach, filled in for Baker Wednesday night.

A month after it was first reported in the Sun-Times, the Cubs officially announced Wednesday an agreement to switch their Midwest League affiliate from Peoria to the Kane County Cougars - putting a key Class A affiliate just a suburban commute from Wrigley Field.

``It is exciting to know we have a Cubs affiliate right in our backyard,'' Jason McLeod, the Cubs' top scouting and player development executive, said in a news release.

In breaking from Peoria, the Cubs end a longstanding relationship that included the development of such players as Greg Maddux and Mark Grace and the managerial debut of Ryne Sandberg.

The Cubs on Wednesday also announced they've renewed their player development contracts with Class A Boise and advanced-A Daytona.

All three new agreements are two-year deals that run through 2014.

Will Cubs host champagne brunch for Reds at Wrigley?

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The spotlight on the National League Central race could yet shine this week directly on Wrigley Field, where Dusty Baker's Cincinnati Reds have a shot to celebrate a second division title in three years on Thursday.

Asked whether it would mean anything to clinch at Wrigley, where he did nine years ago as manager of the Cubs, Baker downplayed the idea.

``No,'' he said before this week's three-game series between the Reds and Cubs opened Tuesday. ``I thought about that a few days ago. But they [second-place Cardinals] have to lose every game while we're here and we have to win [all three].''

Actually, that wasn't entirely true.

With their 3-1 win over the Cubs Tuesday night, the Reds still have a chance to clinch Thursday, despite St. Louis' win over Houston Tuesday.

The Reds need to win tonight and Thursday, with the Cardinals losing to the last-place Astros both days for it to happen.

But Cincinnati takes a big advantage in their half of the equation considering pitching matchups the next two days that feature Cubs rookie Chris Rusin and 28-year-old journeyman right-hander Jason Berken facing Mike Leake (three wins in last four starts) and Cy Young candidate Johnny Cueto.

Despite the lowly opponent, the Cardinals might not have as easy a road against Houston, which won four its previous six before Tuesday's loss.

The Cards send Lance Lynn to the mound tonight for just his second start since a 2 1/2 -week demotion to the bullpen. He'll face Houston's top-performing starter this season, Lucas Harrell, who has won three straight starts and has a 2.81 ERA in his last four.

On Thursday, Jaime Garcia, the Cardinals' worst-performing starter this season, goes in the finale against Houston, facing Bud Norris - who's 7-4 with a 2.61 ERA in his career against the Cards.

And if this storyline gets through tonight intact, the Houston-St. Louis game starts 35 minutes before the Cubs-Reds scheduled start Thursday, giving those in the dugouts at Wrigley the best view of what's at stake as their game winds down.

``Our goal is to just win,'' Baker said. ``I don't care where we clinch it, really. We just want to clinch it. Then we can go for Step 2, and then hopefully Step 3, and then Step 4, and then go home.''

Cubs' Barney, Reds' Phillips battle for Gold

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The Cubs aren't playing for anything - unless you count that ``avoid-100-losses thing'' - but at least one interesting subplot is on display this week as the top two second basemen in the National League wage a three-day, head-to-head case for a National League Gold Glove.

Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips is going for his third straight and fourth overall. Barney is going for his first.

For Barney, this matchup may have begun during a brief conversation he and Phillips had during a spring training game in 2011.

Both stood near second base as the inning ended, and Barney said, ``Hey, man, I saw you last year turning some double plays when you were coming back from being hurt. I'm making the move to second base and I don't feel very comfortable turning double plays. What can you tell me?''

Phillips took a few minutes to share his thoughts and offer tips to Barney - who earned the starter's job that spring and this year might unseat Phillips for the top-defender award.

``From then on, I've had a lot of respect for him - not about how he plays the game or anything, but just for who he is, the kind of guy he was to me,'' Barney said. ``Not every guy who's the best in the game defensively is going to stop and talk to a guy that's got a couple months in the big leagues. That meant a lot to me at the time.''

Phillips said he remembered the talk.

``I don't really know how he's been doing,'' he said. ``The only thing I know is I just worry about myself and worry about the team. And whenever a guy wants to know something and they ask me a question about anything, I let them know what I think about it.''

So does Phillips consider Barney a threat to his Gold Glove run?

``To tell you the truth, I don't pay attention to things like that,'' Phillips said. ``I'm too busy winning. That's what I worry about. I just worry about winning, and I let everybody else worry about that kind of stuff.''

What's next for Cubs' Marmol?

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If you're Theo Epstein, what do you do with Carlos Marmol?

That could be one of the biggest questions the Cubs' front office faces in its first full offseason at the helm once the season ends in two weeks, considering the winter figures to once again include more tinkering-level moves than pursuit of a pennant.

Marmol makes $9.8 million next year in the final year of his contract. That's more than a quarter of the roughly $38 million committed to the four players already under contract for next year (also Alfonso Soriano, Starlin Castro and David DeJesus).

Does a team one year into a radical rebuilding process need a $10 million closer? Obviously not.

But what is Marmol's trade value this winter - even after 19 straight converted saves and a 1.52 second-half ERA so far? And how will that compare to next July, when the market for back-end bullpen guys tends to get hot? And what might Marmol's numbers look like at that point next season.

For his part, ``I'm going to be honest with you man,'' Marmol said, ``I'm going to try to stay here in Chicago and do the best I can to stay here and see what happens. That's what I'm doing right now.''

Marmol has become a new pitcher for manager Dale Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio since an early season demotion out of the closer role and strict orders since then to throw what the catcher calls. It's meant using his fastball more and -- with occasional characteristic exceptions - has resulted in much better command than he had when the season opened.

The irony for Marmol is that the production that helps justify his contract and has contributed to some of the few wins the Cubs have cobbled together is also what has turned him into an intriguing offseason question.

``I hope they give me a couple more years,'' he said.

The latest game ever at Wrigley Field started Monday night and ended in the early hours Tuesday with the Pittsburgh Pirates defeating the Cubs 3-0 to gain a split of the four-game series.
The Cubs had only two hits, both from Darwin Barney, against Pirates starter Kevin Correia (11-9), who worked seven innings. Cubs starter Travis Wood (6-12) gave up only four hits and struck out a career high nine, but he took the loss.
Cubs pitchers struck out 15 in the game.
The game was scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m. Monday but was delayed 3 hours 37 minutes by rain. The 10:42 p.m. start was the latest ever at the ballpark that got lights in 1988. The game ended at 1:27 a.m. Tuesday.
Before Monday, the latest start time was the July 26, 2005 game that started at 9:48 p.m. and featured Greg Maddux' 3,000th strikeout.
There is no longer a curfew for games, but there is for the Wrigley organ. It was not allowed to play after the game began but did play for the 7th inning stretch.
Only several hundred people were in the crowd, though the tickets sold totaled 33,017. The few who were sitting in the upper deck were encouraged to move to the lower seating areas.
Fans also were given a 25 percent discount on concessions for the game.
The game was played because the Pirates remain in contention for a National League wild card and did not have a remaining day off to reschedule the contest.

