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

May 2013 Archives

Matt Garza hadn't won a game since July 15 last season, but when he notched his first one Friday, the Cubs ace talked as much about his teammates.
``We're playing great right now,'' he said after his 7-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks--the Cubs' fifth straight victory. ``Guys are growing and you see it right before your eyes, and it's fun to watch.''
But the team could grow exponentially with the return of Garza if this performance is a sign.
His seven innings against the National League West leaders was as powerful as the fastball he resurrected after letting it ``get away from him'' in his last outing against Cincinnati, manager Dale Sveum said.
``He had a good fastball and got ahead early--that was the mentality,'' Sveum said. ``It got away from him his last time throwing too many breaking balls.''
Garza (1-0) knew it too, ignoring the healthy wind blowing out and sticking to his game plan.
``My game plan the last couple starts had gotten away from who I was, and I went back to what got me here--and I liked it.''
So did his teammates, who backed him with another powerful day at the plate and defensively in the field.
``It was a great team effort through and through,'' said Scott Hairston, the platoon outfielder who took his turn as hitting hero with a grand slam in the fourth off Wade Miley (3-5), his third career slam, the second in as many days for the Cubs, and one of three in the game.
The offense coming to life this week has played no small part in the win streak after a season-long six-game losing streak. But defense was what Sveum talked about before the game, and what Garza talked about after it.
``Guys were making plays all over the place,'' he said, picking Hairston's first inning catch at the wall of Paul Goldschmidt's would-be homer before any mention of the slam.
``Scottie going into the ivy--[David] DeJesus' play in shallow center [in the third] and [second baseman Darwin] Barney with that amazing play on [Jason] Kubel [a tumbling catch in short right field in the seventh.
``As a pitcher, you want to get them involved. You don't want 27 strikeouts.''
Garza already proven he has the stuff for that before a stress reaction in his right arm and then a strained lat kept him out of the game for 10 months.
In his third start since returning, he was as happy about going seven innings as he was about the victory.
``I was just going to go out and pound the zone early,'' he said, limiting the D'backs to six hits, three of them coming in the sixth when they scored their two runs. ``I was more pumped about doing deep [in the game.] High pitch counts early are not who I am.''
He is now part of a surprising starting pitching staff that seems ready to force the toughest of decisions on management as the summer progresses.
After a dismal April (10-16), the Cubs went 13-14 in May, including a six-game losing streak.
What has changed is a reviving offense, steadier bullpen and improving defense.
``There were some very poor things going on early in the season, but after the first two weeks, getting Barney back [from the disabled list] every single day obviously is going to shore up your defense,'' Sveum said. ``But everything else has been clicking a lot better.''
That includes the bullpen that added two more scoreless innings Friday, lowering its ERA in the last nine games to 1.08 (3 ER/25 innings).
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Bob Brenly will get to sit in his familiar Wrigley Field broadcast booth Saturday as part of the Fox-TV crew covering the 6:30 p.m. game against the Diamondbacks.
But Brenly, who spent a total of 10 years doing radio and television in two different tours with the Cubs, still looks familiar around Wrigley Field despite working now for the Diamondbacks and Fox.
``I'm very lucky,'' the former catcher, coach and manager said of his broadcast career. ``I've always said you never burn bridges.''
Brenly left after last season when Ch. 9 and Comcast SportsNet weren't willing to commit to more than a two-year contract. He quickly joined the Diamondbacks--again--where he had been first a broadcaster and then manager for three seasons, including the 2001 season when Arizona won the World Series.
Brenly, who lives in the Phoenix area, signed a five-year deal with the Diamondbacks.
Brenly praises his replacement, longtime Houston broadcaster and former pitcher Jim Deshaies, who now teams with Len Kasper.
``He's great, and that's why we always had him in the booth when Houston would come to town,'' Brenly said. ``The only problem is--he's a pitcher. And I don't think he plays a musical instrument.''
Brenly and Kasper often teamed as a musical duo for fundraising events.
Though mentioned as a managerial candidate for jobs in the past, Brenly said broadcasting probably would remain his baseball profession now.
``You never know what might happen, but I think that [possibility] has passed,'' he said.
Brenly's son Michael, a catcher whom the Cubs drafted in 2008, was released by the Cubs after spring training in March but he is currently playing for the Diamondbacks' Class AAA team in Reno.
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Could Marmol return to Cubs' closer role?

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With all the bullpen shuffling in recent days, Carlos Marmol has quietly moved into a larger, late-inning role among the setup crew

With more than four months left in the season, is it possible he could return to the closer role this year?

"That's my goal," he said.

"To be honest with you, I hope not," said his manager, Dale Sveum.

Sveum got a lot of laughs for the comment before Thursday's game, but it was more about Mr. Perfect, Kevin Gregg, than it was about Marmol.

"I mean, not taking anything away from [Marmol]; he's pitched really good in what he's had to do," Sveum said. "But that obviously means that Gregg's not doing a very good job, and he's done a great job."

Or, more likely, it would mean Gregg (6-for-6 in saves with 0.00) is gone in a trade at the July deadline.

"We'll cross those bridges when we get to them," Sveum said. "We're worried about today. I'm not worried about what happens in trade deadlines and all that."

Marmol, who lost his closer job a week into the season, has added motivation for regaining his old job as he tries to build at least modest value looking ahead at free agency in the fall.

"Of course," he said. "That's the job I've been doing for three years, four years. I want to go back there. But I'm just trying to get people out first - get comfortable out there and get people out."

He says he's comfortable now and has a 1.77 ERA in 20 appearances since losing his ninth-inning role, albeit with 26 runners allowed via hit (12), walk (12) and hit batters (2) in that span.

He pitched a 1-2-3 eighth against the 3-4-5 hitters in the Sox lineup Thursday.

It's been one of Marmol's tougher seasons, with a sexual-assault civil case still unresolved, the quick demotion and even that day a few weeks ago when he and his agents were victims of social-media eavesdropping.

"It's getting better," he said, leaning back with his feet propped up in the clubhouse. "I don't want to say it's tough. It's too early. There's a lot of time left this season."

Hockey was still on the minds of baseball players Thursday, with many of the Cubs and White Sox having attended the Blackhawks decisive game against Detroit on Wednesday night. ``I used to watch games with my dad,'' said Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija, who joined Sox captain Paul Konerko in the ``Shoot the Puck'' promotion during the game. ``I was on the far side when they scored the winning goal. It was just exciting, and afterward going home and seeing how excited everyone was, it was just great. They're a great team to watch and something to be admired in sports.'' Konerko, who grew up playing hockey, had seats at the glass and watched with teammate Adam Dunn and others. ``I had a great time. It was better with the Hawks winning but it was a good game. You could see the guys were leaving it out there.'' Konerko admitted the ``fan's perspective'' of watching the sport was unique. ``For me, the fun part was seeing the fans so into it,'' he said. ``There was a guy to my right who was yelling at [Brent] Seabrook the whole time. He was a Hawks fan but he didn't like him. Then after the game [and Seabrook's winning overtime goal,] the guy is cheering.'' About 25 members of the Sox attended the game, including pitcher Chris Sale who was at his first hockey game. The Cubs' contingent included former pitcher Kerry Wood, who has been a longtime Hawks fan and friend of players on the team.


The worst came true Wednesday for Cubs relief pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa, who must undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
The Japanese star who was signed to a two-year, $9.5 million deal, will miss the rest of the season, the latest injury setback for the pitching staff.
No date for the surgery is set yet, but general manager Jed Hoyer said the team is hopeful he can return next summer.
For now, though, the bullpen must shuffle again.
``Everyone has their injuries,'' manager Dale Sveum said.
``Obviously we get hit with a big blow. But other people have to step up and fill big shoes.''
He said Carlos Marmol, who has been pitching well of late, will go into the setup role with lefty James Russell. Rafael Dolis and newly acquired Alex Burnett will be middle inning pitchers.
``Any time somebody leaves, someone else has to step up,'' said closer Kevin Gregg, whose acquisition last month has turned into a major one for the team. ``Carlos has been throwing well, so he can step up.
``But it's a big blow because [Fujikawa] has experience late in games and he was throwing well.''
Fujikawa had trouble immediately as the season began, and went on the disabled list in mid-April with what was described as a right forearm strain. He returned May 10 and pitched well in his last seven appearances--until walking off his last outing in Cincinnati Sunday shaking his arm.
He was put on the disabled list again, with a subsequent MRI revealing the elbow ligament tear.
``We could tell early in the season the guy we saw wasn't the guy we knew,'' Hoyer said of Fujikawa's problems.
The Cubs also have reliever Shawn Camp sidelined with a strained right big toe while Scott Baker, who was signed as a starter in the off season, remains on the 60 day disabled list continuing to recuperate from Tommy John surgery he had in April, 2012.
Another pitching prospect, Arodys Vizcaino, who was acquired from Atlanta last season at the trade deadline in the deal involving pitcher Paul Maholm, also continues to recover from Tommy John surgery from March, 2012.
He had a setback this week requiring arthroscopic debridement surgery near the elbow, pushing back his rehab another six weeks.
``Unfortunately guys get hurt,'' Gregg said. ``You don't wish it on anyone. [Fujikawa] was out there battling.
``The whole team has a flow, not just the bullpen,'' he said. ``With the injuries we've had, it disrupts the whole team. Hopefully we can get through it and start to win more games.''
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Cubs' Jackson rights ship, then sunk by storm

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In a season where little has gone right for Edwin Jackson, he finally seemed to put it all together against the White Sox Tuesday night - only to see the heavens intervene and wipe out another start early.

Jackson retired seven of the eight batters he faced before a hard rain ended his start - and more than an hour later ended the game. He had his previous start, last week in Pittsburgh, ended after three innings by a rain delay.

"One of those things," said the Cubs' $52 million free agent acquisition. "Sometimes when you're having a season like I'm having, that's how it is. You feel good, something happens. You feel bad, something happens.

"Back-to-back rainouts might be a first in my career, though."

Jackson is 1-7 with a 6.11 ERA in 10 official starts.

The Cubs led 2-0 on Welington Castillo's second-inning, two-run homer off Sox ace Chris Sale when the game was halted.

It has not been rescheduled. Cubs manager Dale Sveum speculated the teams' June 24 mutual open date would be a reasonable time to play the game.

"You hate to waste any time when you get up 2-0 against a pitcher like Sale," Sveum said. "It's too bad the game had to be canceled that quick. We knew that rain was coming."

He especially liked what he saw from Jackson - and seemed especially disappointed the right-hander's sharp start was scuttled.

