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

April 2013 Archives

Jeff Samardzija was due for the kind of turn-around Monday his Cubs team had in their last six games.
He got his team's support but couldn't help himself enough to qualify for the eventual 5-3 victory over the San Diego Padres.
``Too many walks,'' he said of the elevated pitch count that limited him to only five innings. ``You can't put that many guys on for free.''
Samardzija, winless since opening day, walked four and two scored, including the first to leadoff man Everth Cabrera who scored with the aid of two wild pitches.
But his teammates gave him a 3-1 lead into the fifth, but as in his past starts, it was the inning he couldn't escape.
``He probably got away from his fastball in situations,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``Certain things get people out. He went to the well too often.
``We're getting to the [elevated] pitch count and can't seem to get through that one inning. He was maybe one pitch away from getting two more innings.
``Walks will kill you,'' he added. ``Your pitch count goes up and there's no chance of getting a quick out.''
Samardzija admitted still being bothered by the cut he suffered on a right finger in his last start--a 1-0 loss in Cincinnati.
But it wasn't an excuse.
``I was working with what I had today,'' he said.
The best thing he and the Cubs had were more moments of timely hitting--especially from the bottom of the order in Cody Ransom and Darwin Barney--great defense--also by Ransom and Barney--and a bullpen that keeps coming through of late.
Sveum had said before the game that ``the overall essence of the game has been better,'' and it showed in the later innings.
Back to back homers by Scott Hairston (second) and Ransom (second) in the second off Clayton Richard (0-3) showed power, but doubles by Welington Castillo and Barney in the fourth--Barney's after two were out--were the timely hits.
Ransom (single) and Barney (double) came through again in the sixth with the RBI that provided the margin of victory.
Each made dazzling defensive plays in the seventh. Barney dove to stop Chase Headley's ground ball with two men on base, then throwing from his knees to retire him at first and save a run.
Ransom ended the inning charging a grounder by Jedd Gyorko and throwing him out.
Barney called that play the game-saver, but many could share that title, including Kevin Gregg, who finished the eighth when the Padres again threatened with two men on and two outs, then retired the Padres in order in the ninth for his fourth save.
``He's been a calming presence for sure,'' Samardzija said. ``He's been with us before and we knew that's what he was about. It just makes the bullpen that much deeper.''
Barney's return from a deep knee cut also has turned things for the defense, though the team's streak of five errorless games ended when Starlin Castro couldn't handle a ground ball by Richard in the second.
``Definitely our defense has picked up a lot,'' Barney said. ``In these close games, pitching and defense will help us.''
Samardzija is pitching well by most standards, despite losses in four of his last five outings.
He struck out eight on Monday to give him 47 for the month of April, second highest in Cubs history. Matt Garza had 51 in 2011.
``I'm not down on myself,'' he said. ``If I start getting early action [through more innings,] I'll get there.''

Cubs manager Dale Sveum added his voice Monday to those supporting NBA player Jason Collins, who reveals in a Sports Illustrated story that he is gay. Collins, 34, is the first active player in a major pro sport to come out.
``I think everybody is entitled to whatever they do in their life,'' Sveum said. ``I don't think it changes anything. It might help a lot of other people.
``It's part of our culture and society now, and there's nothing wrong with what people do with their lives. It probably will end up being a good thing in the long run.''

The White Sox were ``winning ugly'' in 1983.
The Cubs? They were dealing with a different kind of ``ugly.''
It came in the form of a profane outburst by their manager after a particularly frustrating 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers 30 years ago today.
Long before the era of social media, Lee Elia's post-game tirade to reporters criticizing Cubs fans managed to become instantly legendary.
Radio reporter Les Grobstein had his tape recorder on, and the rest became history.
``I knew we had something, but to think about this 30 years later...I'd have just hoped we'd all be alive and healthy 30 years later,'' Grobstein said.
Elia, now 75 and a special assistant to Atanta Braves general manager Frank Wren, gave countless interviews through the decades about the day he regretted.
And his baseball life went on, even after he was fired later that summer as Cubs manager.
He managed the Phillies for parts of two seasons in 1987 and 1988. He spent time managing in the Phillies farm system in the 1990s, and he was a major league hitting coach into the next decade, working for the Baltimore Orioles in 2006 and the Seattle Mariners in 2008.
That was five years ago, the 25th anniversary of his infamy.
And the year when Elia finally found peace.


Keith Moreland remembers getting beer thrown at him as he walked off the field that day, Elia right behind him.
``I got angry, started to lunge, and he said `go on,' and all the way down the line he was just ranting and raving. I thought he was mad at me,'' the Cubs radio analyst said.
It was the fans Elia was angry at. His rant moments later was triggered by a question from an out of town reporter asking if he thought the fans were still backing the team.
``There's no question that if it happened today, he would have been fired that night,'' said Bob Ibach, then the Cubs director of media relations.
In fact, general manager Dallas Green was ready to dismiss Elia after hearing the tape--and would have but for a chance circumstance that had the still manager in his office when Green called.
``There were no cell phones of course, and Lee told me later he had left because he was supposed to be a celebrity umpire for his daughter Tania's softball game,'' Ibach said. ``But he left his keys in his office, came back and heard the phone.
``Had he left, Dallas would have fired him that night.''
Instead, a mortified Elia listened to the tape and realized what his words sounded like.
``Lee told me years later `I was never good at math,' '' Ibach said, Elia cursing ``15 percent of fans'' when he was thinking about those 15 to 20 he had just encountered.
Moreland said the players learned about the rant by the time they were leaving the park.
``I knew there was an explosion, but we didn't know of the scope until later,'' he said.
Ibach tried to defuse the mess, getting Elia to appear an hour later on the late Jack Brickhouse's radio show.
``It gave him a chance to apologize, and I like to think that helped,'' Ibach said.
But in the years that followed, Elia became the butt of jokes and object of scorn.
``Instantly, we all felt for him, even then,'' said Moreland, who first played for Elia in the minor leagues and later with the 1980 World Champion Phillies. ``I felt for him because you knew that [stigma] was hard. It's hard to overcome that. I felt bad for him, no doubt.''
Elia's torment was painful for his friends.
``He would tell me `I don't want this weighing on my conscience. I need to do something to put a positive spin on it,' '' Ibach said.
It was Ibach's idea to use the 25th anniversary to do that.
Ibach and Roger Dewey, the owner of A & R Collectibles, came up with the idea of a specially autographed ball and case, complete with a 20-second excerpt of the rant--but also with Elia's new message:
``the 40,000 fans who fill this ballpark every day and work hard for a living are no nickel-and-dimers. They deserve a championshp. They're the real Chicago Cubs fans. AND PRINT IT!''
The ``Lee Elia Unplugged'' set sold for $89.95--but the proceeds went to the Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities, long a favorite charity of Elia, a prostate cancer survivor.
``It was a good cause, but it also gave him a chance to show he really loved Chicago,'' Ibach said.
Elia came to Chicago to promote the sale, meeting the media at Harry Caray's, and especially with Grobstein.
``We had made peace long before that,'' Grobstein said. ``In fact, a few years after [the rant] when he was managing the Phillies, he got mad at me, but he admitted later it was because they were going through a bad road trip.''
Elia went to the Cubs-Brewers game after the media event, though Ibach still regrets that the Cubs brass kept their distance.
``That night, after all the interviews and the game, we were at the hotel having a drink and Lee said to me `I wonder how the fans feel about me.' And at that moment, we look up at the television and they were saying ``we've done a poll asking `do you forgive Lee Elia?' Back with the results after this. '
``He sat there, nervously waiting, and it came back on and it said `nearly 80 percent forgive him.'
``He had tears in his eyes. He said `Bob, I was hesitant to do this, but now I'm so thankful I did.'
``It gave him closure.''

Cubs' Rizzo poised to break out?

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MIAMI - A pair of 23-year-old sluggers seemed to find answers to their early-season questions at the plate this weekend in Miami.

One kept the Cubs from sweeping the Marlins in a four-game series - Miami's Giancarlo Stanton hitting a pair of home runs Sunday, with a game-tying single in between, for all three of his homers this season in his last six at-bats against the Cubs.

The other kept the Cubs optimistic their lagging offense might find new life during the 10-game homestand that opens Monday against San Diego - Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo reaching base eight times in the past three games, including three walks, a double and a pair of homers.

After his two-homer game Friday, he said it was the single in his final at-bat that was especially encouraging.

"I know it sounds dumb," he said.