Two-time All-Star Starlin Castro has goals in sight for 2013, and they go beyond being a consistent .300 hitter and driving in runs.
His dreams are about teaming with Darwin Barney as the best middle infield pair in baseball.
``I look at him all the time and what he's done,'' Castro said of Barney's record-setting errorless streak which stood at 131 games Monday before the Cubs played the Pittsburgh Pirates in the finale of their four-game series.
Rain delayed the start of the game for three hours 37 minutes.
``I want us to be the best middle infield in the major leagues. That's why I know I have to keep working on my defense because I know I can hit better,'' Castro said. ``I want my defense to be better, too.''
Cubs manager Dale Sveum has made his opinion clear about Barney deserving the Gold Glove.
``To have two Gold Gloves side by side--that's something that doesn't happen too often,'' Sveum said.
Defense was a point of emphasis in general for Sveum this season and for Castro in particular. Though he still leads all shortstops with 25 errors, Castro has made improvements, Sveum said.
``He's come a long way and there are other things he still needs to get better at. Coming across the bag on double plays and turning the double play, and his throws are better. But he still needs to have better awareness of things around him.''
At 22, time is an ally for Castro. And now with a seven-year, $60 million contract, so is peace of mind.
``My mind is nice and relaxed now,'' he said, admitting the negotiations that began this season on the long-term deal became a distraction.
``I said `do what you have to,' [he told his representatives]. This year has been tough with the contract. I had that on my mind.''
Castro began the season with an 11 game hitting streak as he headed for a second straight All-Star appearance. But his .300-plus average began to slip at mid-season and he endured a stretch from July 31 to Aug. 7 when he went 2-for-28.
But since Aug. 8 he is hitting .309 (46-for -149), leads the club with 46 multi-hit games and has a career-high 13 home runs, 75 RBI and 25 stolen bases. And the contract was completed as August ended.
``I'm proud I have more RBI this year,'' he said, Castro the first Cub since Sammy Sosa to have 25 steals and at least 75 RBI. ``I know I'm not a guy who hits .270 or .280. I know I am a better hitter than that,'' he said, confident that statistic will climb.
Sveum has used Castro in different spots in the lineup, but of late has hit him behind Alfonso Soriano.
``He's the kind of hitter where his approach is never going to change much. He's seeing his pitches, and hitting behind Sori, it's been a nice little combination.''
Soriano and Castro are their own valuable combination, the elder veteran mentoring his young Dominican Republic countryman on and off the field since Castro joined the team May 7, 2010.
But Castro is the player likely to carry the mantel forward, already in elite company as only the 28th player in history to have 500 hits before turning 23. The only other active player in that category is New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez. He leads all National League players with 511 hits since his arrival in the big leagues.
Yet this season also has been ``tough,'' he said.
``It's tough when you lose, but I trust these people,'' he said of Theo Epstein's team. ``I think they'll do good things.''

The Cubs are moving their winter Convention from the Hilton and Towers in the south Loop to the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers at 301 E. North Water Street.
The move will be the first time the 28-year-old winter gathering won't be held at the Hilton.
``We're excited to offer our fans new experiences at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers as Cubs players, coaches, legends and executives come together to kick off the 2013 season,'' said Wally Hayward, executive vice president, chief sales and marketing officer of the Cubs.
He did not say why the change was made.
The convention will take place from Jan. 18 to Jan 20. Tickets will be available starting Wednesday. Hotel bookings for $179 per night plus tax can be made by calling the hotel at 800-233-4100 and asking for the Cubs Convention rate. Those who book rooms will be permitted to purchase as many as four convention tickets for $20 each. Tickets for those attending the convention but not staying at the hotel will cost $60 each.

Alfonso Soriano (3-for-5) drove in two runs to reach 101 RBI, the third time in his career to get at least 100 and now within his career mark of 104 in 2005 with Texas.
``It would be better if we had a winning record, but now everyone is trying to have fun in the last two weeks of the season,'' Soriano said.
``If anyone watches how he goes about his work every day, his work ethic, always with a smile on his face, and with the [sore] knees he has,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``If any of these young guys think they're hurting and see what this guys goes through every day to play--a guy making $18 million and still going out and working hard every day.
``Other than his 40-40 season [46 homers and 41 steals in 2006], it's as good a season as he's had,'' he said. ``Not too many 36 year olds have this kind of season.''

Fall is an awkward time for Jeff Samardzija even in the best of times, as football kicks in around the former Notre Dame wide receiver.
But it is especially awkward now that baseball pitcher Samardzija doesn't even have his chosen pro sport to play.
``It's totally tough,'' he said Sunday, a week after his final start of the season, an outstanding 4-3 complete game victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates. ``You get in a routine and your body knows when it's ready to go.
``It's hard watching real competition going on and not participating.''
The decision to shut down Samardzija at 175 innings and after 28 starts in his first full season in the rotation was a choice made by the new Cubs hierarchy.
But Samardzija made the most of that time (9-13, 3.81 ERA, 180 strikeouts to 56 walks) to make a strong impression on team president Theo Epstein.
``He's been a big development positive for us,'' Epstein said last week. ``I'm really proud of Jeff. He made the decision on what he wanted to accomplish. He had a plan. He set a clear goal for himself and executed it. It's really impressive the way he developed.
``He moved into the forefront of our plans.''
The end of 2012 continues to be about plans for 2013, with several players making cases for themselves in Sunday's dramatic 13-9 comeback victory against Pittsburgh.
Anthony Rizzo's six-RBI day that included his first career grand slam ``was spectacular,'' manager Dale Sveum said, and he singled out pitcher Jaye Chapman's work in the seventh when he gave up a leadoff triple to Starling Marte--but got him as the third out in a rundown play.
For Samardzija, what's left of the season has become a head start on his off-season preparation.
He still is part of the team, with Sveum calling upon him to pinch run in the ninth inning Saturday as the Cubs threatened a comeback before falling 7-6.
And Samardzija showed the same zeal running to take his place at second representing the winning run. ``With two outs, it would be an easy situation--you go on contact.''
But pinch running is probably all he will do in the last two weeks.
``Hopefully we have enough guys [to pinch hit],'' Sveum said with a laugh. ``Let him know it would be Travis Wood [a home run and three doubles] or even Chris Rusin [a triple] before [Samardzija.]''
Indeed, if there were something left for the 6-5 right-hander to prove this year, it would be that he could get an extra base hit.
He's the only one of the original starters without one.
But batting practice isn't really part of his routine anymore.
``I do the same things I did before, except the fifth day is vacant,'' he said. ``Playing catch, working out. I'm just trying to stay ready.
``There are a lot of young guys here, so you try to be available for them every time you can,'' he said. ``I still feel I'm part of this team. You try to pay attention as much as you can because there's always something to learn.''
But there are moments when the television cameras may catch him with a far-away look--``like a little puppy dog at the window when the owner leaves,'' he admitted.
``This has just pushed my off-season [routine] up a month early,'' he said.
Next season will be a full six months of pitching as far as he is concerned.
``Absolutely,'' he said of shedding the innings limit. ``There should be no chains whatsoever next year.''