"He came out throwing the ball really well," Sveum said, just a few days after publicly saying it was up to a veteran like Jackson to solve his own problems and break his funk. "He obviously had a lot of conviction and velocity from the get-go - 92-93-mph cutters as well as his fastball at 96. That's the guy we want to go out there all the time - 86-87-mph sliders and velocity from the get-go, and then see what happens from there."

Right-hander Arodys Vizcaino, the well regarded prospect coming off Tommy John surgery who the Cubs got in the Paul Maholm trade last July, had his comeback abruptly cut short by an unrelated issue in the elbow and could be out the rest of the season.

Vizcaino, whose original healthy-spring prognosis already had been pushed back to an expected July debut, had arthroscopic surgery to clean out a calcium buildup in the elbow after Dr. James Andrews examined him Tuesday for recent discomfort.

Vizcaino, 22, is to be shut down for six weeks before restarting a throwing program and probably is looking at a 2013 debut in the Arizona Fall League. Best-case scenario for a Cubs debut seems to be next April.

Vizcaino, who was considered a key part of the Cubs' rebuilding process as a potential impact starting pitcher, was in Chicago during the last homestand to have his throwing supervised by the big-league staff.

The team said nothing then about any issue with the elbow.



Maybe it's something in the water in Northwest Indiana, maybe something in all those decades of slag runoff that helped create an industrial-strength homegrown baseball hero.

Whatever it is, Cubs' ace Jeff Samardzija seems to think it had something to do with his career-best dominance of an opponent Monday night in his two-hit shutout of the White Sox.

Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Samardzija has proven his mettle in every big game he's started over the last two years, attributing that big-game performance boost to the stuff of No. 1 pitchers.

But is it more mettle? Or metal?

"I don't know, I've just kind of always been that way as long as I can remember," said the former Notre Dame football star of his big-game attitude after the 7-0 victory over the Sox. "Sometimes you can lull me to sleep with other games that aren't that important. That's something I've got to get better at as a player - that every day is the same, regardless of who you're playing or the situation."

For now, there's definitely nothing better than driving from Indiana, where he still lives, to pitch at the South Side park he used to go to as a fan when he was a kid, and in this case with all his family at the game.

"I love this place, man," he said. "There's just a comfort level when you get to sleep in your own bed and drive 15 minutes to the park and come play.

"You've got the smell of the steel mills in the background. It's not the most beautiful scent in the world. But it smells like home."

Matt Garza just smiled Monday after Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker called him out for blasting Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto Sunday after Cueto threw a pitch over the head of Cubs teammate David DeJesus.

Baker told Mark Sheldon of mlb.com: "You got something to say, you go over there and tell him. Johnny ain't running. ... Just put them in a room, let them box and let it be like hockey. Let them fight, somebody hits the ground, and then it'll be over with. I'm serious about that."

Garza - who said Sunday that Cueto needs to "grow the hell up" and "if he has something to say he knows where to find my locker, and definitely I'll find his" - shrugged off Baker's comments as if following a company line already echoed by his manager and GM.

"We take things day to day, and today we have the White Sox," Garza said. "New day, new game. And go Samardzija."

Teammate Alfonso Soriano laughed at Baker's fight comments and said he's got $200 bucks that says Garza wins the fight.

"If they fight, I bet on Garza, because he's my teammate," Soriano said, "I bet a couple hundred. ... And I want to be the judge. Garza wins all three rounds. No matter what happens."

If there's a serious side of the issue for the Cubs - beyond the teams' next series in two weeks - it's the fact a player showed the kind of competitive anger and intensity often missing from this team the past two or three years.

A player who could be gone as a free agent in a few months.

"You want that fire-iness and that fight," GM Jed Hoyer said. "We lost Game 7 of the [2008] ALCS [while with Boston] in part because of that mentality, and he came in [with Tampa Bay] and just dominated us. He wants the ball in big spots, and he's a great teammate and always on the top step cheering his teammates on.

"That toughness and that fire is something you always want. We need a lot of guys like that."

Angry Garza to Cueto: "Grow the hell up"

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CINCINNATI - Maybe Matt Garza is what the Cubs have been missing all season.

The hard-charging Cubs' starter couldn't pitch past the fourth inning Sunday, but he was still fighting for teammates long after the game ended - fired up about the sixth-inning pitch Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto threw over David DeJesus's head and to the backstop as apparent consequence for DeJesus stepping out of the box and lingering during his at-bats.

"It's immature on his part and totally uncalled for," Garza said, adding Cueto needs to "learn to grow the hell up. ... He's lucky that retaliation isn't in our vocabulary here. ... It's BS on his part, just total immaturity.

"And if he has something to say about it, he knows where to find my locker, and definitely I'll find his. I took total disrespect out of that one."

The Cueto pitch drew a warning to both benches from home plate ump Bob Davidson and "probably woke us up as much as anything," manager Dale Sveum said.

The Cubs rallied for a run in the seventh off Cueto and three more in the eighth off Logan Ondrusek to tie the game they eventually won 5-4 in the 10th - snapping a six-game losing streak and adding at least a healthy dose of intrigue to the next series against the Reds, in two weeks at Wrigley Field.

DeJesus and Garza both said they had no personal history with Cueto - who bailed on the postgame clubhouse before reporters could talk to him.

"I'm not going to speculate anything, but I think it fired up our team, gave us a little edge and we were able to come back," DeJesus said. "That's how I want to take it."

Garza wasn't in the mood to be so generous when it came to a pitcher with a spotty reputation that includes kicking former teammate Jason LaRue in the head so hard during a 2010 brawl that the resulting concussion symptoms ended LaRue's career.

"Cueto should learn you don't go after a guy's head," Garza said. "DeJesus has never done anything wrong. He plays the game the right way. If Cueto has any problem, he can throw at me, and I'll definitely return the favor. I didn't like that one bit.

"I hope he hears this, because I really don't care. ... I don't know what the deal is between him and Zeus, but he needs to cut it out because I'll stop it. I'll stop it."

Said DeJesus of Garza: "It's good when you know your boys are behind you. He's one of those guys that's always going to stand behind you, and that's why he's a great teammate."


By Toni Ginnetti and Gordon Wittenmyer

The crosstown Cubs-White Sox series is a city rivalry, but this season it becomes a family rivalry, too.
In this corner, Buddy Bell, the White Sox assistant general manager.
In that corner, son David Bell, the third base coach for the Cubs.
But this will be a kid-gloves battle at best.
``I managed against him a few times when he was playing with Cleveland and Seattle,'' said dad Buddy, who managed the Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies and Kansas City Royals at times when David was playing for Cleveland and Cincinnati. ``I didn't have much fun managing against him.''
This time dad will get to watch from the executive suites while son David is on the field in his first season with the Cubs.
``We've always kind of had situations like that and we always talk about it,'' David said. ``I think it's always been more difficult for him because I could just go out and play.
``But now it's a little different, having different roles in our respective organizations. It's something I haven't given a whole lot of thought to, even with this series coming up, other than just being able to see him--which we've gotten to do quite a bit living in the same city, which has been great.''
For Buddy, that has been the best part.
``We get to see our grandchildren more than we see David, but that's been great,'' Buddy said. ``Obviously when our club is on the road, the Cubs are home, but I'm here a lot more now than I've ever been [Bell was the vice president of player development and special assignments before this season] so I've been able to see them. It's been great.''
David Bell, 40, played in the majors for 12 seasons and was a third base coach and manager for four years in Cincinnati's system, including managing the Reds' Class AAA team in Louisville last season.
``He likes it here,'' Buddy said of his son's first major league coaching experience. ``He likes the coaching staff and he played at the big league level for a long time so he's used to that environment.''
David's family has had an easy time adjusting to Chicago, partly because of the years coming to the city as a player but also because his wife attended Loyola University.
``Most of the family is in Cincinnati, which isn't that far, so we'd get to see everyone, but this has been fun,'' said Buddy, whose baseball family was started by patriarch Gus and includes son Mike, who is player development director for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and son Ricky, who played in the Los Angeles Dodgers system for 10 seasons.
``We've been doing this for so many seasons, it seems no matter where we play there's a connection with my sons,'' Buddy said.
But being in the same city is a new and welcome novelty, David said.
``We've never really been in the same city during the course of a season, so it's been really nice for my family to get that time together.
`` We've always had a close family--five kids in our family.
``My mom and dad both did a great job of keeping us all together, even though with baseball you do a lot of traveling and a busy life. But we've always been really close and stayed in touch.
``As much as we're all busy doing our own thing, to always have the game in common has been a real blessing.''
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Andre Dawson rarely misses a chance to come to Chicago, the ex-Cub and Hall of Fame outfielder still fond of the place where his career made its greatest turn.
But coming to Chicago this weekend with the Miami Marlins as they faced the White Sox was more special personally. It is the first road trip Dawson has made since his recovery from prostate cancer during the winter.
``I feel good,'' said Dawson, a longtime special assistant to Marlins president David Samson. ``The doctor told me he's 99.9 percent confident I'm cancer-free,'' he said.
Dawson, 58, was first warned about his risk during a routine exam in spring training of 2012 that revealed elevated PSA levels. He saw a doctor in October, and a biopsy confirmed the fears. ``I just wanted it out,'' Dawson said of opting for surgery. ``But we had to wait six weeks [after the biopsy.] I had the surgery Dec. 18. The doctor told me he didn't find anything else in the area or the lymph nodes.''
Dawson lost 20 pounds after the surgery, but his strength and stamina has returned progressively--along with a positive mental outlook after going through what he admits was a shocking and sobering diagnoses.
His doctor had asked him if Dawson would consider speaking out about prostate cancer awareness and the importance of checkups for early detection.
``He said `you can speak to a predominantly male audience. I'm just a doctor.' I told him I understood what he was saying, but I wanted to be sure first I was cancer-free.''
They teamed in late April in a press conference at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center to reveal his experience. Dawson also has made Public Service Announcements promoting prostate cancer awareness and the importance of early detection.
It's a cause as important to him now as helping the young Marlins whom he helps coach.
``You hear cancer and you're scared, but the doctor told me `you're going to be fine.' ''

Cubs' Soriano more likely to waive no-trade rights

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CINCINNATI - The reality of the latest five-game losing streak staring him in the face and the news of Curtis Granderson's latest injury less than 24 hours old, Alfonso Soriano knew what question was coming before it was asked Saturday.

"Yeah," Soriano said, he's more likely to consider waiving his no-trade rights than he thought he might a few months ago. "But it depends on them. It depends what the team wants.

"A chance to win, that's the most important thing. But it depends on the front office. It's not on me."