Rizzo was hitting .173 until that game, with almost twice as many strikeouts (26) as hits (14), despite good power numbers.

"Especially after looking at the videos after the game, the swing was where I want it to be and now it's just being consistent with it," he said.

Manager Dale Sveum, who had said all he was looking for from the second-year player was for "Rizzo to be Rizzo," said he's starting to see that.

"It's a confidence thing," Sveum said. "He's still swinging the bat good off left-handers, and had the big RBI double in the first [off right-hander Ricky Nolasco]. We just need that confidence to come back more than anything."

Cubs' Stewart returns to Iowa lineup after elbow stiffness

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MIAMI -- Rehabbing Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart, who already was struggling at AAA Iowa, missed Friday's game there because of a sore elbow after being hit by a pitch Thursday. He returned to the lineup Saturday,

He was unable to throw Friday, said Cubs manager Dale Sveum. it's unclear whether he'll have any lingering effects.

Stewart, who missed all of spring training because of a quad strain, is just 3-for-27 with 10 strikeouts in eight rehab games for the I-Cubs.

Sveum has already said the $2 million third baseman has no guarantee of unseating Luis Valbuena for the starting job when he returns from the disable list. "He'll have to earn it," Sveum said earlier this week.

Cubs Garza via Twitter: "5/1 is my day!"

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MIAMI - Cubs pitcher Matt Garza felt good enough after a throwing session Friday that he took to Twitter to proclaim his first minor-league rehab start for AA Tennessee will be Wednesday - "5/1 is my day."

Also tweeted: "Had a tiny setback but everything is all good!"

Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Garza will throw from flat ground again Saturday, then have a bullpen session Sunday or Monday before making what's expected to be a two-inning start for the Smokies.

Garza, whose rehab assignment was delayed by soreness following a side session Sunday, figures to need at least three rehab starts - "but it's probably looking a little bit more like four," Sveum said, "but not for sure."

If it's four starts, that would put him back sometime during the May 21-23 series at Pittsburgh - about a week later than the projections before his setback.

The Cubs have gotten a strong overall performance from the rotation in Garza's absence, but Sveum said his return will be huge for the team.

"When you get one of the better pitchers in the National League back in a rotation that's already throwing the heck out of the ball and doing a great job, it enhances it even more," Sveum said.

Marmol still not Cubs closer -- as far as he knows

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MIAMI - Forget it. Don't go there.

Just because you saw Carlos Marmol pitch the ninth inning with a one-run lead doesn't mean he's the Cubs' closer again.

Manager Dale Sveum made that clear after Thursday's 4-3 victory over the Miami Marlins that he's still going with a closer-by-committee approach and used Marmol only because he was the best available reliever for the matchups he had in the ninth.

Marmol doesn't seem to care.

"I feel great, dawg," the embattled reliever said, still smiling about a half-hour after ending the game with a strikeout of star slugger Giancarlo Stanton and one of his more emphatic fist pumps of the season.

Ready to be the closer again?

"I'll take the ball whenever he gives me the ball. It's not really a big deal for me," Marmol said. "If he's going to give me the opportunity, I'm going to take it, like today."

Sveum even joked at one point that Marmol might be better off not knowing whether he's the closer or not.

"I don't know what's going on," Marmol said with a smile when told that. "I don't know what game he's going to play. I don't know what's going on."

Marmol appeared to be the choice for the ninth even if the game had been tied.

Luis Valbuena, the guy who might turn Ian Stewart into a bench player, turned the ninth into a save situation for the warming Marmol by hitting a two-out homer off right-hander Steve Cishek in the top of the inning.

"I tried to hit a homer on that pitch right there," said Valbuena, who thrust his right arm into the air as he rounded the bases. "I didn't want to play extra innings. ...

"I have to do something to win the game, that was my focus: 'Come on, let's go, do something right here!' "

Before the game, Sveum called Valbuena "one of our most consistent players" and said it might be tough for the rehabbing Stewart to unseat Valbuena when he returns from the disabled list, presumably in the next week or so.

"He's going to have to earn it," Sveum said of Stewart.

When told what his manager said, Valbuena said, "I'm ready every day. I can't make that decision. I'll play wherever he wants me to play. I played [Wednesday] at second base. I'm ready to play every day."

Stewart, Garza progress reports

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MIAMI -- Cubs manager Dale Sveum said he's making no guarantees that third baseman Ian Stewart (quad) will be the starter when he returns from the disabled list, presumably sometime in the next week or so.

"He's got to earn it," said Sveum, who called third base fill-in Luis Valbuena "one of our most consistent players right now. So it's going to be very difficult to move [him] out of a spot."

Stewart was just 2-for-24 (.083) during his minor-league rehab stint at AAA Iowa entering play Thursday.


Matt Garza, who had a minor-league rehab start scratched this week because of arm soreness, is improving, Sveum said, and expected to resume throwing by Saturday, with a rescheduled rehab start possibly coming by the end of next week.

"It sounds like it's just soreness, just normal stuff," Sveum said. "Hopefully that continues."

Garza, who was sidelined all spring because of a lat strain, isn't expected to return from the DL until at least late May.

No closer means no closer controversy for Cubs

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CINCINNATI -- Maybe the Cubs will sign rehabbing Brian Wilson or trade for Matt Capps or try to lure Jason Isringhausen out of retirement.

Until then, everybody in the Cubs bullpen is the closer. Which means nobody is.

Manager Dale Sveum said it again Wednesday before the Cubs' series finale against the Cincinnati Reds.

"I think [having one closer] helps everything in the long run," Sveum said, "but it also helps putting people in the matchups and situations where they can succeed in a better fashion. Those last three outs - it's a whole 'nother animal."

A predatory beast for the boys in his pen.

After having three closers try and fail in just the first two weeks of the season (with Kyuji Fujikawa adding elbow injury to insult), Sveum's in no rush to declare anybody the closer again - especially not with his bullpen plodding along with the worst save percentage in the league (4-for-10), and five guys already charged with blown saves.

When told that recently acquired Kevin Gregg wants the job, Sveum said, "I don't know about that. A lot of people want things."

Those people include Marmol, who has pitched a lot better since that first-week demotion.

"Everybody knows I want my job back. That's not any surprise," said Marmol, the $9.8-million reliever who figures a return to the role must be just a matter of time for him. "Gotta be. ...

"I can't make that decision," he added. "I'm feeling great. I'm still working and try to pitch good every time out. I know what I've got. I believe in myself.

"We'll see."

The fact that Carlos Marmol was in the game in the ninth, trying to hold a 2-1 lead Tuesday night, Sveum said, was all about Marmol's 1-for-15, 9-strikeout career dominance over Joey Votto - the guy who greeted him with a ground-ball single past Darwin Barney for the tying RBI.

The fact Gregg was in the game in the 10th after the Cubs retook the lead was about the matchups at the bottom of the Reds' order and their bench players - and, maybe, just a little about Gregg's closer experience.

"You look at the situation at hand, and it is what it is," Gregg said, talking about his desire to return to the role he had with the Cubs in 2009. ( before his own demotion that summer opened the way for Marmol's ascent - and eventual $20 million contract.

"Ask Dale what he's going to do. ... For me, [the final-inning pressure] is an awesome thing. I enjoy that. That's a lot of weight on your shoulders when you're out there in that situation. I love it. I love that pressure. I love what comes with it, being able to carry home a victory for the team."

What's Dale going to do? We already know: nothing.

He's made that much clear. No closer controversy to see here.

Cubs Garza suffers another setback in rehab

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CINCINNATI -- Matt Garza's lengthy comeback from a lat strain that wiped out his entire spring training just got a little longer with the news Tuesday night that the Cubs have scratched him from Wednesday's scheduled rehab start for Class AA Tennessee.

"He's got a little dead-arm," general manager Jed Hoyer said, referring to a common soreness and fatigue some pitchers get periodically in spring training. "It's all muscular. Nothing structural. We'll give him a couple days, have him throw a bullpen and hopefully get him right back on schedule."

The optimistic projections had Garza returning from the disabled list sometime during the May 13-15 home series against Colorado. The setback pushes him back into at least late May.

Garza missed the final seven weeks of last season because of an elbow injury, but Hoyer said this latest issue is unrelated to the elbow.

"It's a forearm and biceps thing," he said. "We're certainly hopeful it's a dead-arm period thing."