Anthony Rizzo's first career grand slam was part of his first multi-homer game and best-ever six RBI in the Cubs' 13-9 comeback victory Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Rizzo's 13th and 14th homers of the season were two of three homers by Cubs, the other Joe Mather's fifth of the season.
It was the first time a Cub has had six RBI in a game since Aramis Ramirez had six against the Houston Astros on July 20, 2010.
The victory was another blow to the Pirates' hopes of securing a National League wild card spot, but it helped the Cubs lower their ``magic number'' to avoid 100 losses to five.
The marathon four-hour game saw each team use seven pitchers.
Alfonso Soriano drove in his 100th and 101st RBI of the season in a 3-for-5 game. It's the third time in Soriano's career to drive in at least 100 runs and the first since 2005 when he had a career-best 104 with the Texas Rangers.

Camp's a keeper

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Starting pitching is the main ingredient to winning baseball, but Cubs manager Dale Sveum has been steadfast all season in singling out someone else as the ace of the staff--reliever Shawn Camp.
``Besides Alfonso Soriano, Shawn Camp probably has been our MVP,'' he said Saturday. ``If we don't fill that void [at the back end of the bullpen] with him, it would have been even tougher times.''
That wouldn't have seemed likely when Camp, 36, came to the Cubs in spring after he was cut by the Seattle Mariners, who had just signed him to a one-year contract a month earlier.
Camp signed a minor league deal with the Cubs, the first National League team he would play for after time with the Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays.
Few signings have paid as big a return.
``In the off season, I had no idea where I would be,'' Camp said. ``This was a good opportunity, coming to the National League and a fresh start.
``I worked really hard this off-season. I like to go into every year thinking it could be your last. It drives you a little bit.''
Camp could end up leading the majors in appearances, though he had a day off Saturday as he watched his teammates nearly pull off a ninth-inning comeback against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan (35th save) barely hung on for the 7-6 victory, giving up two runs--including walking Luis Valbuena with the bases loaded--before striking out Dave Sappelt to end the game.
The victory ended the Pirates' seven-game losing streak.
The Cubs and Camp have been a perfect match, though the irony of success is Camp's strong season (3.55 ERA, 51 strikeouts to 19 walks in 71 innings) will make him an attractive commodity as a free agent after the season.
``He's a very valuable commodity who can pitch in multiple situations,'' Sveum said. ``He's the type of pitcher you want to see out there because he throws strikes and you don't seem him imploding with walks.''
Camp has been an asset as a teacher as well.
``It's a young team and you have to start from somewhere,'' he said of these Cubs. ``I think everyone knows they have a job and a role. I have a job, too, to not only take the field every day but also help [young pitchers] along.
``They're young and they ask questions, and I've been around a while. It feels good to help young guys have some success and grow as players.
``I felt I've learned a lot more this year than I have in the past, too,'' he added. ``That's what it's about--learning and growing every year.
``A lot of times when you get opportunities like this, you want to run with it. That's what I felt I've done, and hopefully I can continue doing it for the Cubs in the future.
``I like it here. It's a great place to play. There are 40,000 people here every day. They cheer for you here. They cheer for you on the road. I feel comfortable here.
``If I take care of myself, I think the rest will work itself out.''

Soler meets Wrigley Field

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Jorge Soler had never been to a major league ball park before Saturday, which only added to his first visit to Wrigley Field carrying the mantel of future Cubs superstar.
``It felt good,'' he said through translator Louis Eljaua, a special assistant to general manager Jed Hoyer. ``At first I was a little intimidated because I was never in a big league park before, but then it felt comfortable.''
The 20-year-old Cuban native who chose the Cubs over other pursuing clubs took batting practice as a throng of observers watched, including team president Theo Epstein, Soler's agent Barry Praver, and Soler's father, Jorge Sr.
The younger Soler, projected as a multi-talented power hitting outfielder, signed a $30 million deal with the Cubs in June and played for the Mesa rookie team before being promoted to Class A Peoria. In 20 games at Peoria, he hit .338 with three home runs and 15 RBI.
He and top draft pick Albert Almora leave Sunday for the fall Instructional League in Arizona where they will be roommates again after rooming together in rookie ball.
``He helped me a lot in Arizona,'' Soler said of Almora, 18, a Miami native where Soler and his father are now living. They first met as rivals in the World Junior Championships in Canada when Soler played for Cuba and Almora for the U.S. team.
Soler said he is adjusting to life on and off the field in the states. He is as anxious as the Cubs brass tol make Wrigley Field a permanent home.
``As long as I keep making adjustments, time will tell when I'll get here.''

Cubs president Theo Epstein is confident future Septembers will bring playoff excitement for his team again.
But even Epstein can't be positive about how long the wait will be for those times to return.
``I think obviously we really care about our fans and want them to have the best experience. But we try to be transparent about it,'' he said Friday. ``We have a plan and a vision, and it not going to happen overnight. Given the way of things, I think this is the best way to go.
``We're not trying to hide the ball. We're trying to be honest with them. There might be some tough things we have to tell them along the way. There might be another trade deadline in our future where we trade away about 40 percent of a really good rotation. You do that because there will be a day when you acquire two starting pitchers at the deadline to cement your club.
``The goal is we're going to do what we have to do to put ourselves in position to be contending year in and year out,'' he said. ``That means no shortcuts. When you acquire prospects and work through the draft, it's pretty obvious it's not a quick road.''
This September for the Cubs is only about playing spoilers as they opened a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates Friday in front of 26,946 fans.
And they continued to be a curse for the Bucs with a 7-4 victory at Wrigley Field, their fourth straight against the Pirates, whose National League wild card hopes took another punch.
Before the game, Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and vice president of player development Jason McLeod watched first round draft pick Albert Almora take batting practice. On Saturday, Cuban prospect Jorge Soler gets his turn to practice with the team before both head to the fall Instructional League.
They hold keys to the future, but they are still developing. And though manager Dale Sveum spoke of scouts telling him Almora could play in a major league outfield ``right now,'' that is unlikely even for next year.
``There's a choice: you can take a band aid approach to things and try to polish it up as best we can and make that presentable and squeeze every last fan we can in, and deal with [improving] next year,'' Epstein said. ``Or say `we want to do this right no matter how tough this is.
``Obviously we want to make this right no matter how long it takes. We'll take the path we feel is right.''
Avoiding a 100-loss season is an important goal for now, he acknowledged.
``No one wants to be associated with a 100-loss team. It would be nice to avoid it. But the at the end of the season, you are what your record says.''
Whatever that record, Sveum won't be judged by win/loss numbers ``for the first couple years,'' Epstein said.
``I think he's done a fantastic job to be honest. For a team that's where we are in the standings, this is one of the best clubhouses I've been around,'' he said. ``They show up every day, they like each other and they prepare. Except for a few rare exceptions we played hard all season. Usually when you have a losing team on the field it starts to seep into the clubhouse. I haven't seen that this year.''

Lefthander Chris Rusin, 25, is among the pitchers who will try to contend for a starting role in spring training. He is making a good impression so far.
In his second start against Pittsburgh in a week, Rusin went five innings and gave up two runs on four hits to gain his first major league victory--and reduce the Cubs ``magic number'' to avoid 100 losses to six.
``He had a lot more life on everything [he threw],'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``When you strike out Andrew McCutcheon [the Pirates' MVP candidate] twice, you're doing something right.''
Rusin struck out six without issuing a walk and didn't allow a hit until the fifth.
``They're a good team, but regardless of who it is, I just try to do the best I can,'' he said of the Pirates.
Last week, he also worked five innings against Pittsburgh, giving up a run on five hits but wasn't involved in the decision of the eventual Cubs' victory.
Closer Carlos Marmol recorded his 19th straight save, with an 0.49 ERA in those opportunities since May 2. He has 20 saves overall, his third straight season with 20 or more saves.
Right-hander Jason Berken, who was acquired on waivers from Baltimore Sept. 7, makes his first Cubs start Saturday.

Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson returned to the lineup Friday after in-game injuries on the road trip. Jackson had been out since Sept. 7 after injuring his knee colliding with the wall in Pittsburgh making a dazzling catch while Rizzo missed Wednesday's game in Houston after a collision at first base.
Rizzo went 1-for-4 with a double, two RBI and a walk while Jackson made a diving catch of Pedro Alvarez' sinking fly in the eighth.

Darwin Barney has a nine-game hitting streak to go with his streak of 129 consecutive errorless games.
Starlin Castro was 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBI. Since his major league debut on May 7, 2010, he leads all National League players with 508 hits.

Albert Almora didn't get the usual celebrity signing treatment with the Cubs as a first round draft pick in June. He was more interested in getting to Mesa, Arizona to begin playing.
So Friday became the Florida native's introduction to the field after finishing his season with the Class A Boise Hawks,who reached the championship game of the Northwest League playoffs.
``This is one of the best days of my life,'' said Almora, 18, an outfielder who hit .292 in 15 games with the Hawks after playing 18 games with the Mesa Cubs in rookie ball. ``All the guys are great. To be honest, it was heaven to be in that clubhouse.''
Almora was in Chicago in July to sign his contract and got a quick tour of the ball park but then left for Mesa. He took batting practice Friday with the Cubs and will stay until Sunday.
He will then go to the fall Instructional League in Arizona.
``To be honest, it was heaven to be in that clubhouse,'' he said of Friday. ``I was standing in center field and thinking about all the history here.''
Saturday will be prospect Jorge Soler's turn to see Wrigley Field. The Cuban defector who signed a $30 million deal with the Cubs this summer played with Almora at Mesa before being promoted to Class A Peoria.
``I communicated best with him. We tried to take it one step at a time,'' he added of not projecting what their future might be in the majors.
Soler, 20, hit .389 with two home runs and 10 RBI in 14 games at Mesa, then hit .338 with three homers and 15 RBI at Peoria. Soler, Almora and shortstop Javier Baez, 19, who was selected last season under then-general manager Jim Hendry's tenure, are considered the organization's top prospects. Baez hit .333 in 57 games at Peoria before being promoted to Class A Daytona for the last 23 games.

Cubs' 2013 schedule: strange, irritating, "cool"

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HOUSTON -- Add Cubs manager Dale Sveum to the list of baseball people looking quizzically at a 2013 schedule filled with oddities to accommodate the realigned 15-team-league format.

From strange, to irritating, to ``kind of unique and cool,'' the schedule seemed to have a little bit of everything from Sveum's perspective.

``It's an interesting schedule,'' he said, ``no doubt about it.''

The strange: The Cubs have a two-game road trip to Anaheim to face the Los Angeles Angels in June, with days off on both sides of that series and no other stops scheduled for the trip. They also have a two-game home series against St. Louis May 7-8 with days off on both sides of that series.

The irritating: The Cubs have only one day off from April 3 through May 5, at one point playing 20 games in 20 days at the time in the season when days off are most needed because pitching staffs haven't been fully stretched out yet.

``It's going to be a grind in April to figure out the pitching staff with no days off,'' he said. ``Guys aren't built up to do things and you're probably going to have to make some decisions like whether you're going to carry eight pitchers in the bullpen and things like that.

``It's very difficult to get your pitching ready for those kind of innings and those pitch counts that early.''

The cool: The natural-rivalry change in the interleague portion of the schedule this year means the Cubs-Sox pair of series has been condensed into a four-day stretch that includes two games at U.S. Cellular Field (May 27-28) immediately followed by two at Wrigley Field (May 29-30).

``That's one thing about it that's kind of unique and cool,'' he said.

Other schedule highlights:

--The Cubs open the season April 1 at Pittsburgh to start a six-game trip.

--The home opener is May 8 against Milwaukee, with San Francisco and Texas also scheduled for that opening homestand.

--The Cubs make their first-ever trip to Oakland (July 2-4) during a trip that also includes their second trip to Seattle in four seasons.

--The interleague schedule also includes two series against the Angels (including another two-gamer July 9-10) and a June 21-23 home series against the realigned Houston Astros.

--Despite the scheduling quirk that assures interleague play throughout the baseball schedule, the Cubs have interleague games in each of the first four months of the season but none after that.

-- For the first time, the Cubs get exactly three home series and three road series against each division opponent with the uniform divisions.

-- Seven of their final eight series are against division opponents.

-- They finish the season with 14 of their final 20 games on the road, including the last three in St. Louis - one of three one-series road trips (also at Washington May 10-12 and that June series against the Angels).

Cubs' Rizzo dodges injury scare, could return Friday

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The Cubs' top rookie in this year of auditions and distant-future dreaming, already seemed nearly back to normal Wednesday after a scary collision and fall in Tuesday's game. And manager Dale Sveum said he expects Anthony Rizzo back at first base on Friday when the Cubs open a 10-game homestand.

Rizzo said he felt much better and hoped to keep that schedule.

``He's just sore on the right side, but everything else checks out good,'' Sveum said. ``No head problems, no leg problems. ... He swung pretty normal in the cage, and we'll probably be able to use him to pinch-hit [Wednesday].''

That seemed impossible for at least a few frightening minutes Tuesday night after Rizzo collided with Houston first-baseman Brett Wallace and tumbled into foul territory - his 240-pound frame landing shoulder-first in the dirt.

He lay on the ground, tended by medical staff, for more than a minute before eventually leaving under his own power.

``That looked like it was going to be a pretty major injury right when it happened, even watching the replay,'' Sveum said. ``There was a lot of things flying around, a big body hitting the ground. I think we're very fortunate. We got away with that one.''

Rizzo, who was recalled from AAA Iowa the final week of June, ranks third among National League rookies with a .293 batting average and fifth with 12 home runs. He's fourth in both on-base percentage (.346) and slugging (.464).

Rookie catcher Anthony Recker, who played 25 games at first base in the minors last year, started at first Wednesday.

Manager Dale Sveum said he was still chapped by the sixth inning play Tuesday night that cost the Cubs a chance to tie the game in the 1-0 loss to Houston - saying he remained ``baffled'' by Dave Sappelt's decision to try to take third on what should have been a sacrifice fly.

Sveum, who planned to talk in detail to the rookie outfielder, also made it clear before tonight's series finale against Houston that no part of the blame for failing to score that fun falls on Starlin Castro's shoulders for easing up before crossing the plate.

Castro's ``run'' was waved off when Sappelt was nailed at third for the third out of the inning.

``It's not on [Castro] at all,'' Sveum said. ``Yeah, you want everybody to maybe sprint 100 percent through home plate, but not when it's a complete no-brainer, where there's no play at home and there's no play anywhere else. It's a non-play, basically.

``It's just a sac fly, long enough to easily score the guy from third and [you shouldn't] even be thinking about doing anything - we tied the game and move on, and you're still in scoring position with two outs. ...