Soriano rejected a possible trade to San Francisco last summer in the early stages of talks between the teams. He said during spring training he was optimistic about the Cubs getting off to a good start and wouldn't consider the possibility of being asked to waive his no-trade rights.

And he still says, "It's something that I don't want to think about now. But if it comes up in four or five weeks, then maybe I'll think about it."

Soriano's age (37), early performance (.690 OPS) and contract (about $30 million through 2014) make him a lukewarm trade target at best. And the Cubs aren't rushing to simply dump him, considering his strong clubhouse presence and the fact they'd have to pick up most of his remaining salary regardless of the deal.

But when teams such as the Yankees suddenly find themselves with a need because of things like Granderson's broken knuckle, Soriano's name is sure to be brought up. And if he goes on one of his patented midseason streaks - as he did during a 32-homer season last year - he could even turn into a hot topic again by July.

And if the season continues to play out the way it has so far for the Cubs, he's not as likely to stand in the way of a deal as he was last year.

"The way we play and the way the starting rotation has been, to me it's not acceptable to have the record that we have," he said. "That makes me more mad, makes me angry, because the way the starting rotation is pitching you're not supposed to have that kind of record."

Soriano said he hasn't given much thought to where he'd be willing to go in a trade and also hasn't ruled out any place.

"Right now I don't have like one in my mind that I want to go to that team," he said. "My team is here, and I'm trying to get better to see if we can start playing better and making a run."

If anything, the other team he's thinking most about is the Los Angeles Angels - who got their seventh straight win Saturday to move to five games under .500 after a terrible start.

"We can do that, too. We have a very good rotation and a good team," Soriano said. "If we want to start playing better, there's a lot of time left."

Post-contract pressure for Cubs' Rizzo?

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CINCINNATI -- Mired in a deepening slump, without a hit since Saturday, $41-million first baseman Anthony Rizzo showed up in the clubhouse Friday with his once-curly locks suddenly straightened.

Aerodynamics? "Yeah, I'm trying to steal more bases," he cracked, smiling.

The new look did nothing to change a week-old trend for the lefty slugger, who went hitless in five more at-bats, including a strikeout, Friday night as the Cubs lost for the fifth straight game - 7-4 in Cincinnati.

It seems clear the 23-year-old kid with the new seven-year contract - less than two months into his first full season in the big leagues - is pressing.

During the Cubs' five-game skid, Rizzo, the No. 3 hitter in the order, is 0-for-22 with nine strikeouts. Before the first strikeout in that stretch, on Sunday, he had gone 39 straight at-bats without a strikeout and was on a .390 tear that had lasted more than three weeks.

"I guess we can always call it different things," manager Dale Sveum said, "but there's definitely an urgency. He's not taking his walks. He's just kind of swinging, guessing. There's a lot more movement than he normally has at the plate."

Could Rizzo benefit from a "mental day" off?

"I guess a lot of people here could use that right now," Sveum said.

Trade deadline already looms for Cubs

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CINCINNATI - The feeling of inevitability is sinking in as the Cubs approach June buried in the standings and looking at another July roster purge that could involve everybody from Friday's starting pitcher and closer to the entire starting outfield that takes the field against the Cincinnati Reds.

"You're running up on a couple months away now," manager Dale Sveum said of the looming July 31 trade deadline. "So you're trying to put things together where you pull off some streaks and winning months and winning weeks, to give yourself a chance to give yourself hope - no question about it.

"But we all know that if we don't, there can be changes."

Until a lost home series against the moribund New York Mets last weekend and a wrong-way sweep in Pittsburgh that followed, players routinely talked about getting back to .500, making an extended run and forcing the front office to consider adding instead of selling off.

But as Scott Feldman headed to the mound Friday, he looked as much like the team's best trading chip than its best chance to win the opener of a three-game series against the Reds.

Closer Kevin Gregg, center fielder David DeJesus and possibly pitchers such as Matt Garza and even James Russell could be on the brink of being shopped.

Fifty-nine games remain before the deadline, with 37 against teams with winning records - and 21 against teams that entered Friday in first place or tied for first.

Toe jam: Cubs' Camp kept injury quiet

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Struggling reliever Shawn Camp was placed on the disabled list Wednesday for a sprained toe the team says he kept quiet for much of the past month.

"He got treatment for on Sunday to kind of start the process and just [aggravated] it, and the inflammation got too bad or whatever," he said. "I think for a while it's just been getting tough to push of the mound. We've got to give it time to settle down."

By the time Camp alerted team officials to the problem Sunday, it was too late to prevent reliever Michael Bowden from being designated for assignment to make roster room for Matt Garza. Had the club know sooner, and known the severity, Sveum said, Camp would have been put on the DL then, with Bowden staying with the club.

"That would have been the obvious move," he said. "We didn't know it was that extensive."

Camp, who gave up a decisive grand slam in Tuesday's loss to Pittsburgh, didn't indicate how significant the issue was even after Sunday as he tried to pitch through it, said Sveum, who suggested it could have contributed to Camp's decreased velocity and effectiveness.

Camp, who has a 7.56 ERA and three blown saves, could be in for a lengthy DL stay. He's been ordered to stay off the foot as much as possible to let the pain subside before resuming baseball activity.

And Camp, who left the team to return home for that part of the recovery, might need a minor-league rehab assignment after that, Sveum said.

Cubs top officials meet with Oklahoma's Gray

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With barely two weeks left before the Cubs make what could be the defining draft pick of this second-year regime, top front office officials are gathering the final - and finest details - on the few players they're considering for the No. 2 overall selection on June 6.

Team president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer, top scouting/player development executive Jason McLeod and amateur scouting director Jaron Madison are in Oklahoma City today to meet with Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray - one of the top two pitchers in the draft.

The Big-12 tournament opens in Oklahoma City Thursday.

The 6-4, 239-pound Gray is the more powerful of the draft's top pair of pitchers, but Stanford right-hander Mark Appel - a senior who refused to sign after being drafted eighth overall a year ago - is considered the more refined pitcher.

Barring unforeseen issues arising with either pitcher in the next two weeks, the Cubs are expected to take whichever pitcher the Houston Astros do not take with the No. 1 overall pick.

Given the dearth of potential impact pitchers in the Cubs' system and the diminishing means of acquiring free agent talent in the current baseball economy, this Cubs' pick could have a disproportionate impact on the team's rebuilding effort.

Appel, who's represented by Scott Boras, rejected a $3.8 million offer by the Pittsburgh Pirates last year after falling to eighth following several draft projections that had him going No. 1 overall.

The Cubs have $10.56 allotted by MLB for draft bonuses to their top 10 picks, with more than half of that slotted for their top pick.

Teams can exceed their overall "budget" by 5 percent before losing future draft picks as penalties.

Camp Rocked: Cubs reliever can't find '12 form

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PITTSBURGH - So what's wrong with Shawn Camp?

The right-handed reliever manager Dale Sveum considered one of his team MVPs last year - a guy whose 80 appearances was tied for the major league lead - has lost velocity since then and has struggled more than anyone still toiling in the Cubs' beleaguered bullpen.

On this night, Camp's hanging changeup was the biggest bullpen culprit in ruining Matt Garza's impressive return from the disabled list - with pinch-hitter Travis Snider clobbering it for the game-changing grand slam in a 5-4 loss to Pittsburgh.

He was the third reliever in a five-run Pirates' sixth after Garza handed the pen a 3-0 lead following five scoreless, one-hit innings.

It was the Cubs' 10th blown save already this season. Camp has three of them - to go with a 7.56 ERA that's more than twice as high as last year's ERA.

"It's hard to pin-point," Sveum said of Camp's struggles this year compared to last. "First and foremost when guy like that loses 2-3 mph on his fastball, everything else is a little short. That's where we are."

Camp, whose 2012 success earned him a $1.35 million deal this year, said his velocity's no different.

"The ball was just up. It was just up," he said. "That happens. I've just got to work down."

Said Sveum: "He's having trouble getting the balls up to 87 mph right now. So the spin on the slider's going to be less, the arm speed on the slider's going to be less. Everything's a little short right now."

After dismissing the velocity issue, Camp was asked whether he's having problems with his changeup and snapped at the reporter - "that's irrelevant."

"Sometimes you go in these ruts, and you just have to get your way out of them," said Camp, whose struggles might be magnified with the larger issues of a bullpen that has been a key weakness for the club so far. "I really don't know what to say about it. It was just, [if I] get the guy out in front of it, and he pops it up, nobody's talking about it."


The Cubs are starting games off with a surprisingly strong rotation that figures to get even better today with Matt Garza's return.
But they are finishing games off better as well since the unexpected return of Kevin Gregg.
After shuffling the closer deck several times among Carlos Marmol, Kyuji Fujikawa and a committee of others, manager Dale Sveum seems to have found his ace.
``He's been perfect [in six save opportunities],'' Sveum said. ``He's a guy who's been in that situation many times in his career and he knows how to get those last three outs.''
Gregg's first time in a Cubs uniform came in 2009, the team acquiring him from the Florida Marlins because he was a proven closer.
Gregg had 23 saves then in what was an all-around disappointing season for the Cubs. But after three seasons in the American League with Toronto (37 saves) and Baltimore (22 saves), Gregg found his way back to Wrigley Field only because the Los Angeles Dodgers, pitching-rich in spring, didn't have room for him despite a near-flawless 0.82 ERA in 11 innings.
``I love the vibe that's here,'' he said of wanting to return. ``I love the attitude, the approach. I wish everybody else had the same opinion.
``I think people on the outside look at us as a rebuilding team because of last year, so a lot of fans and media are looking at what is two or three or four years down the road. Well, as players, we're about now. We want to do it now. We see potential in this clubhouse now.''
Since Gregg signed a minor league contract April 15 and was immediately promoted, he has made 11 appearances without allowing an earned run (10 innings.) He recorded his 150th career save on May 12 against Washington.
The bullpen collectively had only four saves in 13 opportunities before that.
``Closing is a mindset,'' he said. ``You have to want those three outs and handle those three outs without letting the emotions get involved, without letting the game speed up on you. It's something I've done for a while and where I'm comfortable.''
The opportunities are coming because the rest of the pitching is jelling, he said.
``It starts with the starters,'' he said. ``Those are five quality arms--and we have Garza coming back--so its six guys who can pitch well. That allows the bullpen to be put into the right position.''
The irony of Gregg's success--and for that matter, the success of the starters--is that it could make him more valuable to a contending team as the July 31 trade deadline nears.
``I don't really think about it because that's trying to predict the future, and you can't,'' he said. ``This team could easily put together a pretty good win streak and pretty good couple of months and then you're in a whole different position on where you want to be at the end of July.
``That would allow us to make them [Cubs management] make the decision of what they want to do and how they want to go about this rebuilding process.''
Gregg is among the players who see a promising summer now.
``Is this an All-Star studded lineup? No, but does it have potential? It does,'' he said.
``I just wish this team could get more credit. We're not a 100-loss team. We're a team that can compete every day. Even in the losses, we're not being blown out. We have a chance to win every game. I wish people would start to focus on `these guys are competing. We can do this.'
``Fans want to see their team compete and have a chance to win. As long as you have that, you feel you have a chance to put together a solid season.''