The Cubs will again hold summer camps for boys and girls between 5 and 13 years old beginning the week of June 24. They will hold six one-week sessions through the week of Aug. 5 in Lake Forest, Riverside, Palatine, Niles, Naperville and Evanston.
Campers will receive a full uniform and instruction in on-field skills. They also will receive a guided tour of Wrigley Field and meet a Cubs player if the schedule permits.
Information is available at

Cubs' Sveum: "I'm [not] exempt [from] being fired"

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CINCINNATI - Cubs manager Dale Sveum on the hot seat?

Probably not.

But one day after suggesting players' jobs were on the line -- including those of core guys Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo - Cubs manager Dale Sveum said the Cubs' poor play so far this season has him thinking about his own job security.

"I'd be lying if I said you didn't think about yourself with some of this stuff, too," Sveum said Monday before the last-place Cubs played the defending division champion Cincinnati Reds.

"But that's something you don't have control over. I've got control over my job and my coaching staff to prepare everybody every day, from spring training, this and that. That's all I can do."

The Cubs front office, which brought Sveum in at the start of a major tear-down of the big-league team, has consistently backed the manager to the point of taking responsibility for last year's 101-loss season. Nothing has changed two weeks into the second season, and Sveum said he has received nothing but support from team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

"No doubt," he said.

Sveum reiterated the point he made Sunday when he suggested no player's job is safe if he doesn't perform well enough in the majors, regardless of talent, reputation or alleged "core player" status - including All-Star shortstop Castro and hand-picked building-block first baseman Rizzo.

"They're not the only ones," he said. "Nobody's exempt. Just pointing them out. That doesn't' mean they're [getting demoted]. ...

"I'm not pointing fingers at them. Nobody's exempt. I'm [not] exempt to being fired. [Neither] is the coaching staff. We're all in this together on this team. We're all [accountable] for this."

MILWAUKEE - All this Cubs Way stuff? All that noise about a Starlin Castro-Anthony Rizzo core to that new foundation for sustained success?

Never mind.

Anyone who couldn't tell this unsightly rebuilding process was very much a work in progress with little certainty regarding any player involved needed only to listen to manager Dale Sveum Sunday morning to hear the point pounded home.

"I don't think [anyone's] invincible if you're not performing," a still irritated Sveum said of young "core" players such as Castro and Rizzo after a series of sloppy games and disappointing starts for both.

"It's not about what we think can happen three or four years from now. It's time to perform on a consistent basis. Not one good game and three bad ones. That's not what we want. That's why there's player development."

That's why even Castro and Rizzo aren't immune from being demoted back to the minors, Sveum said - although that seems implausible considering the marketing campaigns already built around these guys and, more importantly, the lack of reasonable alternatives.

Castro, in particular, is in the first year of a seven-year, $60 million deal and has two All-Star appearances and 550 big-league hits at age 23. He's not going anywhere, regardless of what Sveum called a "very average" April for the shortstop.

But Sveum was adamant about "accountability" and not assuming every young player with big-league skills in this process is necessarily a big-league player - a message he has delivered to his team.

Rizzo, the guy some have called the face of the franchise, had costly focus-related miscues Friday and Saturday and is off to a .190 start at the plate (.299 on-base percentage). He's still looking for his first full season in the big leagues.

"You've got to perform at the big-league level," he said. "There's reasons why people play in the big leagues and have long careers, because they perform on an everyday basis. There's reasons why a lot of [guys are] minor league players. You see it all the time; they can't perform at the big-league level. They're pretty good. They're really good players. But you put the third deck on the stadium and something happens.

"We've got to obviously find that out and make people aware that there are things that can be done if you don't start performing."

MILWAUKEE -- It was a play that had no bearing on the outcome of the game - but that might be talked about for years by anyone who saw it Friday at Miller Park.

In one of the strangest sequences in recent memory, Milwaukee's Jean Segura stole second in the sixth inning - and then two batters later ended the inning by getting caught trying to steal second.


"Bizarre," admitted umpire crew chief Tom Hallion, to an pool reporter, of the inning that got weird when, with Segura at second, Ryan Braun at first and nobody out, Segura broke for third.

That's when pitcher Shawn Camp threw to third baseman Luis Valbuena, who ran Segura back to second, where Braun now stood.

Both were tagged while on the base - and before Segura realized that Braun, by rule, was out, Segura surrendered the base and jogged toward the first-base dugout.

At which point the Cubs scrambled to chase him down, but nobody was covering first to field a throw, and Segura was directed by the first base coach to get on the bag.

"Technically, he stole second, stole first, then got thrown out stealing second," said Hallion, who repeated: "Bizarre."

Second base umpire Phil Cuzzi: "Never saw that [before]."

Umpire supervisor Larry Young, in attendance in the press box, referred writers to rule No. 703(b) and rule No. 708(i). Bottom line: a player is allowed to retreat to a previous, unoccupied base, as long as it's not making a "travesty" of the game.

"The problem was the umpire didn't see us tag Segura when he came off the bag," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "They were both tagged when they were both on the base. But when Segura thought he was out, he popped up and Valbuena tagged him again, and the umpire didn't see him tag him."

Camp then struck out Rickie Weeks for the second out.

And then Segura added the final bizarre touch by trying to re-steal second - and getting caught to end the inning.

"Lucky it all worked out," Sveum said.

Rain can't wash away Cubs' bullpen mess

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The Cubs' second rainout in eight days Wednesday against the Texas Rangers didn't cause manager Dale Sveum any problems in deciding what to do with his starting rotation.

Wednesday's scheduled starter, Carlos Villanueva, moves into Thursday's slot against the Rangers, and everybody behind him stays on rotation after that.

But the Cubs' closer situation stayed as cloudy and volatile as this week's weather.

"We'll just stay with what we're doing right now,'' said Sveum, whose second of three closers already this season - Kyuji Fujikawa -- is on the disabled list with a sore elbow.

That means the Cubs, who are tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for most blown saves (four) in the majors, will stay with a ninth-inning-by-committee approach, despite a suggestion by Sveum over the weekend that Carlos Marmol might get another shot at the role.

On Wednesday, Sveum said he planned to put Fujikawa back into the role when he's back from the DL, although that timeline is anything but certain.

"It's a logical choice," Sveum said. "But obviously he'll go pitch in a rehab [assignment] and we'll see how well that's going."


Rehabbing pitcher Matt Garza (left lat) is scheduled to make four minor-league rehab starts, beginning with a two-inning start Friday for Kane County - after which the Cubs will determine whether he needs a fifth before returning from the disabled list.

If all goes as planned, that could put him back in the Cubs' rotation during the May 13-15 home series against Colorado.


A makeup date for Wednesday's rainout has not been scheduled, and the process could get more complicated if the series finale is postponed Thursday.

The Rangers aren't scheduled to play again this season at Wrigley, leaving the teams to settle on a mutual off day for a rescheduled game or leave it to the end of the season, to be played if necessary to determine a playoff spot.

Cubs and Rangers rained out

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The Cubs' game against the Texas Rangers Wednesday night has been postponed by rain, and no makeup date has been scheduled yet.

Wednesday's scheduled starter for the Cubs, right-hander Carlos Villanueva, has been backed up to Thursday, with the rest of the rotation also staying in order heading into the weekend's three-game series at Milwaukee: Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson and Scott Feldman.

The Cubs have no other series against the American League West opponent this year, so the teams must agree on a mutual day off to make up the game or schedule it for the end of the season, if necessary to determine playoff spots.

The Cubs lost 4-2 to the Rangers in the series opener Tuesday and are scheduled to finish the series with a 1:20 p.m. game Thursday, with more rain in the forecast.

The Cubs waited until the ninth inning Tuesday to score against the Texas Rangers but came up short in a 4-2 final.
Pinch hitter Nate Schierholtz hit a two-out, two-run double off Rangers closer Joe Nathan after Michael Kirkman gave up a single and walk with two outs. Nathan hit Welington Castillo with a pitch to load the bases again. Darwin Barney hit a sinking line drive to center field, but Craig Gentry made a diving catch to preserve the victory for the Rangers, Nathan earning his fifth save.
Starter Derek Holland( 1-1) limited the Cubs to two hits through seven innings in getting the victory.
A crowd of 29,344 watched the season's first interleague game at Wrigley Field that brought the return of former Cubs catcher Georvany Soto and former White Sox catcher A. J. Pierzynski.
The teams also honored Jackie Robinson by wearing his No. 42 jersey, the honor coming a day after the rest of baseball did so on Monday--an off day for the Cubs and Rangers.
Flags also flew at half staff in memory of those killed and injured in Monday's Boston Marathon bombing.
The Rangers scored in the fourth off Cubs starter Travis Wood (1-1) when Adrian Beltre doubled and later scored on ex-Cub Jeff Baker's two-out double.
But they tallied three more in the eighth when Wood gave up a one out walk to Ian Kinsler and reliever Shawn Camp followed allowing a single to Elvin Andrus, a throwing error to first allowing Kinsler to score and a two-run home run to Beltre.
The Cubs' only hits were a first inning single by Anthony Rizzo, a fourth inning double by Alfonso Soriano, eighth inning single by Welington Castillo and ninth inning single by Starlin Castro.
Holland struck out six without issuing a walk through seven innings. Reliever Tanner Scheppers worked a scoreless eighth before the Cubs' ninth inning rally fell short.