``It's by no means Starlin's fault for shutting it down 5 feet on front of home plate.''

Cubs open in Pittsburgh in 2013; make first trip to Oakland

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The beginning and the end look familiar. But the rest of the Cubs' schedule has a new look for next year.

A glance at the 2013 tentative schedule released Wednesday shows the Cubs play 20 interleague games, an increase of five from this year - including the franchise's first trip to Oakland (July 2-4).

But the crosstown series has been cut to four games and packed into a pair of back-to-back series at U.S. Cellular Field May 27-28 and Wrigley Field May 29-30.

The Cubs open a six-game stretch on the road April 1 against Pittsburgh. The home opener is April 8 against Milwaukee.

Former division-rival Houston goes to the American League in a realignment tweak that creates uniform 15-team leagues and six five-team divisions, creating the overall increase in interleague play.

The Cubs still play the Astros, June 21-23, the only home series from June 14 through July 4.

The Cubs also get Texas (April 16-18) and the Los Angeles Angels (July 9-10) in home interleague series.

They play the Angels in another two-game road series (June 4-5) and travel to Seattle (June 28-30) on the same road trip they go to Oakland.

Despite the scheduling quirk that assures interleague play throughout the baseball schedule, the Cubs have interleague games in each of the first four months of the season but none after that.

The Cubs get exactly three home series and three road series against each division opponent with the uniform divisions. Seven of their final eight series are against division opponents.

They finish the season with 14 of their final 20 games on the road, including the last three in St. Louis - one of three one-series road trips (also at Washington May 10-12 and that June series against the Angels).

Chicago Cubs release tentative 2013 schedule

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Major League Baseball and the Chicago Cubs today announced the tentative 2013 regular season schedule. The Cubs will open their 138th season on the road Monday, April 1, 2013, against the Pittsburgh Pirates with the Wrigley Field opener taking place Monday, April 8 vs. the Milwaukee Brewers.

Click through for the full schedule.

Cubs could see Rocket re-launch

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HOUSTON - Five years after he pitched his last big-league game, could Roger Clemens come out of retirement to face the Cubs?

It doesn't sound likely, but Houston Astros owner Jim Crane said Monday there's still a chance Clemens could pitch a game for the Astros before the season's over and didn't rule out the possibility it could be against the Cubs.

Crane said he wouldn't let it happen against a team that's still in the playoff chase, so that likely leaves only the two remaining series against the Cubs and one final-week series at Milwaukee.

``You never know at 50 years old, but he's one of the best competitors of all time,'' Cubs manager Dale Sveum said, ``so if he feels like he can get people out at this level, if anybody could do it, it'd be him.''

Clemens has pitched twice for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters, with eight scoreless innings total, including 4 2/3 innings Friday. That would make his natural fifth day Wednesday - when the Cubs and Astros wrap up this week's series.

Clemens told reporters after Friday's game he didn't envision a big-league start because of how long it took him to recover between starts.

But Crane said he's not ruling out anything and said he would consider it a special event for the fans, with the increased ticket sales going into the Astros' community fund.

He didn't even rule out the possibility of a road start. ``I think we're open-minded about it,'' Crane said. ``That probably wouldn't benefit us much. ... Maybe we do it the last week against [the Cubs], give [them] some help.''

Sveum likes the idea, if only for the thrill his young team might get.

``Where the seasons are with our clubs, it'd be nice for the guys to say they faced Roger Clemens,'' he said. ``If the fans came out ... there'd obviously be a lot of hype that day. It'd bring something to the game, anyway.''

Cubs 2B Darwin's theory: Ryno behind his success

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Whether he wins a Gold Glove, Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney already has done something that may mean just as much to him, if only because of the specific company it puts him in.

When he broke the National League record for consecutive errorless games at second over the weekend in Pittsburgh, he unseated the man he credits with being a big reason he's even in the big leagues: Cubs great Ryne Sandberg.

``It's cool,'' said Barney, who had Sandberg as a manager at four minor-league spots, including Arizona Fall League and in his final season in the minors, at Class AAA Iowa in 2010.

``At some point I'll text Ryno and not say anything but `thanks,' '' Barney said. ``He put a lot of extra time into the work that we did down there. And it's paying off.''

Barney broke the record Saturday and reached 125 games Sunday.

Some believe he deserves a Gold Glove for the season he's had, and manager Dale Sveum has lobbied other managers on his behalf.

``I try not to think about it,'' Barney said. ``Because [Cincinnati's Brandon] Phillips is so good. He's on a team that's winning, and baseball people are watching him every day. It's not like it would be a surprise if he got it [for a fourth time].

``I'm just trying to do my best to get better and help this team moving forward. It's not on my mind; it'll be on my mind when that decision's made.''

Cubs' DeJesus, Recker worry about pal McCarthy

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PITTSBURGH - Fifth place, the likelihood of 100 losses, no end to this rebuilding in sight.

But it could be worse.

Just ask Cubs outfielder David DeJesus and newly acquired Cubs catcher Anthony Recker - both former teammates of Oakland pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who spent a third night in a Bay Area hospital Saturday being monitored for brain swelling.

McCarthy, the former White Sox pitcher, was back to joking on his Twitter account Saturday, but Oakland medical staff said he remained in a ``life-threatening'' condition from injuries suffered when hit in the side of the head by a line drive this week.

``It's tough to see that happen to good guys,'' DeJesus said. ``You feel for his wife. All she can do is be there for him. I just hope he's OK. I'm praying for him.''

Recker's fiancé has been in touch with McCarthy's wife, the catcher said.

``Things are looking positive, but obviously anything can still happen,'' he said. ``It's just a scary time for them. ... We just wanted to send our best wishes to them, and we're praying for the best and that there are no more complications.''

Samardzija on the run and other Cub notes

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PITTSBURGH -- Just because Jeff Samardzija is finishing his season as a pitcher Saturday night doesn't mean the former Notre Dame receiver is done as an active player, manager Dale Sveum said.

``There's no question,'' Sveum said, ``there will be situations where you could use him to pinch run, so you don't waste a player. Say maybe a LaHair pinch-hits and gets a hit and he's not going in the game, why not use [Samardzija] to pinch run? It's definitely going to come up in the 20-plus games we have left.''

Samardzija was making his final start Saturday. The Cubs decided earlier in the week to shut him down the rest of the way a precautionary measure against overworking him during his first full season as a big-league starter. He entered the day with 165 2/3 innings -- already 24 more than his professional career high.


--Sveum said center fielder Brett Jackson was ``very day-to-day-ish'' after badly bruising his right knee crashing into the wall making a catch Friday.

--For the first time, Sveum batted the pitcher in the eighth spot Saturday, using speedy, slap-hitting Tony Campana as a No. 9 hitter. It's something the manager said he considered doing earlier in the year when Campana was playing more regularly and might do again, depending how long Campana has to fill in for Jackson.

Cubs fire 6 more from organization

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The Cubs made another round of firings within the organization this week, including Class AAA Iowa manager Dave Bialas, who had been with the organization for 18 years.

Also fired were Class A Peoria manager Casey Kopitzke, Peoria hitting coach Barbaro Garbey, Class A Daytona pitching coach Marty Marson, rookie-A Mesa hitting coach Jason Dubois and Mesa pitching coach Frank Castillo (the former Cubs pitcher).