Ryan Dempster got to play with his son Brady Monday the way he had for years when he pitched for the Cubs.
But this was a brief few days of father-son fun, and it happened at U.S. Cellular Field where Dempster will be the this week as a visiting member of the Boston Red Sox.
After nine seasons on the North Side, Dempster still has a home here and Brady is still in school here, so the visit is special on many fronts.
``Chicago will always be home,'' the native of British Columbia, Canada said. ``It was nice to pick him up from school and come here. But it will be different now until school is over.
``You play somewhere for a long time and you have visions of playing there the rest of your career, and at the same time you understand the business.
``I felt honored to be a Chicago Cub and wear the uniform, and the way I was treated from ownership to the front office to the coaches was first class. I'm so grateful and thankful for the opportunity to have worn the uniform for that long.''
Dempster was traded to the Texas Rangers in the July 31 deadline move. The Rangers reached the American League playoffs.
But he signed as a free agent with Boston after the season.
``The trade last year was to a good place and I was pretty lucky. I had a tremendous time. But it's been awesome here.
``I didn't know what to expect. There are expectations for the team, but I don't think they're higher for us as individuals. It's been a blast and we've gotten off to a good start, too.''
Dempster (2-4, 4.27 ERA) won't face the White Sox, but he is part of a staff that ranks just behind the Sox in the top five in the American League.
The Red Sox also are legitimate World Series contenders.
``That was the reason I chose to go there,'' he said. ``The way the team as come together, the talent that was there, they had as much chance as any team to get there. We're playing good baseball. We just went through a rough patch and we're still right there. It's been a lot of fun and it's exciting.''
The irony of playing for two iconic teams in baseball's two most unique parks isn't lost on him.
``How lucky am I to have both those places as my home ball park, my home office,'' he said of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. ``They're both unique and special in their own rights. I just loved playing in Wrigley Field and getting a chance to go there every day. And now going to Fenway, walking through the park and seeing everything before the action, it's different in some sense ,but there's that old tradition and nostalgia.''

Cubs pitching continues strong, with left-hander Travis Wood getting his ninth straight quality start Sunday--a first since 1908 when Mordecai Brown had 11 straight.
But Cubs hitting continues to struggle with men in scoring position, something that cost Wood in a 4-3 loss to the New York Mets, giving them the weekend series and the Cubs a 3-3 home stand.
``We had opportunities to break it open,'' manager Dale Sveum said of the 1-for-10 performance with runners in scoring position. ``We got guys to third base. Our biggest goal going forward is getting those guys in from third.''
The only hit in the category came from Wood, who belted his first homer of the season in the fifth with catcher Welington Castillo at second after a double. It was the second homer by a Cubs starter--Jeff Samardzija has the other--and gave the starting five bragging rights to 11 RBI and five doubles so far.
``We have some good athletes who can swing the bat, and it's been a huge bonus,'' Sveum said. ``It's too bad we couldn't win it after Woody's homer there gave us a 2-0 lead.''
The Cubs had another homer from Ryan Sweeney (first) leading the sixth, two innings after he led the fourth with a double he tried to stretch to a triple, not successfully in the eyes of umpire Manny Gonzalez. Ex-Cub Marlon Byrd made the throw from right field, his second such assist in the series.
But there was a Cub at third in the first when lead off man David DeJesus doubled and advanced on Starlin Castro's fly out. Anthony Rizzo struck out for the first time in 39 at-bats and Nate Schierholtz grounded out.
DeJesus was at second again with one out in the fifth after Wood's homer, and Schierholtz was at third with no outs in the sixth after Sweeney's blast.
Neither got home.
``It's tough sometimes but everyone is trying to bring in the runs,'' said Castro, who hit two deep flies held in by the wind. ``It didn't happen today but we're trying to get the job done.''
Castillo and Wood credited Mets starter Dillon Gee, who stopped any rallies despite giving up eight hits, and the relief corps that followed him, including Greg Burke, Scott Rice (2-3) and Bobby Parnell (6th save). Those three didn't allow a hit in the last three innings.
``Today was one of those games where I was fortunate to get deep into the game, but Gee did a good job of keeping us off balance,'' Wood said. ``That's just good, clean baseball.''
The Mets didn't score against Wood until the sixth when Daniel Murphy beat out a potential double play. He went to second on a Wood wild pitch before Justin Turner struck out, then scored on David Wright's single.
The Mets scored again with two outs in the seventh when Ruben Tejada blooped a single over the infield before Juan Lagares hit his first major league homer on a 2-2 pitch.
``I wish I could have that one pitch back,'' Wood said. ``That's baseball. He was able to foul off some pitches. As soon as it left my hand, I didn't feel good about it.''
The winning run was another solo homer from Murphy off Kyuji Fujikawa (1-1) leading the eighth.
``We've been pitching great, including Woody today,'' Castillo said. ``We just need to make some pitches when we need to. You have to make plays and you have to make pitches.
``Everyone is trying to do his part and everyone tries their best with men on base. Sometimes [the opposition] makes their pitch, and that's baseball.''
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The San Francisco Giants have won two of the last three World Series on the strength of dominating pitching--the baseball component every manager wants most.
Starting pitching is the best component now for the Cubs, who still must improve defensively and hit more productively.
``There's no question that's where it all starts,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``You can use the Giants as an example and how deep their starters go in the game. There are so many different matchups you can do [at the end of games] when you get through those first seven innings, so many ways you can shorten the game.
``And when your bullpen sets up the way it is, it's a nice thing to have in your back pocket.
``What these guys have done is given us a chance in almost every game,'' Sveum said of the rotation. ``The one thing we haven't had is hitting with runners in scoring position [third worst in baseball at .218], to get that fourth and fifth run in, but those things are starting to pick up.''
In the last eight games, the Cubs have hit .368 (25-58) with runners in scoring position.
Cubs pitching is holding the opposition to a .252 average with runners in scoring position.

LEADING THE WAY
David DeJesus has been on a hot streak, hitting .324 (36-111) in the last 33 games with nine doubles, a triple, five home runs, 15 RBI, 13 walks and 24 runs scored.
He also is among the leaders in how many pitches he sees per at-bat (4.9).
``It seems like he sees at least seven,'' Sveum said. ``You're talking about one of the better leadoff hitters in the game. You can't ask for much more than his OPS [on base/slugging percentage--now at .861].''

AGE IS A NUMBER
Sveum takes issue with calling the Cubs a young team. ``We have a couple young players but you have guys who have played 300 to 400 major league games,'' he said. ``Everyone but [Anthony] Rizzo has three or four years in the majors and some in the minors under their belts.''
Starlin Castro, 23, is the team's youngest player but is in his fourth major league season.

SURGING SOLER
Prospect Jorge Soler is hitting .643 (9-for-14) in his last three games, with a double, home run, five runs scored and two RBI at Class A Daytona. He is hitting .303 overall.
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How improbable is it for a team with a sub-.500 record to have one of the best starting rotations in baseball--with the possibility it can get even better soon?

As improbable as the Cubs (18-24) with a starting staff boasting a 3.47 ERA, a major league-best .226 opponent batting average and 26 quality starts, tied for third most in the National League.

That is the staff that could improve even more if Matt Garza returns to form quickly when he is activated this week.

``Potentially, if these guys keep throwing the ball the way they have the first six weeks, and with Garza coming back, once he settles in, it's got the potential to be one of the top rotations in the big leagues,'' manager Dale Sveum said.

It has all been improbable because so much of the quality has come from the off season acquisitions of pitchers turned loose by their former teams.

Scott Feldman, who had spent the last eight seasons with the Texas Rangers, may be the most remarkable.

His latest gem Saturday--6 2/3 innings of scoreless ball in the 8-2 victory over the New York Mets--was his fifth straight quality start and the seventh straight in which he has allowed two or less earned runs.

``It's hard to imagine how good he's been these last five starts, and the last four have been unbelieveable,'' Sveum said. ``The low stress and the length [of innings] he's given, the runs he's given up--there isn't a whole lot of opportunity for other teams to score other than solo homers. He's last five starts have been as good as anyone in baseball. It's been impressive.''

The only runs the Mets scored came in the ninth on Rick Ankiel's two-run homer off Hector Rondon.

The Cubs scored enough in the fourth for Feldman (4-3) off Jeremy Hefner (0-6), with Feldman aiding his own cause with a two-run double.

He has recorded a hit and RBI in three of his last four games.

``It's always fun to get a hit and help score some runs,'' he said. ``I'm sure [opposing pitchers] are happier facing us [pitchers] than [Anthony] Rizzo or [Nate] Schierholtz.''

Both Rizzo (10th) and Schierholtz (5th) hit solo homers to help Feldman, who has turned around an 0-3 record and 4.50 ERA to start the season to go 4-0 with a 1.28 ERA in his last five starts.

``He's not letting lefthanders beat him,'' Sveum said. ``His cutter has been incredible, where he's been able to locate it and keep lefthanders from getting [their arms] extended.

``He's been able to bounce his curveball when he has to and throw it for a strike early in the count. Everything is working.''

So is Feldman's confidence.

``I feel happy. My arm feels good. Mechanically, everything feels a lot better than it did in spring training,'' he said.

``The rotation has been doing well and the bullpen's been doing better,'' he added. ``Getting Garza back should be a big boost, but at the same time I feel for [Carlos] Villanueva [who will move to the bullpen] because he's done everything that he could. I've been in that situation and it's a tough one.

``But I think everyone is excited to get Garza back,'' he said. ``I don't know who will feed off who--whatever works. Just as long as we can keep doing our jobs and win the games we can and stay healthy and give our team a chance to win.''