For all the talk of Wrigley Field renovations, the first thing former White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski noticed Tuesday was something from the past--the ``AC'' sign on a Sheffield rooftop noting how long the Cubs have gone without a championship.
``I'm just happy they put the sign back up in right center field. I'm not going to lie. They took it down [last year] and I was really disappointed because I always liked looking at that sign. That was my favorite sign.''
In some ways, Wrigley was a favorite ``away'' park for the longtime Sox catcher, now with the Texas Rangers and back for the first interleague series against the Cubs.
It was the longtime ``home'' park for the Rangers' other catcher, Geovany Soto, who stepped into the visitor's clubhouse for the first time Tuesday.
``It feels great seeing old faces and being here,'' he said. ``It's a pretty special place. It feels good.''
Soto's last time in Wrigley Field was an awkward goodbye, traded at last season's deadline at mid-game. Pierzynski signed with the Rangers as a free agent after the season, ending eight years with the Sox.
``We laughed about some of the things that happened [during the Cubs-Sox series]--when Ozzie [Guillen] kicked Geo's mask--but we haven't rehashed it a lot,'' Pierzynski said. ``But Geo has a lot of good memories about Wrigley and being here. He had some great years and obviously they won when he was here. He's said nothing but good things about Wrigley and the Cubs.''
Pierzynski has his own history here--hitting .303 (30-99) with five home runs and 19 RBI in 26 games at Wrigley--including a homer in his last appearance May 19.
``It was special when you were on the White Sox side, and especially when I got here the Cubs were really good. And when both of us were really good, it was really fun to play in those games.''
Pierzynski is the Rangers' main catcher, but he and Soto said they are working well together as teammates.
``He's been really good,'' Soto said of Pierzynski. ``There's a lot of communication preparing for a series. We've been sharing a lot.''
Playing behind another catcher wasn't what Soto expected, but Pierzynski--hitting .342 to start the season--said Soto is handling the situation.
``I know obviously he would like to be in a situation getting to play more, but he's been awesome,'' Pierzynski said. ``We talk about pitchers and hitters, and he has insights on guys I may have never seen, and obviously about the Cubs.''
Both are in agreement about Wrigley Field, as it is now and as it might be if renovation plans become a reality.
``I think renovations are good anywhere, but this ballpark and what it represents - a 100 year old stadium--it has a lot of tradition and history here,'' Soto said. ``You really can't substitute that. I think it's a really special place.''
Even Pierzynski defended the old park after hearing comments from teammate Lance Berkman--who suggested ``blowing it up.'
``It's a little outdated, but now they're trying to update it,'' he said. ``Once you get on the field, it's a pretty cool place to play-- yousee the fans and the rooftops. It is a special place because of the nostalgia.''

Cubs shuffle pen; still no closer

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The Cubs announced a flurry of roster moves before Tuesday's series opener against the Texas Rangers, including big changes for their bullpen.

Former Cubs closer Kevin Gregg and reliever Kameron Loe, both of whom were acquired over the weekend, were added to the roster and joined the bullpen Tuesday.

Left-hander Hisanori Takahashi was designated for assignment, and right-hander Rafael Dolis was optioned to AAA Iowa to make room on the 25-man roster.

Manager Dale Sveum said the bullpen moves don't change the ninth inning for him. He still doesn't consider anyone in the pen his closer and plans to close by committee if the Cubs have a save situation Tuesday night.

The Cubs also claimed infielder Cody Ransom off waivers from San Diego to replace utility man Brent Lillibridge, who was designated for assignment.

In addition second baseman Darwin Barney, as expected, rejoined the club from the disabled list, taking the roster spot vacated when Steve Clevenger (oblique) went on the DL Sunday

Fans attending Tuesday's game at Wrigley Field - and future games - can expect to see increased attention to bag checks as well as more police outside the park that usual, including K9 units, in the wake of the bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday, team officials say.

"We'll have a heightened level of security," Cubs spokesman Julian Green said. "We're not changing our staffing, but we're going to be more diligent."

That includes, "reinforcing our protocol for inspecting bags," he said as well as potentially a few more security-related questions than normal.

"Beyond that, we're just asking fans to be vigilant," Green said, "and asking our security staff to have a heightened awareness."

Green compared the heightened measures to how the Cubs handled having dignitaries, including then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, at the ballpark last summer the week the NATO conferences were in Chicago.

One thing was clear after one of the most muddled Cubs games ever Sunday: the team's bullpen problems have not been solved.
Nor has the problem of finding a closer, with Sunday's candidate, Shawn Camp, falling one strike short when he gave up a game-tying home run in the ninth before a balk in the 10th scored the go-ahead run of an eventual 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants.
The situation is fractured enough that just-demoted closer Carlos Marmol may find himself back in the role until injured Kuyji Fujikawa returns.
``I'd be lying if I said he wasn't working his way back to it,'' manager Dale Sveum admitted after Marmol's one inning of relief was the bullpen's best.
``He's throwing strikes. He's throwing his slider more consistent. He's working his way back. That was part of the deal.
``Ultimately you'd like to settle on a single guy [to close],'' Sveum said. ``I think ultimately that helps everybody. Right now, we're obviously still searching for that role.''
Sveum's hopes of using a day-to-day fill-in went sour for Camp, whose two out, two strike pitch to Hunter Pence ended up in the center field seats, tying the game at 7-7 after what had been an uplifting Cubs' comeback in the eighth.
``He shook off [catcher Dioner Navarro] twice and went with a slider,'' Sveum said of the home run pitch.
``I've faced him probably 10 times and made that pitch a thousand times,'' Camp said. ``A hanging breaking ball and it cost us.''
Worse was the balk he committed in the 10th that allowed Brandon Crawford to score from third.
Even that seemed a hex, with his spikes catching in the dirt as he made a move to first.
``That's the first time that has ever happened in my career,'' said Camp (0-1). ``The biggest disappointment to me is letting the team down after the team fought so hard to come back.''
The Cubs had rallied with two runs in the eighth to take the lead again after a horrendous sixth inning for starter Edwin Jackson and reliever Michael Bowden.
They set a major league record throwing five wild pitches -- two from Jackson with two walks and three by Bowden - leading to a four-run inning for the Giants and a 5-4 lead.
``It was inexcusable on my part,'' said Jackson, who had struck out nine before ``completely losing his fastball in the sixth,'' Sveum said.
``I can't let the team down in an inning like that when they fought hard to get me a lead,'' Jackson said.
A pair of two-run homers in the first off Tim Lincecum from Starlin Castro (second) and Nate Schierholtz (second) gave Jackson a 4-1 lead.
Another home run in the seventh by Alberto Gonzalez (first) pulled the Cubs to within 6-5, and a two-run eighth had them poised for victory.
But as Sveum has said often lately, the last three outs have been the most elusive.
``It's as tough as any of them so far,'' Sveum said of the loss. ``We've battled to the end, but we're having trouble shutting a game down. The bullpen can't seem to finish off a game.''

The Cubs signed two relief pitchers Sunday, including their former closer Kevin Gregg, though not for that role.
Gregg, 34, was signed to a minor league contract after being released by the Los Angeles Dodgers when he declined a move to Class AAA after spring training. He had a 0.82 ERA in 11 spring appearances.
Righthander Kameron Loe, 31, was claimed off waivers from Seattle and will join the team Tuesday. To make room for Loe on the major league roster, injured Steve Clevenger was placed on the 60-day disabled list.
The Cubs will have to make another roster move Tuesday when Darwin Barney returns as well.
Gregg pitched the last two seasons for Baltimore. He was assigned to Arizona extended spring training.
He had 23 saves for the Cubs in 2009 when he went 5-6 with a 4.72 ERA while dealing with knee problems in the aftermath of off season surgery.
Kyuji Fujikawa, on the disabled list with a strained forearm muscle, is still considered the Cubs closer.
Loe, 31, has pitched in nine major league seasons, the last three with Milwaukee. He is 33-41 with four saves and a 4.44 ERA in 306 career appearances.