Suspended Cubs rookie Clevenger: No regrets

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PITTSBURGH -- Catcher Steve Clevenger was suspended for one game for his ``aggressive actions and fighting'' during the second of two bench-clearing incidents Thursday in Washington, major league baseball announced Saturday.

He was also fined. Neither bench coach Jamie Quirk nor reliever Manny Corpas - the two other Cubs ejected Thursday - were not suspended.

Clevenger said he ``accepted responsibility'' and served his suspension Saturday night.

The rookie catcher also said he had no regrets about his actions during a two-inning series of events that began with Quirk taking offense at Washington stealing bases and swinging at a 3-0 pitch with a five-run lead. An inning later, Lendy Castillo nearly hit Bryce Harper with a pitch, setting off the second bench-clearing incident - with Clevenger appearing to swing at Washington's Ian Desmond.

``I'm out there, the benches cleared, things happened,'' he said. ``I'm out there trying to protect my team, too. We'll go from there, and I accept responsibility.''

PITTSBURGH - Almost lost amid all the Cubs runs and Pirates errors Friday night was the fact that outfield prospect Brett Jackson was almost lost to injury on a scary crash into the wall in the sixth inning.

With the Cubs leading by seven and two Pirates on with two out, Jackson sprinted to the wall and leaped into a padded support post to rob Andrew McCutchen of a two-run, extra-base hit - then crumpled to the ground and stayed there for a couple of minutes.

Jackson eventually left the field under his own power, and x-rays were negative. But his right knee was bleeding and badly bruised, and he'll miss at least Saturday's game.

``I did a little inventory check when I was down,'' he said. ``I got my knee pretty good, but it's good though. It looks like it's just going to be a pretty bad bruise.''

He also banged his head on the chain link part of the fence making the spectacular catch - which manager Dale Sveum called ``crucial'' at that point in the 12-2 victory.

``I just got up a little dizzy and seeing stars,'' said Jackson, who admitted to be being especially determined on that ball after just missing a similar catch in the fifth for what became the only hit allowed by Travis Wood in six scoreless innings pitched.

``I was pissed I missed the first one,'' he said. ``It was almost inexcusable. I wasn't going to let the other one drop.''

Wood said his excitement at seeing the catch quickly turned to worry when Jackson didn't get up right away.

``Then the first thing he said to me when he got back to the dugout,'' Wood said, ``was, `I got that one.' ''

PITTSBURGH -- Despite the issues his bench coach had with the Washington Nationals leading up to a pair of bench-clearing incidents Thursday, Cubs' manager Dale Sveum said he saw nothing wrong with how the Nationals played.

Bench coach Jamie Quirk was the first of three Cubs ejected Thursday night, after yelling from the dugout at Nats third-base coach Bo Porter during the fifth inning when Washington players stole two bases and, with the bases loaded, swung at a 3-0 pitch with a five-run lead.

``I didn't have any problem with it,'' Sveum said. ``It was the fifth inning. I don't expect my team to stop playing in the fifth inning up [by five runs]. There's a time when you stop, but a five-run lead to me - I didn't have any problem with anything they did.''

Sveum stopped short of criticizing Quirk.

``You have to talk to Jamie about that, but me, personally, I don't want my guys to stop playing at that time,'' Sveum said.

Quirk reiterated Friday that he doesn't want to talk publicly about the incident until he has a chance to talk to league officials first.

One issue at play is why Porter was not ejected along with Quirk after approaching the Cubs' dugout to confront Quirk.

Umpire Jerry Layne said Thursday night Quirk was tossed because he was judged to have ``instigated'' the incident.

For all the jawing and shoving Thursday night - along with a four-game sweep/beating - Sveum said he doesn't see any bad blood lingering between the teams.

``That was a strange occurrence the way that all happened, but there's no bad blood going forward,'' he said, ``even though there might be, or something. It was just a very strange occurrence, [boiling over from] the frustrations the players are going to have - not only obviously getting beat up the last few games of that series but just all the losses going into it ain't fun for a team either.''

Cubs to shut down Samardzija after Saturday start

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PITTSBURGH - Just when you thought the Cubs couldn't get any younger or less equipped to prevent a franchise record for losing, the team shuts down the best pitcher in the rotation.

Jeff Samardzija, whose 165 2/3 innings already far exceeds his professional season high, makes his final start of the season Saturday in Pittsburgh, the team announced Friday -- keeping to a plan outlined before the season started for limiting his workload during this first season as a big-league starter.

Samardzija, who seemed to get stronger through August and into September, didn't like getting the news, but ``I don't think I had very many options,'' he said.

``It's unfortunate. I really, really would have liked to finish the season pitching the whole time, and that way I could look back and really see how I went from beginning to end. But I've given everything I've had every start, and you have to respect what they're planning on doing, and what their plans are for the organization and the team.

``I put a lot of faith in [manager Dale Sveum] and [pitching coach Chris] Bosio that this is the right move for the right reasons.''

Samardzija is 8-13 and leads the staff with a 3.91 ERA in 27 starts - 3-6, 2.64 in 12 starts since a rough June.

``He really did everything we imagined and even more, actually,'' Sveum said. ``We all witnessed the gradual climb he made and the adjustments he had to make, and he did it all. Obviously he didn't go backwards; he got stronger. ...

``We want that guy to be our one or two guy ... going forward. We want him to be able to be healthy, strong and be able to pitch into October.''

Sveum said Samardzija will get consideration for the Opening Day start next year, depending on what pitchers are added to the staff over the winter.

Meanwhile, right-hander Jason Berken, who was claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles on Friday, will start in Samardzija's place the final three times through the rotation.

Already in a pitching and hitting funk that has the Cubs on pace for 102 losses, they look like an even stronger threat to break the franchise record of 103 losses in a season - considering a rotation the final 23 games of the season made up entirely of guys who've spent significant time in the minors this season.

Those five: Chris Volstad, Travis Wood, Chris Rusin, Justin Germano and Berken.

Catching hell: 29 pitchers testing Cubs kiddie catching corps

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WASHINGTON -- As Cubs manager Dale Sveum said following Tuesday's loss in Washington, ``There's probably nothing good when you break a franchise record for players used.''

He was referring to the 52 players the Cubs have now used this year.

The worst part of that number, of course, is the club-record 29 pitchers the team has used, most of those in the second half of the season - when the lion's share of the catching has been done by rookies Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger.

Talk about learning on the job, with new pitchers and styles - some recently acquired from outside the organization - constantly added while the kid catchers are still trying to gain their big-league footing offensively and defensively.

``It's trying in a lot of ways to go through that many pitchers,'' Sveum said. ``I think [the catchers] have done a good job and they're getting better at it.

``I think Welly's really made some huge strides in the last month, calling games and sticking to game plans - as well as Clevenger, who's been pretty good all year with it.

``It was new to them, this kind of grind, this kind of pressure of calling a game at the big-league level. It's not the easiest thing, and they've had to get thrown into the fire the last few months.''

Cubs' kids pounded by Nationals

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WASHINGTON - One of the Cubs' coaches glanced across the field before Tuesday's game against the top team in the major leagues and said, ``Shows you what pitching will do for you.''