-30-


Cubs pitcher Matt Garza admitted there was trepidation when he first took the mound for Class AA Tennessee last month, his first since last July.
``The only time I was nervous was when I made my first rehab in Tennessee. The first couple pitches I was a little worried, but then it was fine. Ever since then, there's been no doubt in my mind.''
There is no doubt anymore for the Cubs, who will return Garza to the rotation Tuesday in Pittsburgh, his first major league action since July 28. He missed the rest of the season with a stress reaction in his right elbow.
His hopes to return for the start of the season were set back in spring training when he suffered a strained left lat.
But Garza's minor league rehab outings have gone well, including the last one Thursday that confirmed what Garza felt--he was ready to return.
``When they told me to get six innings in and I did, that was the lobbying,'' he said Saturday.
Garza pitched six strong innings Thursday for Class AAA Iowa, with manager Dale Sveum admitting Garza had done everything asked of him.
``I'm happy I don't have to rehab again,'' he said. ``I just had to refresh some stuff from spring training, got the rust off.
``I feel great, ready to go Tuesday and can't wait.''
Sveum said the Cubs will move struggling starter Carlos Villanueva to the bullpen and make a corresponding roster move Tuesday, likely sending a relief pitcher to the minors.
Villanueva is 1-3 with a 3.93 ERA but is winless in his last five outings. He was hit hardest in his last three.
``I'm glad I didn't have to make the decision. I just had to force it,'' Garza said. ``He's a true professional and he'll do whatever he has to to help the team.''
Garza said the 10-month absence from the game was the longest he has ever experienced.
``It was tough mentally but I had my family, my wife and kids to help me through it,'' he said. ``The mental part was tough, one setback after another, but I'm glad I got through it and can't wait for Tuesday.''
-30-

Edwin Jackson was a long-term investment for the Cubs, who made the veteran righthander their signature off-season free agent signing.
The return on the four-year, $54 million investment is coming slowly despite another loss Friday to the New York Mets and their shining ace Matt Harvey (5-0).
``He threw a great ball game,'' manager Dale Sveum said of Jackson, who fell to 1-6 after the 3-2 loss at Wrigley Field. ``He threw strikes and did a good job. That's pretty much two well-pitched games in a row.''
Jackson won the last one, an 8-2 decision over Washington and the Nationals' young ace Stephen Strasburg.
But as well as Jackson pitched Friday, giving up solo home runs to David Wright (6th) in the first and Daniel Murphy (3rd) in the fourth, it was Harvey's bat that ended up hurting as much as his pitching.
Harvey was the last man Jackson would face, singling with two out in the seventh and Rick Ankiel at second after a double.
``It was a fastball that came back over the plate,'' Jackson said of the pitch to Harvey, whom manager Terry Collins didn't lift for a pinch hitter. ``Once someone has a bat in their hands, they're dangerous.''
Harvey is more dangerous on the mound, one of only five pitchers in Mets history to allow three or fewer runs in 16 consecutive starts. The last was two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, whose streak reached 21 games. Another Cy Young winner, Dwight Gooden, holds the franchise record of 24 games.
``We got two runs in the first inning and after that it was all his,'' said Alfonso Soriano, who singled in Starlin Castro in the first with Anthony Rizzo following on an errant throw home. ``He has very good command with everything he throws. Credit to him.''
Soriano fielded Harvey's single and tried to throw out Ankiel, but the bad throw allowed Harvey to reach second and was one of two more errors by the Cubs. Neither cost a run, the other coming in the ninth when Rizzo and catcher Welington Castillo collided and dropped a foul ball.
But an error of sorts did cost the Cubs a chance to tie the score in the eighth when third base coach David Bell sent Darwin Barney home trying to score from second on David DeJesus' single to right with one out off reliever Scott Rice.
Ex-Cub Marlon Byrd, who had come in as a pinch hitter and stayed to play right, threw out Barney easily at home.
``It was the wrong decision,'' said Bell, whose baseball family dates to grandfather Gus and dad Buddy, now vice president of player development with the White Sox. ``As a third base coach, you want to make the right decision and clearly that wasn't.''
Sveum, a former third base coach himself, talked to Bell after the game, but the manager admitted this was a game Harvey controlled.
``After the first inning, it was the Matt Harvey Show,'' he said. ``He's obviously the real deal, a lot of poise and velocity--and then the game winning hit.''
Jackson had something to show for the game, if not a victory but a season-high 6 2/3 innings and a third quality start.
``I've made some adjustments, mechanical things, and getting into a rhythm early,'' he said.
``Jackson pitched a good game,'' Soriano said. ``I'm sorry he got the loss.''
-30-

Matt Garza is ready to return to the rotation, which turns up the decision-making process now on the pitching staff.
After another quality outing with Class AAA Iowa, Garza wants to start pitching again, and manager Dale Sveum admitted Friday the righthander has done everything the team wanted.
``He was really good [Thursday night], very efficient with 75 pitchings in six innings, six strikeouts, his slider was better,'' Sveum said. ``Everything went according to plan and he stepped up. I like that.
``We could send him out again [on rehab], but he did what he was supposed to do.''
A decision on activating Garza--and deciding how the rotation changes--could come Saturday.
Sveum said Garza's durability isn't a question now.
``We've taken this slow. His durability is fine. He worked so hard, so that's probably the last thing we have to worry about with him.''

NEW LOOK
Carlos Villanueva came back from Thursday's off day with a new look--a trimmed, short beard replacing the pronounced handlebar mustache style.

Cubs' Samardzija ready to talk contract? "Absolutely not"

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He may not believe he's pitching for a contract, but Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija showed again Wednesday why the Cubs' front office considers him as much a core piece of its big plans as long-term-deal guys Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.

Two days after Rizzo's seven-year $41 million deal was announced, Samardzija had his best start since the opener, pitching eight powerful innings to beat the Colorado Rockies 6-3 - and lift the Cubs out of last and into a fourth-place tie with Milwaukee in the N.L. Central.

The Cubs have put Samardzija at the top of their list for a contract extension, but got little traction in talks last fall. Samardzija says he'd rather prove he's as good as he and the club thinks he is, and then talk deal.

Ready to talk now?

"Absolutely not," he said. "Nope. This is a great team, really coming around right now, playing great baseball. I'm just really looking to keep this going. It's fun to play with these guys."

Cubs ditch last -- move into 4th-place tie with 'W'

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It took a month, but the Cubs finally shed the last-place label they've been wearing most of the season.

Their 6-3 victory Wednesday night over the Colorado Rockies behind eight powerful innings from Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija lifted them into a tie for fourth place in the National League Central with the Milwaukee Brewers - who lost Wednesday to Pittsburgh.

"It's a good feeling," said new millionaire Anthony Rizzo, whose second hit drove in a run during the Cubs' three-run seventh.

Whether they can keep up this mini surge long enough to keep the team intact through the trading deadline is anything but certain. But a 6-3 stretch that includes back-to-back series victories for the first time since Sept. 7-12 has players talking about "excitement" and "energy" and "momentum."

Samardzija pointed to "big confidence builders" like the Cubs' one-run comeback win in Washington Sunday.

"This game's a lot about confidence, a lot about how you feel out there on the field, and you make your own breaks," he said.

Samardzija (2-6) lived the words during his best start since the season opener, pitching an efficient eight innings to snap a personal seven-start winless streak.

Making his own breaks?

Samardzija hit his first homer in four years with Darwin Barney on second base in the second inning to give the Cubs an early 2-1 lead, and they never trailed again.

"That was huge at the time," manager Dale Sveum said.

Samardzija brushed it off as "luck."

"I need to slow down around the bases and enjoy it a little bit," he said. "It doesn't happen too often."

He's not the only one hitting lately. A Cubs lineup that ranked near the bottom in the majors in most hitting categories through April has averaged 5.2 runs per game during their nine-game run, scoring six or more four times.

A lot of that might be Rizzo, the No. 3 hitter who has been on a personal tear in his last 19 games: .392 with nine doubles, three homers and 16 RBIs.

The difference? "Maybe the contract, I don't know," he said with a laugh.

Whether the $41-million family security his new deal assures, or the more simplified approach he's taking at the plate, it seems to be having a contagious effect.

"I say this on every team, I feel like wherever I hit, if I hit we go," he said. "That's the pressure I put on myself, to hit well. But it's very contagious. ..."

David DeJesus led off the game with a homer for the Cubs, who scored three times in the seventh, sending seven men to the plate, to break open a close game.

As for Rizzo, he said the whirlwind surrounding his new contract had finally calmed some by Wednesday.

"It's been crazy," he said. "A lot of interviews, being pulled in different ways. But I've got a lot of support from friends, family, coaches, all congratulating me, and I'm very thankful. It was nice today, just an under-the-radar day. I just came to the park and got ready to play."

Cubs' Marmol denies Twitter "spy's" claim

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The realities of living in an age where social media often blurs with news media hit literally at home for Carlos Marmol on Wednesday, when a casual meeting with his agents at his condo building turned into brief media firestorm hours later.

Marmol was caught off guard when asked to respond to comments published on a Cubs-related blog after someone claiming to be Marmol's neighbor admittedly eavesdropped on the meeting -- in a community lounge space -- and forwarded pictures and quotes to the blog.

The "neighbor" claimed the meeting was about efforts by the agents to get Marmol traded to get their client a clean start, and added that Marmol said he "can't wait" to get out of Chicago.

Never mind the fact the Cubs have tried and failed for more than a year to find a taker for Marmol - turning down the best chance they had when the Los Angeles Angels were willing to send $15.5-million pitcher Dan Haren for Marmol, if the Cubs paid all but $3.5 million of Marmol's $9.8 million salary.

Marmol said Wednesday's meeting was a routine visit, wasn't about baseball business, and he emphatically denied the comment the "neighbor" claimed he made.

"It's not true," said Marmol, who can be difficult to understand in English even when the context is clear and when not eavesdropping. "I don't want to go anywhere. I can't wait for [the Cubs] to do something so I can stay here. I love Chicago. I love being here. I love my teammates. I love everybody here. ...

"I feel bad, because this is not true. ... That did not come out of my mouth."

Marmol said one of the people he was with noticed somebody across the room taking pictures, but the group shrugged it off. He said he feels now he was being spied on.

"I don't know who's that guy or why he tweeted that," Marmol said. "It's kind of a joke. ... I don't know what to say."


The cost containment the Cubs gained in potentially club-friendly, long-term deals with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo in the last nine months could allow them to be more aggressive in building a competitive pitching staff.

How soon? Matt Garza and Travis Wood could be big parts of answering that question.

In Garza's case, it's about whether he returns to form this month after being sidelined by a pair of injuries since last July, and how much his side's willing to give this time around, considering the injuries since an extension was last discussed more than a year ago.

The Cubs don't have any talks with Garza planned at this point.

But Garza, who makes what could be a final minor-league rehab start Wednesday, welcomes the idea.