Darwin Barney's return Tuesday should help the Cubs not only defensively but in having a ``take charge'' player on the field.
``Barney is definitely that kind of guy,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``He has the awareness of the situation and can slow the game down in those 15 seconds [between pitches] and know how the game can change from pitch to pitch and count to count and score to score and hitter to hitter.
``Those are things we're trying to get the rest of the infield aware of. It's something you don't really teach but have to harp on.''
Sveum pointed to Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Giants as the latest example of mental mistakes costing the Cubs.
``There was no error in the box score, but we made five mental mistakes that cost us runs.''

The Cubs signed their one-time closer Kevin Gregg to a minor league contract Sunday, but not to take that role again for the parent team.
Gregg, 34, was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers when he declined a move to Class AAA after spring training. He had an 0.82 ERA in 11 spring appearances.
He pitched the last two seasons for Baltimore.
He had 23 saves for the Cubs in 2009 when he went 5-6 with a 4.72 ERA while dealing with knee problems in the aftermath of off season surgery.
Gregg was assigned to Arizona extended spring training.
Kuyji Fujikawa, who is on the disabled list with a strained forearm muscle, is still expected to be the Cubs closer.

Cubs catcher/infielder Steve Clevenger knew immediately he had badly injured his left oblique when he swung and struck out to end Saturday's game against the Giants.
``I knew exactly what it was,'' he said Sunday. ``It felt like someone had stuck a knife in my side. The reason I didn't get up right away was I couldn't catch my breath.''
The strain will mean Clevenger --who suffered the same type of strain on his right side last season --will miss at least six weeks.
``They told me six weeks last time, too, but I came back in about four to five,'' he said. ``It's definitely frustrating because I worked my butt off this winter to get in shape and strong and this happens.''
Clevenger strained his right oblique last season during a batting practice swing.
``The muscle there is so thin, you have to let it recover,'' he said of prescribed extended rest. ``It's definitely frustrating, but at the same time I'm determined not to let it get me. I'll do my work and be ready to come back.
``It was just a freak accident,'' he said, adding he had warmed up and stretched as usual before the pinch hit at-bat.
``[Cold] weather may be a factor, but really it's just a freak accident,'' he said. ``It's different than a strained quad.''
The Cubs will wait until Tuesday to put Clevenger on the disabled list because second baseman Darwin Barney returns from his injury rehab that day for the three-game series against the Texas Rangers.
But not having Clevenger, a lefthanded hitter, will impact how manager Dale Sveum uses his bench.
``The bench was able to work correctly with three catchers, and two of them lefthanded and [Dioner] Navarro a switch hitter,'' Sveum said. ``It's very unfortunate because [Clevenger] came into spring in great shape and worked hard, and then to have something that violent happen.''
Sveum said he will have to be ``choosier'' about using Navarro in a pinch hitting role as the only backup catcher now. ``Or tell [Welington] Castillo `don't get hurt,' '' he said.

Playing three close games against the defending champion San Francisco Giants might be considered a positive for the rebuilding Cubs.

But it also shows how little things make a big difference for winning teams, especially defensively.

The Giants preserved a 3-2 victory Saturday by doing the things the Cubs couldn't, including turning two timely inning ending double plays that left the Cubs 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.

The Cubs turned only one double play when they had a chance at as many as four, costing two runs.

``We had a chance to take the lead a couple times before they scored, which could change the game around,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``We didn't put the ball in play a couple times, and that can be the difference in a game.''

Missing the cutoff man was another flaw Sveum saw in the seventh after Scott Hairston retrieved Marco Scutaro's single to right field, throwing it back beyond second base. The single scored Giants starter Madison Bumgarner (3-0) from second while Gregor Blanco went from first to third.

The inning ended without another run scoring when slugger Pablo Sandoval grounded to Starlin Castro to start the Cubs' lone double play.

But Sveum didn't like what he had seen.

``Players need to make those plays. That's the bottom line,'' he said. ``He threw a ball completely over two cutoff men's heads--not even in the same zip code.''

If defense and timely hitting continue to be problems, the starting pitching at least continues to be a positive.

Jeff Samardzija suffered another loss despite limiting the Giants to two runs through six innings.

``He wasn't as sharp as his first two outings, but he made some pitches when he had to and got out of jams,'' Sveum said. ``He still only gave up two runs with the wind howling out.''

Samardzija (1-2) was his own critic, blaming himself for walking Bumgarner in the third--though he was thrown out at second trying to advance on a pitch that almost eluded Castillo.

``That's two games in a row [walking a pitcher]. It's unacceptable. It's on me. It's wasting pitches and wasting outs and making your team work harder. It takes you out of a game in the sixth instead of the seventh or eighth.

``But there are positives and negatives in everything,'' he said. ``You assess every start as it and the pitches you made. I thought I made some good pitches. They did a great job of putting the ball in play. They did a good job of getting some hits, which got me out of rhythm.''

Samardzija wasn't the pitcher he was on opening day when he held the Pirates to two hits through eight innings. And he wasn't the pitcher he was in his last start against Atlanta when he struck out a career high 13 but lasted only 5 2/3 innings in a 5-1 loss.

But he kept the Cubs close, which is a starter's objective.

``A team like that, you have to keep the game close,'' he said of the Giants. ``You look at that team and understand how they approach the game and approach you as a power pitcher.

``They'll try to take some things away from you. You need to understand that. They work the count, they make you throw a lot of pitches, they have a game plan and stick with it.''


Jeff Samardzija is in Carlos Marmol's corner to return as the team closer, even though manager Dale Sveum said he won't use Marmol while Kyuji Fujikawa is on the disabled list.
``We have a closer and that's Marmol. He's our guy,'' Samardzija said after Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Giants. ``He's getting it going again. He has nasty stuff. When he's in the zone, nobody hits him. With Fuji on the DL we have to turn to Marmol. He's been throwing a couple good innings here and there but he has the stuff to do it--the closing slider and the fastball. It's just he has to get on the same page with that.''
Sveum said he will keep Marmol in a middle relief role for now and choose a closer game by game, likely James Russell from the left side and Shawn Camp from the right side.

San Francisco Giants lefthander Madison Bumgarner shut out the Cubs through six innings Saturday before Dioner Navarro hit his second pinch hit home run in as many days for the Cubs.
But Navarro's two-run drive in the seventh wasn't enough to prevent a 3-2 Cubs loss at Wrigley Field.
Bumgarner (3-0) limited the Cubs to four hits through six innings before Alberto Gonzalez singled in the seventh ahead of Navarro.
The Giants scored two runs off Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija (1-2) and added another off Michael Bowden in the seventh.
Samardzija pitched six innings giving up two runs on seven hits, striking out five and walking one, but throwing a wild pitch and hitting one batter in the sixth, leading to a run.
Alfonso Soriano was 3-for-3 off Bumgarner but grounded out in the eighth off reliever Santiago Casilla with two men on and no outs. Pinch hitter Nate Schierholtz hit into an inning ending double play with the bases loaded.
The Cubs stranded seven runners.
The game drew 34,778.

A freak injury as Steve Clevenger swung and missed on the last out Saturday may be costly for the Cubs catcher/infielder.
Clevenger was being treated for a left oblique injury immediately after the game, Clevenger falling to the ground in severe pain as he swung and missed ending the game on a strikeout.
Trainers quickly came to him and had to help him off the field.
He was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for an MRI after the game.
``I've seen it many times, but not quite that severe and someone in that much pain,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``Hopefully it's not bad but in that much pain, something obviously happened in there.''

Closer Kyuji Fujikawa is the latest pitcher on the disabled list, but the Cubs are trying to avoid another by giving starter Scott Feldman extra time off before his next start.
Feldman was experiencing back tightness since his last start on Thursday, so the rotation will be moved back after Monday's off day to give him extra time off.
The series against the Texas Rangers will now have Travis Wood start on Tuesday, with Carlos Villanueva pitching Wednesday, Jeff Samardzija pitching Thursday, Edwin Jackson pitching the Friday opening game in Milwaukee and Feldman going Saturday.