The Cubs then proceeded to demonstrate just how far they are from having enough pitching to do anything of consequence for them anytime in the foreseeable future - running a seven-man parade of rookies to the mound in an 11-5 loss to the Washington Nationals.

Making his second career big-league start, left-hander Chris Rusin (0-2) was knocked out before recording an out in the second inning, and actually retired only two of 11 batters, considering left fielder Alfonso Soriano threw out Michael Morse at third trying to advance from first on a single in the first inning.

``This is the big leagues. You can't miss your spots here or that will happen,'' said Rusin -- who will remain in the rotation the rest of the season, manager Dale Sveum said before the game.

``There's always a chance to make an impression [when given the ball]. That's what you want to do,'' Rusin added. ``But you can't have outings like this.''

If the two-homer, five-run outing for Rusin seemed bad, it only got worse from there on a night the Nationals set a Washington home team record for home runs (six) that dates back to the 1901 birth of the Washington Senators.

By the time rookies Jaye Chapman (scoreless big-league debut), Blake Parker, Rafel Dolis (two-homer inning), Miguel Socolovich (two-inning Cubs debut, one homer), Alberto Cabrera and Jeff Beliveau (one homer) finished the game, only Lendy Castillo remained among unused Cub rookie pitchers.

``Joe Mather was on my mind again,'' said Sveum of the outfielder he used to get an out in a blowout loss to Milwaukee last week.

And this after a night on which he said, ``The game was never super out of hand.''

About the only results of note out of this early September meaningless game were the milestone numbers:

--Alfonso Soriano, with 27 games left, matched last season's totals with his 26th homer and three RBIs to reach 88 (his Cub career high).

--Starlin Castro drove in two runs and has a career high 67 RBIs.

--With Chapman, Socolovich and catcher Anthony Recker, the Cubs have now used 20 rookies this season - tying the franchise's 1902 record.

--Chapman was the 11th to make his big-league debut with the Cubs this year.

--Chapman and Socolovich made for 29 pitchers used this season, extending what was already a franchise record.

--And the three new rookie Cubs also made for 52 total players used this season, breaking by one the 2000 franchise record.

``There's probably nothing good when you break a franchise record for players used,'' Sveum said. ``Usually you're not going to end up with a good season.''

To wit: The last time the Cubs were 33 games under .500 was the day before they finished that last-place 2000 season with a win.

Speaking of which, another key number is 101 - the number of losses the Cubs would end up with at their current pace.

Here's another, more relevant number: 105. That's how many losses they'll have if they finish at their pace cine blowing up the roster at the July 31 trade deadline (8-26 since).

That would break the franchise mark of 103 losses in a season.

Never mind their miserable 17-50 record on the road, with eight in three cities left on this trip alone.

As Sveum noted, when talking about the fact he didn't have to over-extend his bullpen:

``The only good thing about losing on the road is you only have to go eight innings.''

Cubs' Smardzija facing possible shutdown

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WASHINGTON - Unless the Cubs suddenly reverse course and let Jeff Samardzija make a run at 200 innings in his first season as a big-league starter, the team's ERA and innings leader faces the probability of being shut down sometime in the next two weeks.

``We have to sit down with the whole organization and evaluate that decision and see where we want to be,'' Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Tuesday, the day after Samardzija went seven innings for the fifth time in six starts - reaching 165 2/3 this season.

If a long-standing innings-management plan weren't involved, Samardzija, 27, would figure to have five starts left, giving him an outside shot at 200 - more than double last season's total as a reliever and 58 1/3 more than his pro career high.

``That'll obviously be a lot more innings than he's ever pitched in quite a while, but the strength level is obviously there right now,'' Sveum said. ``It's something we've got to really evaluate. ... It gets to the point where you know there's certain people who are very important to the organization going forward and you're not going to put anybody in harm's way, either. It doesn't make any sense.''

On the other hand, the Cubs do not otherwise have a fifth healthy pitcher on the roster with even one start this season to replace Samardzija (8-14, 3.91). If he makes two more starts, the Cubs would need a spot starter/bullpen day at least twice.

Jackson: Cubs' center piece in '13 opener?

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WASHINGTON -- Has Brett Jackson already done enough to suggest he'll be the Cubs' Opening Day center fielder next year?

``I'm not going to guarantee anything like that,'' Sveum said, ``but he's shown enough that there's a lot to work with and [given] some adjustments, then there might be something pretty special.''

Certainly, it's a major work in progress for the strikeout-prone Jackson whose month-old career average in the big leagues dipped to .188 when he struck out as a pinch-hitter in Monday's eighth - giving him nearly three times as many strikeouts (43) as hits (16).

But without much foreseeable in-house competition and little promise of significant outside additions next winter, Jackson could at least have the inside track - with a winter-ball season of additional auditions expected to come.

Before going 0-for-11 with six Ks against San Francisco and Washington pitching the last four days, Jackson had run off a 7-for-19 (.368) week against Colorado and Milwaukee that included three homers, three doubles, eight walks and six RBIs.

``We all know watching the games that we have to make some pretty big adjustments this winter to handle this kind of pitching on a daily basis,'' Sveum said of the kid who leads professional baseball with 201 strikeouts. ``And he knows that.''

Cubs' Sveum says hitting coach Rowson has ``done a great job''

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WASHINGTON - Cubs manager Dale Sveum said he expects in the final weeks of the season to start talking to upper management about next year's plans for his coaching staff.

The notable decision figures to involve interim hitting coach James Rowson, who took over in June when Rudy Jaramillo was fired. Rowson, 35, was in his first season as the Cubs minor-league hitting coordinator before that.

Boston media has speculated for months that the Cubs will try to hire Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan.

``I think [Rowson's] done a good job,'' Sveum said. ``I don't think we judge anything like that on numbers or anything like that. But he's got the right mentality, the work ethic, all that. He's done a great job for stepping in, in a tough situation.''

After failing to replace run producers Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena in the off-season, the Cubs ranked among the worst teams in teams in the majors in scoring, on-base percent and slugging percentage - and have gotten worse since a series of trades near the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

``It's a process, too, when you have young hitters,'' Sveum said. ``It's the toughest job anyway when you have a big-time lineup and veterans. When you have a lot of young kids and stuff, it magnifies how tough that job is. Because you not only have to get guys to understand about making adjustments, they have to be willing to do it, and then they have to be able to do it.''