"It'd be awesome," he said. "But like I said in January, February, March and April, I need to pitch. I can't talk about anything except the next time I get to pitch. I can't do anything. There's no conversations about anything like that - it's just, `how close are you?'

Without the $10.25-million Garza, the Cubs had the third-ranked rotation ERA in the National League through Monday, with short-term starter Scott Feldman and fill-in swingman Carlos Villanueva in the starting five.

Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija, a priority candidate for contract talks, and $52-million free agent Edwin Jackson already are in the long-term plans.

And the only question with the 26-year-old Wood is whether his rotation-leading start to the season is the sign of longer term success manager Dale Sveum suggested after another impressive start Monday.

"As far as I'm concerned, he's put himself there," Sveum said. "With what he's done since spring training, and over some 30 starts since last year, it's impressive."

Over his last 31 starts, including eight this season, the left-hander is 10-14 with a 3.50 ERA, 192 2/3 innings and 21 quality starts.

"I'd love to be here for a long time with the Cubs," said Wood (4-2, 2.03), "but that's out of my hands."

Cubs' Villanueva rocked by Rox -- all the way to pen?

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Cubs manager Dale Sveum said before Tuesday's 9-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies that he wasn't running "tryout camps" for his starting pitchers as the Cubs near decision time on which starter gets bumped out for the imminent return of Matt Garza.

Maybe that's because Carlos Villanueva already was the likely odd man out by virtue of his wealth of experience as a valuable bullpen pitcher - along with the relative commitments to the four other pitchers now in the rotation.

And if it was a tryout situation? Villanueva (1-3) wouldn't figure to make the cut after his worst outing of the season Tuesday, getting pounded for seven runs on 12 hits, including a pair of home runs, in just five innings.

The Cubs' rotation had the third-ranked ERA in the National League (3.40) going into the night.

"The guys are doing great," said Garza (lat strain), who makes what could be his final minor-league rehab start Thursday for AAA Iowa. "That's definitely something that I've got to really step into and gear up for."

Tough call on who gets bumped for him?

"Well, I guess that's the best problem to have," Garza said, "because I want to pitch. I'm not getting ready for no reason. ... I'm just excited to come back."

Villanueva already was going through a rough stretch after four exceptional outings to start the season. He had a 1.53 ERA through those four starts - but he's 0-3 with a 6.94 ERA since.

The loss snapped the Cubs' season-high three-game winning streak.

Cubs pitcher Travis Wood may not be in the same star realm as teammate Anthony Rizzo and his new multi-year $41 million contract.
But the two have something in common for now: they've come a long way in less than a year.
For Rizzo, 23, it's been about getting a foothold in the majors after being in Class AAA a year ago.
For Wood, 26, who pitched his eighth straight quality start in Monday's 9-1 victory over Colorado, it's been about living up to his potential after he, too, was starting the season in the minors a year ago.
``You got a taste of the character he had after the spring training he had [last year] and how he held himself accountable,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``He learned how to pitch instead of doing things by the seat of his pants.''
Last season, Wood didn't make the major league club out of spring training after being acquired in a trade with Cincinnati for reliever Sean Marshall. He wasn't called up for good until the end of May.
This year, he leads the majors in quality starts, with his latest a effort Monday a seven-inning outing of shutout ball and only two hits against a Rockies team that ``crushes lefthanded pitchers,'' Sveum said.
``I've been able to have good command and the team has played good behind me,'' said Wood, who improved to 4-2 and even had two of the Cubs' 14 hits, including one of the six doubles.
Wood is only the second Cubs lefthander to start a season with eight straight quality starts (at least six innings with no more than three earned runs allows). The other was Hippo Vaughn in 1919.
Catcher Welington Castillo has said Wood's strides since last season have been impressive.
``But Weli is a different guy, too, to be honest,'' Wood said.
``He's helped me tremendously.''
``We've been working together and we've been successful,'' Castillo said. ``We're on the same page.''
Wood would like to be on the same page as Rizzo and Starlin Castro as someone considered an important ``core'' player for the Cubs future.
``I would love to be here a long time with the Cubs, but it's out of my hands,'' Wood said.
``As far as I'm concerned, he's put himself there,'' Sveum said. ``With what he's done since spring training a year ago, over some 30 starts, it's impressive.''
Wood limited the Rockies to only two hits through seven innings. Their only run came on their third hit--a ninth inning home run by Josh Rutledge off Carlos Marmol.
The Cubs had eight extra bases hits, improving their National League-best total to 131. It included Alfonso Soriano's first inning two-run homer, the 376th of his career tying him with Carlton Fisk for 69th on the all-time list.
Nate Schierholtz had a triple and the Cubs had six doubles, including from Soriano, Wood, David DeJesus, Castro and two from Castillo.
They matched their season high in runs and won their third straight overall, matching their season best.
-30-


Anthony Rizzo's story Monday was about the lucrative seven-year, $41 million contract he signed with the Cubs, making him one of the highest paid players ever with less than a year of major league service time.
But Rizzo, 23, talked as much about the journey leading to that contract, one that most pointedly included a life-changing battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma when he was 18.
When he talked about the ``security'' the new deal means for him, it was partly with that in mind.
``Some guys like to go year to year [in arbitration],'' Rizzo said. ``I've experienced first-hand having the game taken away from me for a year.
``Not being able to play, you appreciate it more. Having this type of contract...my agents and family think it's a fair deal. Maybe we take a discount now, but it's a huge waight off my shoulders and my family's shoulders.''
Rizzo was diagnosed when he was in Class A Greenville, going on the disabled list May 1, 2008.
``Last year at this time I was in Triple A wondering when that call was going to come. Five years ago at this time, I was in a hospital waiting for my first treatment for cancer. It's crazy how everything has come full circle, and that's why I'm so grateful for my family an this front office for believing in me.''
Rizzo privately has made a habit of visiting Children's Hospital to see young patients, especially those dealing with cancer. He said he hopes to devote more time to building his Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation as he becomes a bigger part of the Cubs and the city.
``We're big role models in this city--this country, this world,'' he said. ``We put on one of the best uniforms in all of sports. It's an honor to put on that uniform, and it's a responsibility at the same time. You have to carry yourself on the field and off the field like an ultimate pro.
``The definition of a leader is going out and doing the right thing,'' he added. ``I want to be a good teammate and get along with everyone. When you do that, everyone respects you.''
Rizzo's other goal is the same as every player who has worn the uniform.
``I say this to the guys in the clubhouse, every time we win here and they play that `Go Cubs Go' song, for me personally, I have a vision of going to the playoffs. Getting into that tournament and playing--it's a different kind of baseball.
``I think we're in the right direction. This team is a great team with a great group of guy, and we're not far off now.''

Cubs sign Rizzo to 7-year, $41-million deal

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WASHINGTON - After spending much of the weekend talking about the rise of the Washington Nationals as a role model for their own rebuilding process, the Cubs showed an even more aggressive approach than the Nats took.

Sources confirmed Sunday night that the team has reached agreement with building-block first-baseman Anthony Rizzo on a seven-year, $41-million contract extension plus two option years that could bring the total value to around $70 million.

The deal comes only nine months after the club extended All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro for seven years, $60 million - and underscores the different landscape in acquiring and locking up players that has emerged even since Washington went from worst to first in a three-year span that culminated with last year's 98-win season and playoff berth.

It's a rare commitment for a player with the service time of the power-hitting Rizzo, who has yet to play a full season in the big leagues.

It's also a potential bargain if the Cubs are right about a player who - less than a month ago - was called out by the manager as being a candidate for demotion to the minors.

"I don't think [anyone's] invincible if you're not performing," manager Dale Sveum said April 21 when asked about the status - and recent mistakes - of Castro and Rizzo. "It's not about what we think can happen three or four years from now. It's time to perform on a consistent basis."

Rizzo was hitting .210 at the time with more strikeouts (18) than hits (13).

Even after going hitless in Sunday's 2-1 victory over Washington, he was up to .280 and led the team with nine homers and 28 RBIs. He had an .890 OPS.

"He's just getting more comfortable," Sveum said in the days leading up to finalizing the new contract. "

Still in desperate search for the long-term pitching depth that's expected to signal the competitive turnaround for a club working on its fourth straight losing season, the Cubs at least have seemed to secure a position-player base that also includes top prospect Javy Baez, a power-hitting infielder, and high-upside catcher Welington Castillo.

Second baseman Darwin Barney and outfield prospects Jorge Soler and Albert Almora are also expected to be part of the core if the Cubs can find enough pitching depth to compete within the next two or three years.

The Cubs have targeted Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija for a contract extension - with Samardzija reluctant to give a hometown discount.

Assuring some payroll predictability with Castro and Rizzo under long-term deals, that could pave the way for renewed - and possibly more substantive talks - with Samardzija before next season.

Cubs' Valbuena jams finger, day to day

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Third baseman Luis Valbuena left Saturday's game against the Nationals in the fifth inning after jamming his right pinkie on Ryan Zimmerman's foot sliding into third.

X-rays were negative, and Sveum said he expected Valbuena to be able to pinch-hit Sunday. But he said he's not ruling out the disabled list.

"It's his throwing hand, so it's going to be a little bit tough to throw for a couple days," Sveum said, "but he'll definitely, probably be able to swing the bat."

Cubs' Garza close, decision on odd-man out not so much

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WASHINGTON - It's been nearly 10 months since Matt Garza threw a pitch in a major-league game, but the right-hander's presence is starting to be felt on the Cubs' pitching staff like faint breathing at the back of the neck.

Garza (lat strain) had another strong minor-league rehab outing Saturday, throwing 66 pitches in 3 1/3 scoreless innings for Class AA Tennessee, and after probably two more starts at AAA Iowa, he could be ready to return from the disabled list.

Which starter from one of the league's top rotations gets bumped to the bullpen?

Even before Edwin Jackson earned his first victory of the season, manager Dale Sveum reiterated that the worst-performing starter of the early season was exempt.

Sveum said a six-man rotation is out of the question, and when he also exempted Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija and high-performance lefty Travis Wood, it left Scott Feldman (3-3, 2.70) and Carlos Villanueva (1-2, 3.02) dangling.

"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Sveum said. "It's a nice problem to have. But it's getting close to that date, and it's not a cut-and-dried situation."

Cubs offer Stewart no way out

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WASHINGTON -- Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Saturday that he hopes exiled third baseman Ian Stewart has a future in the organization, but the club's actions belie Hoyer's assertion.

Stewart hasn't started a game for Class AAA Iowa since being passed through waivers nearly a week ago. And if he doesn't play, he can't be shopped nor earn a promotion.