Barney received his Gold Glove trophy on Friday, but on Saturday Nate Schierholtz got his own special trophy--a World Series ring from Giants manager Bruce Bochy. Schierholtz was a member of last year's championship Giants team until he was traded July 31 to Philadelphia for Hunter Pence.
Schierholtz signed as a free agent with the Cubs in December.

Dioner Navarro didn't have a pinch hit home run in his first nine major league seasons. But he hit his second in as many days Saturday--this time batting right handed against Bumgarner after doing it lefthanded off Sergio Romo.
``I know I have a chance to pinch hit every day so I get myself mentally ready,'' the back up catcher said. ``It's not easy. I went out looking for a fastball and was fortunate to get it and hit it. I just try to keep myself positive and mentally prepared.''

Anthony Rizzo is in a 2-for-17 slump on the homestand, his average at .158 despite his team high three home runs and nine RBI.
``I have to just put the ball in play and not try to do too much,'' he said.
``Most times when these things happen it's a combination of things,'' Sveum said. ``You get caught up in guessing too much and trying to figure the pitcher out, and worrying about mechanics.''

A day after getting his first major league win--and after his first blown save--Cubs closer Kyuji Fujikawa went on the disabled list Saturday with a muscle strain in his right forearm.
The condition is one the former Japanese closer star has had before, Fujikawa said, adding it is a ``short term'' problem.
He will be evaluated further but first indications are nothing more serious, such as elbow involvement, manager Dale Sveum said.
The Cubs recalled reliever Rafael Dolis from Class AAA Iowa, but he will not take the closer's role--nor will demoted closer Carlos Marmol.
Sveum said he would decide who finishes games based on match-ups and situations, with lefty James Russell and righthander Shawn Camp the likely leading candidates.
The move came as a surprise, though Fujikawa said he has felt the problem coming on gradually in recent days. It caused him to change his delivery Friday during a ninth inning appearance against the San Francisco Giants when he lost a 2-0 lead, giving up three runs on three hits, a hit batter and wild pitch.
The Cubs came back in the ninth to win the game, giving Fujikawa the victory.
``He said the last couple day it's been bothering him a little bit,'' Sveum said.
``I don't think I'll use Marmol now. Maybe down the road, but I want to keep him in the role he is now [middle relief.]''
Fujikawa said he didn't feel he had command of his pitches and considered saying something before Friday's outing. He didn't want to continue trying to pitch without being effective, he said.
``We have a long season and it's an important role for the team and I'm not helping the team,'' he said through interpreter Ryo Shinkawa.
His injury is the latest to the Cubs pitching staff, which has Matt Garza and Scott Baker already on the disabled list.
Garza's return from a strained lat is hoped for by mid May. Baker, who had Tommy John surgery last year, was in Chicago Saturday to be evaluated again for a possible date to begin a throwing program.

Catcher Steve Clevenger came up as a middle infielder and played some games at third in spring training, so was ready for his first major league start at third on Friday.
``I take ground balls at third every day. I feel very comfortable there,'' he said. ``It's just getting the repetitions and comfort level. It's a reaction position at third--catch it and throw it.
``I thought it would take a little longer than the 10th game [to get a start],'' he added smiling. ``I always keep my infield gloves broken in.''
Manager Dale Sveum put Clevenger at third to add another lefthanded bat to the lineup against Giants righthander Matt Cain, moving Luis Valbuena--also a lefty--to second.
``[Clevenger] is going to be here, so he has to play,'' Sveum said. ``It's about time to get him in the lineup and see what happens.''

Darwin Barney heads to Class AAA Iowa today to begin a short rehab after suffering a deep knee cut on the last day of spring training.
``I'm looking forward to getting back out there, seeing some pitches. I feel ready now, but it's just a matter of getting that first slide out of the way.]
The Cubs let Barney decide where to play, but instead of Class A Daytona or Class AA Tennessee, he opted for Iowa ``because I decided it's going to be cold here'' when he returns Tuesday.
Also expected to begin a rehab assignment shortly is third baseman Ian Stewart, who is still at extended spring after suffering a strained left quad.

Barney received his Gold Glove in ceremonies before Friday's game.
``It's good to actually see it,'' he said. ``It's exciting.
``But last year is over and done. My focus is on now and getting ready to play Tuesday.''
Sveum said the ceremony was good for other players to see.
``It's one of those trophies that go unnoticed sometimes. It's nice for everyone to see it, as well as some other players to see how nice that trophy is.''

Baseball fights like the one between Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke and San Diego Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin are rare and ``unfortunate'' but sometimes difficult to preempt, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.
``I know Greinke [who pitched with the Milwaukee Brewers] and it's unfortunate. It seems a long time since someone charged a mound. It's unfortunate someone got hurt. It's just unfortunate with tempers and even history between players that sometimes it happens.''
Greinke, a former Cy Young Award winner with the Kansas City Royals and under a multi-year contract for $147 million, could miss as much as six weeks with a broken collarbone. He was injured when San Diego Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin charged the mound after being hit by a pitch, a bench clearing brawl erupting.
``A guy you paid a lot to and plan on going out there every five days to start, and now probably will miss 6 weeks,'' Sveum said. ``It's just unfortunate with tempers and even history between people, sometimes it happens.
``It doesn't happen that much anymore because of suspensions and all that. But those things are such a spontaneous, thing it's not pre-planned.''
Starlin Castro couldn't wait for Friday's game against the San Francisco Giants and a chance to redeem the costly error he committed on Thursday.
``That's the part I love about this game,'' he said. ``Every day is a new day.''
Not only a new day for Castro, who homered in the fifth before hitting the winning double in the bottom of the ninth for the walk-off 4-3 victory, but for closer Kyuji Fujikawa.
He saw baseball fate turn in one inning.
Fujikawa suffered his first blown save in a terrible ninth, giving up three runs to erase a 2-0 Cubs lead, then got his first victory when Dioner Navarro hit his first pinch hit homer to tie the game before Castro drove home David DeJesus with the winning run, all off Giants closer Sergio Romo (0-1).
``Losing Thursday was tough because we had a 5-0 lead and then lost,'' said Castro, whose error in that game started a four-run inning. ``That's why I tried to be more relaxed today.''
Castro and the Cubs were sound in the field, led by a second stellar outing by starter Carlos Villanueva. He pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings of no-run ball and was in line for his first victory on the strength of Castro's fifth inning homer and one from DeJesus in the third--the first for each player.
But the last three outs were as difficult for Fujikawa (1-0) as they have been for Carlos Marmol--and as they turned out to be for Romo.
Fujikawa gave up three hits, a wild pitch and hit a batter before it was over with the Giants ahead 3-2.
Yet he ended up getting a congratulatory beer shower from his teammates for his first victory.
``I told his translator `tell him I believe in him and we all believe in him and he'll be fine,' '' Villanueva said. ``He feels bad, you can tell, but that's why we're teammates. We love him and we know he'll do well.
``Personal stats will come,'' he added of still being winless despite a sparkling 0.64 ERA. ``But the atmosphere in our clubhouse, I wouldn't change it.''
Fujikawa is learning about that team culture as he wrestles with improving his command.
``I really appreciate my teammates having my back, and to answer it, I have to get my confidence and come back tomorrow,'' he said. ``It's my first time pitching in this league, but it's definitely a tough job.''
If all's well that ends well, it was as much because the Cubs played clean baseball.
The Cubs didn't have an error and issued only one walk, both key factors for a team that entered the game leading the National League in both categories.
``The formula for winning doesn't come into play when you're leading the league in walks and errors,'' manager Dale Sveum said.
``Probably half our errors are because of pure unawareness about how much time we had to make a play,'' Sveum said, adding the mental part of the game continues to be Castro's challenge.
``We talk all the time about slowing the game down, but when we say slow the game down, we don't mean make the ball go slower or the pitch go slower.
``It means how can you in your mind, before the ball is hit to you, go over situations in your head? How can you slow the game down in your mind to go over all the scenarios that can happen?''
Castro may be getting the hang of that now.
``You can be a hero,'' he said. ``You just have to keep playing hard.''

Goat head delivery "funny" and "stupid," Cubs say

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The special delivery to Wrigley Field of a goat's head in a box Wednesday drew more chuckles and ridicule than anything else from guys in the Cubs' clubhouse Thursday morning.

Pitcher Jeff Samardzija said he hadn't seen the reports of the incident.

"Oh, yeah?" he said, dismissively. "That's very original, since it's only been around for 60, 70 years. You'd think they'd come up with something new."