Their weekend series against the San Francisco Giants was the latest reminder of how far the Cubs have to go in rebuilding.
And it gets no better this week against the National League's best team, the Washington Nationals.
``We haven't been very good on the road,'' manager Dale Sveum said of a 17-48 record, the second worst in baseball. ``We're playing two really good teams [the Nationals and then Pittsburgh Pirates] and then Houston [the only team worse than the Cubs.]
``We'll see the best lineup in baseball the next four days [in Washington]. Even though we won't face [Stephen] Strasburg [who pitched Sunday], they still have some great arms and a great lineup.''
The Nationals already have won 81 games. The Cubs lost their 82nd on Sunday in a 7-5 game decided in the ninth.
Carlos Marmol (2-3), who had been perfect in his last 16 straight save opportunities, this time entered in a 5-5 tie. A lead off walk to Xavier Nady, stolen base and then a one-out walk to Brandon Crawford set up trouble. Singles by Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro drove in the deciding runs.
``Just a bad day,'' said Marmol, who allowed only one earned run in August. ``You won't be perfect all the time.''
The ending gave the National League West-leading Giants the rubber game of the series, but for the Cubs, there have to be other measuring sticks.
``We came up short in two games, but for the most part guys had more good at bats against the best pitching in baseball,'' Sveum said. ``It's good for our young guys to look across and see these are championship teams that we somehow have to put together too.''
He found promise in starter Travis Wood rebounding after a three-run third inning, two runs unearned because of an Anthony Rizzo throwing error.
``He wasn't that sharp in the beginning but he settled down and did a nice job [5 2/3 innings, seven hits, two earned runs].''
Wood took heart in that as well, and in his teammates' approach.
``We're doing everything we can, grinding out every at bat,'' Wood said. ``The wins will come. We're a young team.''
Wood said he has learned to be a different pitcher through this season.
``I've always been a guy who says `here it is.' I've learned how to use my other pitches, work both sides of the plate. So it's definitely been a learning year.''
Wood had a lead after a four-run fifth off starter Matt Cain, highlighted by Alfonso Soriano's two-run homer, his 25th of the season. The Giants tied the score again in the sixth after two outs on a double by Nady and triple by Brandon Belt, who scored on a wild pitch by Manuel Corpas.
Soriano has had one of his best seasons, now with nine years of at least 25 homers and four of them as a Cub.
But he is as much a teacher now.
``I'm just working hard to be a consistent player,'' said Soriano, who drove in three and also made a highlight catch at the left field wall ending the fourth.
``The season isn't over and we have to teach the young guys how to win,'' he said. ``I love this game and that's how I play this game--with my heart. We faced a good team in the Giants and we will face another first place team now. It's a good test for our young guys to teach them how to play hard.''

The threat of an NHL lockout ``is scary,'' Blackhawks center Dave Bolland admits, but the players are trying to do what they hope hockey fans also will do: ``stay positive.''
``We'll see what comes along and hopefully we'll get back [to negotiating,'' Bolland said Sunday. ``We have a great team with Don [Fehr, head of the players association] and a great team working for us. We'll see what happens.''
Bolland and teammates Patrick Sharp and Jamal Mayers were at Wrigley Field Sunday to take part in Blackhawks Day. But the ongoing labor tension between the NHL and players was the main topic away from the festivities.
Talks have broken off, with owners saying they will lock out the players Sept. 15 when the current collective bargaining agreement expires if no new accord is reached.
``I think Don [Fehr] has done a good job of communicating and putting out updates so that the guys are engaged,'' Mayers said. ``The reality is it may happen. It's unfortunate talks broke off, but hopefully we an get back to the table.''
Mayers said he played in Sweden during the last NHL labor dispute when the 2004-05 season was lost. ``But it's different now that I have kids,'' he said.
Bolland said he has talked to his agent about opportunities overseas should a lockout happen.
``You work out all summer and get ready for the start of training camp Sept. 21, and now it could be pushed back,'' Bolland said.
Asked if another lockout might turn fans off to the sport, Bolland said, ``I hope not. You work all summer and get jacked up [for the season.] I think fans are, too.''

As the Winds Blow

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Manager Dale Sveum has learned not to try to second-guess the weather conditions at Wrigley Field, where things can change hour to hour, not just day to day.
``You can't set a lineup according to it,'' he said, noting how some teams can build teams to suit their field's playing conditions. ``it's difficult to build a team around the predictability of the wind here.
``I've come to find out you don't do anything with the lineup,'' he said. ``It just doesn't work out. The bottom line is to have a lineup that keeps the line moving [batter to batter.]''
But Sveum said the wind can effect how pitchers are used.
``Sometimes you'll think about who can keep the ball on the ground, but for the most part you have your guys who are going to come in [at points of the game.]''
A starting pitcher who is victimized by wind-blown homers might stay in a game longer if he is otherwise throwing well, he added.

Second baseman Darwin Barney's record-setting errorless play will make him a contender for Gold Glove honors, something manager Dale Sveum will subtly remind managers about as they consider their votes for the post-season awards.
``You hope it does [help] just talking in passing,'' he said. ``You try to do the best you can, but the actions on the field and that streak itself are impressive enough.''
While post-season honors reflect well on the organization, Sveum said they are more about the players.
``It would be a great accomplishment to get a Gold Glove or the other accomplishments [post-season awards], but it's the players who have put themselves in those positions.''

Outfielder Tony Campana returned Saturday for his second term with the team--still tied for 10th in the National League in stolen bases (20) despite being sent back Aug. 5.
``I knew I needed to go down to get at-bats,'' he said. ``I wasn't getting them here so it was nice to get close to 100 at-bats for a month.
``I'll come off the bench and do my thing and run around a little bit.''
Outfielder Dave Sappelt, 25, also joined the team for the first time after coming as part of the off-season trade sending Sean Marshall to Cincinnati for Travis Wood.
``It's something brand new,'' said Sappelt, who made his major league debut last season in 38 games for the Reds. ``My goal whenever I play is to show I can come off the bench and hit. I think that's going to be my contribution--like Reed Johnson [who was traded to Atlanta]. We have a couple of guys who are going for that role, so the competition will be in September.''
Infielder Adrian Cardenas, 24, also rejoined the team.

Reliever Shawn Camp has made a major league-high 68 appearances and is on pace to finish with 84. That would exceed his career high of 75 set in 2006 when he was with Tampa.
It also would match the single season Cubs record held by three pitchers: Ted Abernathy (1965), Dick Tidrow (1980) and Bob Howry (2006).
``Camp has done a great job for us all year long,'' Sveum said, Camp getting a key out in Friday's eighth inning with he got Pablo Sandoval looking at a third strike with two runners on base.

Carlos Marmol has converted 16 straight save opportunities dating to May 2 when he returned to the closer role. His ERA in those games is 0.59 ERA compared to 3.83 overall.
``Marmol has done a phenomenal job since he's been back in the closer role,'' Sveum said.

The Peoria Chiefs end their season this weekend with a three-game series against the Kane County Cougars in west suburban Geneva.
The irony of the season-ender is it could also be the Chiefs' last series as the Class A Midwest League affiliate of the Cubs.
The Cubs are planning to switch that affiliation to Kane County next season.
The Cougars currently are an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, but the 40-mile distance between Chicago and Kane County is an attractive lure for the Cubs.
Peoria has been a Cubs affiliate for the last eight seasons, with almost 30 years of affiliation since the 1980s. The Chiefs were also an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals for parts of the last two decades.

The Iowa Cubs saw their season come to an end four days early because of Hurricane Isaac.
The I-Cubs were to play their final four games in New Orleans starting Friday. The team was playing in Nashville on Thursday.
``We saw the headline in the paper showing a guy with water up to his shoulders and thought `there's no way we can play,' '' infielder Adrian Cardenas said.
The games were indeed canceled, ending Iowa's season as of Friday. Cardenas is among the September call-ups to the major league club. He and outfielders Tony Campana and Dave Sappelt joined the team Saturday. Pitcher Miguel Socolovich will join the team Sunday and pitcher Chris Rusin will rejoin the team on Tuesday with recently acquired catcher Anthony Recker.

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