"We've been patient with Ian for a year, and a month and a half, and Ian's got to be patient with us at some point," Hoyer said of the third baseman, who lasted just 55 games (.201, five homers) last year before a wrist injury sidelined him and eventually required season-ending surgery.

After the Cubs released him and re-signed him for $2 million in the off-season, Stewart had his spring training wiped out by a quad strain suffered in February. And a minor-league rehab stint in Iowa ran out before he showed he was anything close to being ready.

Stewart then was optioned to Iowa, ticked off the club by using his union rights to take three days away from the team before reporting, and was placed on waivers. The 29 other clubs passed on him, and he has two pinch-hit at-bats since.

"We've got to get [third baseman Josh] Vitters at-bats," Hoyer said of the .219-hitting Vitters who was playing in the outfield before the Stewart drama unfolded. "And we will play Vitters in the outfield, some, too. Not allowing Vitters to play third base is a disservice to him as well."

At the big-league level, third-baseman Luis Valbuena had as many home runs in six weeks as Stewart did all last season and took an .861 OPS into Saturday's game against the Washington Nationals.

Asked whether there is a future for the long-buried Stewart with the organization, Hoyer said:

"I'm not sure. It's a really good question. I hope there is. I hope he starts playing well. I do think there's a lot of talent there. It's been sort of an unfortunate run for us with the injuries. A left-handed hitter with power who plays good defense - I hope there's a future with him here. But at this point it's going to be about performance. Potential can only take you so far, and at some point you have to perform."

Jackson tries to beat Strasburg for first win as a Cub

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WASHINGTON - Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson spent only a season with the Washington Nationals, but he spent a long time before the game catching up with old teammates on the field Friday during his first day back at Nationals Park since signing with the Cubs as a free agent.

"It's good to be in my old stomping grounds," Jackson told a group of mostly Washington media Friday, the day before he faces his former team, opposite 24-year-old All-Star Stephen Strasburg.

A little more adrenaline than usual?

"No," Jackson said with a smile. "Everybody was a Stephen Strasburg coming up at some point. ... That's a joke.

"It doesn't really matter who's pitching. If it was Gio [Gonzalez] there'd probably be a little more trash talking. ... I told [Strasburg] I'll be ready for that 98 [mph].

"It'll be fun."

If it's still fun at the end of the game it'll be a season first for Jackson, the $52 million free agent still looking for his first win as a Cub after seven mostly rough starts. He's 0-6 with a 6.39 ERA.

"It's been kind of a slow start. Not exactly how I had it envisioned," said Jackson, who has said repeatedly he doesn't believe he's pressing to perform under the first multi-year contract of his career. "But it's a long season, and I feel good. And I've always continued to work hard."

Jackson, 29, went 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA for the Nationals last year.


WASHINGTON - Dan Haren had just opened a Twitter account for the first time - just in time to see his name start popping all over the place, on accounts from the Dominican Republic to Chicago to Southern California, all night long that Friday last November.

"I was just learning how to use it," the Washington Nationals pitcher said. "It was crazy, absolutely crazy."

The only thing that seemed certain - mostly because Carlos Marmol seemed certain, via Twitter reports - was that Haren was headed to Chicago in a Cubs-Angels trade for Marmol.

"We were kind of excited actually," he said.

And then nothing.

The Cubs, who already knew about Haren's cranky back, saw hip damage on the MRIs provided by the Angels and passed on a trade that was otherwise ready for launch.

But did the Cubs screw up? Did they miss an opportunity to acquire a pitcher they might actually have been able to trade in July for young talent - in exchange for a pitcher at least a half-dozen scouts say nobody will want in July even if he's pitching effectively by then?

Cubs officials aren't saying. The front office doesn't comment on specifics about trade negotiations, in particular trades they don't make.

Haren is 4-3 with a 5.17 ERA - but 3-0, 3.15 in his last three starts.

He said he wasn't told why the trade fell through, but says, "if it was because of my hip, it was the same issue that has been there since my Oakland days."

He said if the Cubs - or anyone else - had access to reports from each of his previous three teams, they would have found references to "mobility" issues in the hip that never caused him pain, he said, and first emerged when he began a stretch of seven straight seasons with over 215 innings.

He only had an MRI on it for the first time last season, he said, because the Angels ordered one for his back and took advantage of the lab visit to get pictures of both.

"Maybe it freaked them out that I got MRI'd last year," he said. "I had a lot of knocks on me for health issues. But I've only missed three or four starts in my whole career."

To be fair, Haren had a $15.5 million contract option for 2013 the Angels were only willing to exercise in order to trade him. They told both Haren and the Cubs that much.

The buyout on the option was $3.5 million, and that was all the Angels were willing to pay in total to take the $9.8 million Marmol - a guy the Cubs unsuccessfully offered, with cash, to every team in baseball before reluctantly agreeing to the parameters of the Angels deal, pending the medicals.

Once the deal fell through and the Angels made him a free agent, Haren lasted only a few weeks before Washington general manager Mike Rizzo - who was familiar with Haren since scouting him in college - signed him to a one-year, $13 million deal.

Sources say the Nationals had known about the hip for years.

Haren knew the Cubs deal was all about his flip potential at the trade deadline.

"I was under the assumption that I would pitch there four months and get traded again, unless the team really turned it around," Haren said. "They're more into a rebuilding process, in a really good division, too.

"I guess everything happens for a reason. And it worked out for me coming here."


WASHINGTON - Jeff Samardzija's worst start of the season Friday at Nationals Park had nothing to do with any lingering effects from pitching with a cut on his finger in Cincinnati two weeks ago.

"It's 100 percent," said the Cubs pitcher who's still looking for his first win since Opening Day. "I felt great. That's one of the frustrating things."

Another: Facing this Nationals team in this city - where a 7-3 loss was the Cubs' sixth straight at Nationals Park dating to 2011. The Nats have scored an average of 9.3 runs in those games.

"Obviously anytime you play these teams that are at the top of their division, you want to come out and play your best ball and measure up against them," said Samardzija, who allowed five earned runs and two more as a result of his fielding error in the second.

It was the eighth error by the Cubs' pitching staff this season, by far the most of any staff in the majors - and one more than the entire Arizona Diamondbacks roster (entering play Friday).

NOTES

--Starlin Castro batted leadoff for the first time since Aug. 4, doubled twice, scored once and was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a single in the third. Manager Dale Sveum said he'll be the regular leadoff man against lefty starters, now that Dave Sappelt has been optioned to the minors.

--As expected, the Cubs activated Kyuji Fujikawa (elbow) from the disabled list, and he pitched a scoreless seventh inning with a strikeout. Sveum said he plans to ease him back into an eighth-inning role.

--After declining an outright assignment to the minors, reliever Kameron Loe was granted his release.

Cubs' new leadoff man: Starlin Castro

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WASHINGTON - Cubs manager Dale Sveum said he picked Starlin Castro as his leadoff hitter Friday by "process of elimination."

The same process might help Jeff Samardzija in his effort to get his first win since Opening Day.

Samardzija, who's fought come command issues since pitching through a cut on his index finger two weeks ago, faces a Washington Nationals lineup on Friday that is without $126-million outfielder Jayson Werth (hamstring) and second-year phenom Bryce Harper (ingrown toenail) because of injuries.

Werth is expected to be placed on the disabled list after the game. Harper is expected back in the lineup Saturday.

Meanwhile, Castro was the center of pregame attention when Sveum put him at the top of the order for the first time since his lone game in the leadoff spot last year, Aug. 4 in Los Angeles.

The Cubs faced a left-handed starter (Ross Detwiler) on Friday for the first time since platoon leadoff man Dave Sappelt was optioned to AAA Iowa early in the week.

"It's the way the lineup's going to be now against lefties,'' Sveum said, adding outfielder Julio Borbon might get a few appearances there, too, against left-handers.

Castro's a .319 career hitting in 74 previous starts in the leadoff spot, with a .362 on-base percentage - his best numbers for any of his four most common spots in the order.

"He's one of those hitters," Sveum said. "He's going to be the same hitter no matter where he's hitting in the lineup."

Cubs leadoff men rank 10th in the National League with a .325 OBP and ninth with 21 runs scored.

Cubs dangle Stewart; nobody bites

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The Cubs efforts this week to recoup some of $2 million they guaranteed third baseman Ian Stewart this year fell on the deaf ears of 29 other clubs as Stewart cleared waivers Wednesday and was outrighted off the 40-man roster.

It was a procedural move that does nothing to change Stewart's address or current job description. He remains at AAA Iowa, where he was officially optioned Friday after his disappointing minor-league rehab assignment (4-for-44) with Iowa expired.

He was placed on waivers after surprising - and ticking off - the front office by using his 72-hour reporting rights to leave the team for three days upon receiving the news that he'd been optioned.

Wednesday's move also does nothing to change the fact that the first trade by the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer front office remains its worst - having sent both Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu to Colorado for Stewart and minor-league bust Casey Weathers.

Cubs' Sveum: "Gregg's our closer"

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Here they go again.

The Cubs scrapped the closer-by-committee approach manager Dale Sveum clung to for weeks, finally declared Kevin Gregg the ninth-inning man Wednesday morning.

"Gregg's our closer," said Sveum, answering what had become a daily question with a new answer. "He's obviously earned it. There's a bigger sample out there now to know that."

Gregg, in his second tour with the team, signed as a minor-league free agent April 15 after being released by the Los Angles Dodgers April 3.

He converted his fifth save chance Tuesday night in as many tries, pitching a 1-2-3 ninth in the 2-1 victory over first-place St. Louis.

The rest of the bullpen is 4-for-12 in save chances.

"It doesn't change my approach on how I'm going out there, or how I'm going to prepare each day," said Gregg, who was the Cubs' closer in 2009 before losing the job to Carlos Marmol. "Hopefully, it calms things down out there and people will have success. ...

"It's the position I have coveted for years now. I want to be the guy. I want to be the guy at the end of the game."

If Gregg thrives in the role, one byproduct could be creating a valuable trading chip out of the right-hander for what looks like another trading-deadline selloff this year.

"I'm not worried about that," he said. "I don't think about it that way. I'm here now and that's all I can control. The way they handle that going forward, that's up to Theo [Epstein] and those guys. They're going to decide how they want to build this team for now and in the future. I'm excited to be here and be a part of this team and will be until I'm told otherwise."

New ace in town for Cubs?

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Is Travis Wood the ace of the Cubs' pitching staff?

Wood, who was one of the last two pitchers to earn a starting job in the spring, shut down the high-scoring St. Louis Cardinals Tuesday night to lead the Cubs to a 2-1 victory in the opener of a two-game series.