The box was dropped off at Gate K at about 2 p.m. by a man who said it was intended for chairman Tom Ricketts, a team spokesman confirmed.

"Probably just an upset fan or a fan of another team," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "But it's kind of funny."

Manager Dale Sveum, who called the act "pretty stupid," was asked if knew what he was getting into with this club considering the events of recent days.

"I spent two years in Boston," said the former Red Sox third base coach, "so you have a pretty good idea the passion of the fans."

Cubs officials, by the way, continued to insist Thursday morning that Wednesday's postponement of the Cubs-Brewers game - which was announced about 4 hours in advance of the 7:05 scheduled start - had nothing to do with the goat head.

Cubs' prospect Jorge Soler was ejected from the Daytona Cubs game Wednesday night after charging the opponent's dugout with a bat following a bench-clearing incident, according to several reports from the game.

"It was kind of a nightmare," Daytona manager Dave Keller told the Daytona Beach News-Journal after the 14-9 loss to Clearwater in the Class A Florida State League game.

Soler, the 21-year-old Cuban defector who signed a nine-year, $30-million contract with the Cubs last summer, did not swing the bat, according to the newspaper, and teammates and at least one coach pulled him back to his own dugout.

"I think that he was frustrated by some things, and there was some emotional things he was fighting with," Keller told the paper, without elaboration. "Why he did that, I don't know."

Soler is expected to be suspended by the league. It was not immediately clear what actions the Cubs would take.

Cubs officials were still gathering information late Wednesday night and had no comment, a team spokesman said.

The incident began on the bases, where the Soler may have been spiked by second baseman Carlos Alonso while turning a double play in the seventh inning.

The 6-foot-4 Soler apparently exchanged words with the 5-11 Alonso, resulting in the benches clearing, without punches being thrown.

"I think he was frustrated by what happened," Keller told the paper. "When he slid into second base, [Alonso] ended up laying on top of him. So [Soler] pushed with his arm to get him off, and I think the second baseman interpreted that the wrong way like he wanted to fight or something.

"There were two separate incidents, and there was really no fight. But because nobody was around him when he was running across the field with a bat ... that makes things a little bit crazy."

Wrigley Field was a cold and quiet place in the winter with Kyuji Fujikawa made his first visits from Japan before signing with the Cubs.
It was still very cold Tuesday when he entered in the ninth for the first time--but the atmosphere was different.
``With the fans and the enthusiasm of the crowd, it was much better than when I came and it was empty,'' he said.
The sparse remains of an announced crowd of 30,065 warmed Fukikawa and the Cubs after a come from behind 6-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers--and a second save for the new closer.
As positive, he saved it for the pitcher he replaced--Carlos Marmol.
That is the first irony for the Cubs pitching staff, which saw another stellar outing from lefthander Travis Wood, who didn't get the victory but was saved from a defeat when his teammates rallied to tie the game at 3-3 and win it with a three-run eighth.
``I had a high pitch count [after a long second inning when two errors and four hits accounted for all the Brewers scoring], but I got us to the seventh and then the hitters did their jobs in the end and pulled it out,'' Wood said.
As fate would have it, a long day on Monday for righthanded reliever Shawn Camp meant he was unavailable to work Tuesday night--leaving Marmol as manager Dale Sveum's option to work the eighth.
He got two quick outs before the crowd found another reason to boo as Jean Segura tripled.
But Yuniesky Betancourt grounded out to end the inning, leaving Marmol (1-1) as the pitcher of record for the Cubs' three-run rally in the bottom of the inning.
``I'm glad he gave me that situation,'' Marmol said of manager Dale Sveum.
It was one of several positive situations for the manager, who lamented before the game about the team's lack of timely hitting with runners in scoring position.
The team showed signs of coming out of that in the ninth inning Monday, that rally falling short in a 7-4 loss.
But not the second time.
``We didn't do much early, but later in the game we came through,'' he said of ending a four-game losing streak. ``We had some really good at bats late in the game. When they're down, it's good to see them battling back.''
It came from all sectors, including David DeJesus (3-for-5 with a double and two RBI); Nate Schierholtz with a double leading the eighth; and bench players Steve Clevenger (pinch hit single and run scored) and Scott Hairston (sacrifice fly with the bases loaded to break the 3-3 tie).
``Keep playing like that every day,'' said shortstop Starlin Castro, a victim of the 31 degree wind chill in the second when he committed one of the team's three errors. ``It was so cold and you can't feel the ball,'' he said.
Castro made some good plays too, including handling the grounder that ended the eighth inning. His single in the third also extended his hitting streak to four games.
But the beginning and the end were more about pitching, from Wood's performance to Fujikawa's.
``Wood only gave up one hard hit ball,'' Sveum said. ``He really pitched a good game.
``Marmol threw strikes and got the win. He's not the closer, but we're getting him in more comfortable situations.
``Fujikawa threw strikes when he had to [getting two strikeouts around a single by Ryan Braun and after an error by third baseman Luis Valbuena allowed Norichika Aoki to reach]. He came right at them with fastballs all the time.''

Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke didn't get much chance to celebrate his team's 7-4 victory Monday ending a five-game losing streak.
He spent Monday night in the hospital after throwing out his back. He was better Tuesday and at Wrigley Field.

Cubs pitcher Matt Garza threw on the side again Tuesday and will have several most such sessions before going to a minor league rehab. But the timetable for his return is at least another month.
``You're talking about four weeks,'' manager Dale Sveum said.
The better news is that second baseman Darwin Barney, who suffered a deep knee cut on the last day of spring training, will play Saturday, Sunday and Monday in a minor league rehab--the location yet to be determined--to be ready to play in Tuesday's series opener against the Texas Rangers.
Sveum is as anxious for Barney to return for his Gold Glove fielding as his bat.
``You miss that defense and the lack of striking out,'' he said. ``That defense is the best in baseball.''

Renovations to Wrigley Field and potential new scoreboards will impact the team ``down the road,'' but additional night games could mean more revenue quickly, team president Theo Epstein said Monday.
That is because more night games become a more attractive and lucrative sell for television.
``I think [more night games] would really help from a revenue standpoint with the TV deal,'' he said. ``Competitively, we'd adjust to anything [on game times.] I think the day games could be a competitive advantage for us, too, becaue we can adjust to it.
``It's more about the revenue than the compeittiveness, but it'd be nice to have the flexibility to do that.''
The current city ordinance limits the team to 30 night games per year. As many as 10 or more could be added to the home schedule along with added concerts allowed at Wrigley Field under terms being discussed in current negotiations with the team.
The team's current television deal with WGN-TV has an ``out'' clause after next season, with the Cubs expected to exercise that option. The deal with Comcast Sports Net runs to 2019.
Night games typically mean more revenue for stations because higher advertising rates can be charged, making it more likely networks would bid more for rights to the Cubs with a broader night game schedule.

Cubs' Sveum knows: "You can only have so much patience"

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As the Cubs prepared for Monday's home opener with strong winds blowing out and expectations strongly reined in, manager Dale Sveum knows patience could start running out with fans quickly.

"You can only have so much patience," he said. "Obviously, they were great with us through hard times last year and understanding the processes with what's going on in the organization.

"But there's only so much you can take, especially when you have some of the best fans in the country, and passionate, and a following. It's not just Chicago. We have a following throughout the whole country."

Whether in response to that idea, Sveum wasted no time yanking closer Carlos Marmol from the ninth inning to preserve a win in the season opener, and then Sunday yanked him from the job altogether.

Sveum said Monday morning that Marmol will be used in middle innings in games the Cubs trail, "to build some confidence back up."

It's unclear what can be done to ramp up a lineup that averaged 2.2 runs a game on the opening road trip, but the outbound wind shouldn't hurt.

Being at home should help, too, said Sveum, considering the Cubs finished a relatively blistering 38-43 during their 101-loss season.

How long fans will hang in there, while the Cubs search for their way, though, is anybody's guess.

"The patience has to give way sometime," he said. "That's just the nature of the beast."

Marmol out as Cubs' closer -- maybe for good

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ATLANTA - It took less than a week for Carlos Marmol to lose his closer job this time around. And this time, he might not be given a chance to get it back.

Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Sunday morning that former Japanese All-Star closer Kyuji Fujikawa will take over the closer role, and could be available as soon as Sunday afternoon's game against the Atlanta Braves - less than 24 hours after Marmol gave up a pair of ninth-inning home runs in a blown save and loss to the Braves.

"Hopefully, Fujikawa takes it and runs with it," Sveum said. "That's one of the reasons we signed him, in case something like this happened."

Fujikawa signed a two-year, $9.5 million deal over the winter, and the club insisted at the time he was a setup man and not signed to take Marmol's job.

If it wasn't Fujikawa, it would have been somebody else. Marmol left little choice after pitching poorly his final three outings of the spring and even worse his first three outings of the season - putting nine men on base, allowing five earned runs and retiring just four batters in that span.

Neither Marmol nor Fujikawa - who didn't pitch well his last outing, Saturday - have been told this is long-term, much less permanent.

Marmol is in the final year of a deal that pays him $9.8 million this year, and the club has long tried to trade him - backing out of a deal last fall that would have sent him to the Los Angeles Angels for pitcher Dan Haren after examining Haren's medical records.

"I don't know," Marmol said of getting a chance to return to his role. "The only thing I care about is winning here. If this is the way we've got to do it, let's do it. ...

"I'm good. My body's good. Everybody knows what I need to work on - locate my pitches. ... I'm not going to put my head down."

Said Fujikawa, through his interpreter: "My job is to pitch wherever I'm asked. I didn't have a good outing [Saturday], so I'm trying to go out there and be as positive as possible. it's a long season.

"I came into the season in the mindset as a setup guy, but once Marmol's condition gets better, he has a chance to come back. So we have to fight through it."

Told Sveum said the job could be his indefinitely, Fujikawa said, "I haven't heart that. But it's one game at a time. My job is to go out and do the best job possible for the team."

More Cubs pitchers get on Braves GM's nerves

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ATLANTA -- It's starting to become clear that Frank Wren and Cubs' pitchers are not a good mix.

Wren, the Atlanta Braves general manager who was spurned by Ryan Dempster in attempts to trade for him last summer, created a stir before Friday's series opener against the Cubs when he personally tried to kick Cubs pitchers off the field as they played catch in left field during Braves batting practice.

Wren stood near the batting cage waving at the players to get off the field, then had a Turner Field security official go down the line and tell them to vacate. The Cubs ignored him, and Wren headed into the clubhouse to find manager Dale Sveum, muttering something about people not following rules.

"What the f--- was that about," one pitcher said when they finally made room for two Braves outfielders to shag flies in left.

"I've never seen that before," Carlos Marmol said.

And when they were told it was because the Braves wanted to work on fly balls, Shawn Camp yelled across the field in Wren's general direction: "That's what spring training's for!"

It was a lot of noise that in the end didn't matter much. The problem was apparently caused by the Braves' BP being off its normal schedule and the pitchers unwittingly mis-timing their usual pregame routine.

"Two teams can't be on the field at the same time," Sveum said, "but we all know at the end of BP that everybody always goes and throws and pretty much everybody's work's done by then. The BP time got all goofed up."

One press box wag pointed out that Wren - who eventually traded for Cubs pitcher Paul Maholm last summer -- was probably ticking off guys who are going to wind up on his club in July.

Good thing for Wren the Cubs don't have any starting pitchers left with no-trade rights.

Cubs' schedule heats up, starting in Hotlanta

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ATLANTA -- The Cubs finally escaped the cold of Pittsburgh, and by Saturday in Atlanta temperatures are supposed to be in the 70s.

But if the Cubs are looking to warm up, they might want to be careful for what they wish for.

If you thought the heat was on closer Carlos Marmol before he got his first save in Thursday's eventful ninth, take a look what's next.

Because the schedule's about to get particularly hot.

For all the stellar pitching and hand-stinging hitting the first three games that led to the Cubs' first season-opening series win in four years, the next 19 games come against five teams that finished an average of 22 games over .500 last year and that are all expected to contend this year.

"We don't look at it as tough; we look at it as a way to show what we've got from the beginning," said fifth-starter Carlos Villanueva, who starts Saturday in Atlanta in the first of a six-series gauntlet that also includes Milwaukee, San Francisco, Texas, Milwaukee again and Cincinnati.

"It's good," Villanueva said. "It's better that we face that good competition early on and kind of test ourselves and see how well off we are this year."

Four of those five teams in that rough 19-game stretch were playoff teams a year ago.

"That's part of the game, manager Dale Sveum said. "You've got to find ways to win them games."

Rutgers-grad DeJesus glad hoops coach booted

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PITTSBURGH -- Cubs outfielder David DeJesus has never met Mike Rice, but the former Rutgers University baseball player is glad the school finally fired its basketball coach after cringing at the now-famous video showing the former coach abusing players during practice.

"It's really crazy," DeJesus said Wednesday a few hours after Rutgers fired Rice. "I know I've heard about, but then seeing those tapes, it's kind of disturbing that the guy's cursing at them and throwing balls at them.

"They made the right decision."

DeJesus, who now lives in Wheaton, doesn't get to his old campus much anymore, but he follows the football team as a "fair-weather fan" and follows his old baseball program online.

"When we're winning, like last year when we were going like 7-0, I threw a `W' on twitter once in a while," he said.

Rice's action definitely cuts against the grain of his school pride.

"They did their research," he said. "I'm happy that they came to the right conclusion."

Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images


PITTSBURGH - Anthony Rizzo made a conspicuous first impression in the Cubs' season opener. Unfortunately for the Cubs, so did Brent Lillibridge.

But between Rizzo's bleacher-clearing two-run homer in the first inning, and Jeff Samardzija's ability to survive the first and pitch shutout ball through six, the Cubs took a 3-0 lead into the seventh inning of Monday's opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Starlin Castro got a jump on reigning National League hits king Andrew McCutchen with a pair of singles in his first two at-bats, including one just ahead of Rizzo's first-pitch homer - which cleared the right-center bleachers, presumably headed for the Alleghany River (albeit, on a bounce).

The Cubs, however, felt the sting almost immediately of losing their Gold Glove second baseman, Darwin Barney, to a knee injury. Barney, who took five stitches to close a gash on his left kneecap Saturday, went on the disabled list before the game.

His replacement, utility man Lillibridge, muffed the first grounder hit to him, with one out and one on in the first - a potential double play ball - to extend what became a 21-pitch inning for Samardzija.

He also bounced a ball to first on a potential double-play relay later in the inning.

Lillibridge later robbed Garrett Jones of a hit in the sixth on a diving play to his left for the second out.

After the first-inning error, Samardzija retired 18 of the next 20 he faced through six, including seven strikeouts.

Catcher Welington Castillo's second double of the game, in the sixth, drove home Nate Schierholtz from first. Schierholtz had reached when hit by a pitch - after hitting a single and drawing a walk in his first two plate appearances.

Castillo was caught in a rundown between second and third on the play for the second out of the sixth.

But his double knocked Pirates starter A.J. Burnett from the game. Burnett became the first Pirates pitcher since John Candelaria 30 years ago to strike out 10 in an opener.

By GORDON WITTENMYER (follow @GDubCub on Twitter)

PITTSBURGH - As the Cubs prepared for their season opener in Pittsburgh early Monday, team president Theo Epstein kept one eye on happenings back home related to an even more pressing issue: the April 1 deadline ownership set for getting a deal in place with city and neighborhood officials to lift restrictions in and around the ballpark they say is needed to start $300 million in Wrigley Field renovations on time.

As counterintuitive as it may seem for a big-market franchise like the Cubs, the baseball operations people are well aware that their ability to spend and compete long-term under Ricketts family ownership relies on the family being able to increase its already sizeable revenues.

"I think it's fundamentally important to get us to the next level as an organization," Epstein said before Monday's game. "We have a baseball plan, and we have a business plan, and they're timed to sync up with one another.

Darwin Barney, turning a double play in 2012 in this photo, will start the Cubs 2013 season on the DL thanks to a cut on his kneecap. | Sun-Times file


PITTSBURGH - Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney was placed on the 15-day disabled list before Monday's opener, retroactive to Sunday, for the deep cut he suffered on his kneecap Saturday in Houston.

The Cubs added infielder Alberto Gonzalez to both the 25-man and 40-man roster. To make room on the 40-man, minor-league pitcher Robert Whitenack was designated for assignment.

Barney, who required five stitches in the knee, is to be re-evaluated next week to better determine a timeline for his return. He would be eligible to return for the home series opener against Texas on April 16.

"We'll see what they decide," said Barney who considers himself fortunate compared to how bad the injury could have been - especially after watching Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware's grotesque compound leg fracture during Sunday's NCAA tournament game.

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