Wood (3-2) out-dueled previously unbeaten Cardinals starter Lance Lynn (5-1), pitching two outs deep into the seventh - pushing his ERA down to 2.28, and into the National League's top 10.

"He's the best starter in baseball pretty much," manager Dale Sveum said of a left-hander still looking for his first full season in the big leagues. "He's got it. He's figured it out. He can do just about anything he wants with the ball right now."

The victory gave the Cubs a chance to split the 10-game homestand with one game left, Wednesday against the Cardinals, after having lost four straight earlier during the stand.

Wood, 26, leads the majors with seven quality starts in as many tries, and is also among the league leaders in opponents batting average and innings pitched. The only run he allowed Tuesday came on Allen Craig's leadoff homer in the second.

Among the best in baseball, as Sveum said?

"That's a strong statement," said Wood, smiling, but stopping short of elaborating.

What seems certain: Wood's going nowhere when Matt Garza returns from the disabled list - presumably in the next two weeks - to rejoin the rotation.

All Wood knows for sure is, "Right now it's feeling awesome. ... Hopefully, I can stay with it as long a possible."

And his confidence?

"It's as high as it can be right now. Got to stay humble though. Got to get back to work and be ready every five days."

As good as Wood was, Lynn's only trouble came in the fourth, when Nate Schierholtz followed Alfonso Soriano's two-out single with a two-run homer to center - the only runners to reach scoring position in seven innings against Lynn.

The Cubs escaped a big two-on, two-out jam in the eighth with Carlos Marmol on the mound, when Yadier Molina mistakenly thought he'd catch Marmol napping and broke from second for third.

Marmol caught him at third easily.

"Molina likes to sneak-steal when nobody's paying attention," Sveum said. "We took advantage of his aggressiveness in that situation."

Cubs pitcher Scott Feldman pitched--and hit--against his former team Monday night, leading the way in a 9-2 victory over the Texas Rangers at Wrigley Field.
Feldman (3-3) earned his second straight victory allowing only two hits through seven innings, leaving only because of a sudden cramp in his hand in the eighth.
``It was weird,'' he said of the sudden cramp, that disappeared later--perhaps costing him his second straight complete game.
``I'm trying not to think about that,'' he said with a smile. ``I'm just happy we won and we got a lot of runs.''
He helped in that department, too, with a single in the Cubs' five-run fourth inning, all the runs coming after two outs and no one on base.
Rangers starter Nick Tepesch (2-3) intentionally walked Darwin Barney after Luis Valbuena doubled to pitch to Feldman.
``Anyone in baseball would do that to get to the pitcher,'' Feldman said. ``I was just trying to get a hit, or at least be a tough out. Luckily I was able to find a hole.''
Feldman drove in Valbuena and then later scored on Starlin Castro's single.
The big inning was exactly what the Cubs had been missing most of the season, general manager Jed Hoyer said before the game.
The nine runs were the most scored by the Cubs this season and the five-run inning their highest as well.
``We haven't had one,'' manager Dale Sveum said of the lopsided victory that ended a four-game skid. ``No one on and two outs and we have our big inning. It was nice to finally put up a crooked number to separate the game.''
Sveum was as happy about Feldman's second straight masterful outing, coming after his first career complete game victory over the San Diego Padres.
``He was really, really good again,'' Sveum said. ``He's had two very impressive outings. He has the feel for that cutter now.''
Feldman allowed only two hits against the team he had played for the last eight years.
``I tried to relax, but I know a lot of them and respect them and made a lot of friends there,'' he said. ``But on a night like tonight, I just wanted to get them out.''
Feldmam's second at-bat in the fifth came with two men on base again--including a second intentional walk to Barney--and when the crowd of 32,618 cheered, he thought it was for him.
Instead, the right field board had just shown the Bulls victory score over the Miami Heat in the NBA playoffs.
``I thought I was getting a standing ovation,'' he said, laughing. ``[Clubhouse manager Tom Hellmann burst my bubble when I came in and said `it was for the Bulls.' I thought it was because I was raking.''
Others in the Cubs offense were doing that, including Anthony Rizzo (3-for-4, four RBI, two-run homer) and Valbuena (3-for-4).
``Those runs made my job a lot easier,'' Feldman said.
Monday's game was a make-up of the April 17 rainout between the interleague teams. The outcome gave the Cubs 2-1 series victory, including a win on April 18.
The Rangers headed to Milwaukee to play the Brewers afterward.
The Cubs led from the first when they scored an unearned run after David DeJesus singled, stole second and took third on ex-Cubs catcher Geovany Soto's throwing error. DeJesus scored on Alfonso Soriano's ground out.
The Cubs had two errors, including Valbuena's throwing error on Adrian Beltre's ground ball that led to the first Rangers' run in the ninth. Beltre later scored on Soto's single.

The bullpen picture hasn't looked good of late, but it could change noticeably when Kyuji Fujikawa returns.
``If he comes back and everything is good, it sets the bullpen up differently than it is now,'' manager Dale Sveum said.
Fujikawa, recovering from a forearm muscle strain, will pitch one more time with Class AA Tennessee this week. He pitched an inning Sunday for Class AAA Iowa, striking out two and walking one.
Fujikawa likely would return to closing, allowing Sveum to use Kevin Gregg and James Russell in right and left setup roles.
The rotation also will change soon if Matt Garza continues on schedule in his rehab from a left lat strain.
Garza threw well Monday at Iowa, working 3 1/3 innings, giving up a run on four hits and striking out three.
``I talked to him and he was really pumped,'' Sveum said. ``Everything went well. His pitches were pretty efficient and his slider was up to 87 mph.''
Garza will go to Class AA Tennessee for his next start.

ROSTER MOVES
Ryan Sweeney signed a minor league contract with the Cubs April 3 after he was released by Boston knowing he had a good chance of being recalled.
It came Monday after he hit .337 for Iowa, playing near his hometown of Cedar Rapids.
``Having [Des Moines] that close was a huge plus if I had to go to Class AAA,'' said Sweeney, 28, a five-year veteran originally drafted by the White Sox in 2003. ``I talked to a few teams but talking to Theo [Epstein], I felt this was a good fit.''
Left-handed hitting Sweeney replaces Dave Sappelt, who was optioned to Iowa.
``He's a guy we've wanted to get up here to balance out the bench and have flexibility when we give Sori [Alfonso Soriano] days off,'' Sveum said. ``He's another guy on the bench who can hit and hit the ball out of the park.''
The Cubs also optioned reliever Kameron Loe to Iowa and recalled Rafael Dolis.
``The bullpen's a little beat up now and we needed an arm,'' Sveum said.

STEWART WAITING TO REPORT
Ian Stewart is taking the 72-hour available time to report to Class AAA Iowa, where he was optioned on Friday. Stewart wasn't with the I-Cubs during the weekend, but general manager Jed Hoyer said Stewart had the right to wait up to 72 hours to decide to report.


Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer sees the same thing everyone else has seen in his team: good starting pitching and not enough of the other elements of good baseball.
``Obviously the record is what it is,'' he said Monday. ``There's no hiding from it. We've done some things really well. Our starting pitching has been very good. I think we have a handful of hitters who are getting on base and had a good season so far.
``But as a team, the offense hasn't been able to spread games out at all. And our bullpen has been shaky. That's a bad combination.''
One month into his second season, Hoyer spoke frankly about the team's failings, from the bullpen to the defense to the offense's inability to produce enough to turn close games into victories.
``I think 20 of our [first] 31 games have been one or two run games, and with that, you should have a decent record. But we don't because we've been struggling with winning those games, in part because of the bullpen struggles and because we don't turn that 3-1 game into a 5-1 game.
``We're going to have to learn how to do that as a team.''
The Cubs have lost 12 of the 20 games decided by two runs or less. They are 4-7 in one-run games. They are 9-17 in games decided by three or less runs.
``You could say our record [11-20] is misleading because of our starting pitching, but I don't think it is. We just need to get better at winning games,'' he said.
Cubs starters have the fourth best ERA (3.61) in the National League. But they are 6-16 collectively.
The bullpen ERA is a lofty 4.71, and relievers have saved only half the team's 16 opportunities.
Hoyer speaks as much for team president Theo Epstein as himself. He said they have tried not to ``overreact to individual games.''
``That's like checking your stock portfolio every day going up and down,'' he said. ``You have to realize if you're winning six out of 10 as a team, you're winning 98 games [in the season.]
``We have to stay on an even keel--but we've had a pattern now of not winning those close games,'' he admitted. ``And the reason is very clear--it's that the bullpen has struggled and the offense hasn't pulled games away.
``The best teams blow [other] teams out. To our credit, we've only been blown out once. To our detriment, we have zero blowouts on our side of the ledger.''
Hoyer was supportive of struggling pitchers Edwin Jackson and Carlos Marmol--but clear in stressing they must produce.
``[Jackson] has had a really long track record, and consistency has been one of his traits over his career. At the same time he needs to pitch better and help his team, and he knows it. I think he's frustrated with how he's pitched,'' Jackson (0-5) winless in seven starts. ``He has 25 more starts to turn it around.''
Hoyer called Marmol ``a lightning rod'' for fans' frustrations.
``If you look at the non-save situations, he's actually throw pretty well,'' he said. ``Carlos has had a really long track record of success here [third in franchise history with 117 saves and a franchise record 454 appearances].
``This team has expected a lot out of him for a lot of years and ridden him really hard. It's taken its toll. His fastball and slider aren't quite what they used to be in part ecause he's been durable and ridden hard by a number of managers here. He's struggled in save appearances and it's been frustrating, but I do think he's a lightening rod here, and people forget how much he's pitched here and how well he's pitched here at times.''
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Struggling reliever Carlos Marmol is rushing his delivery and at times ``trying too hard'' to get hitters out, Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio said Sunday.
``The biggest thing for Carlos is his concentration [on] executing the pitch. I think where Carlos gets In trouble--along with the rest of the guys--is when they get going too fast, and [Saturday] was a classic case of that.
``You've got to slow it down, visualize the pitch and execute the pitch. And he's capable of doing that.''
Marmol was summoned to start the eighth inning Saturday with the Cubs leading Cincinnati 4-2. But he walked the first two batters he faced and hit the third, Brandon Phillips, on a 1-2 pitch. All three scored in the four-run inning, Marmol taking the loss.
The Reds batted around in the inning against Marmol and Hector Rondon but had only one hit.
Bosio said mechanics are less the problem for Marmol than his tempo, but added ``the big things we see are where his eyes are and where his arm is'' when he finishes his delivery.
``I think he trusts his stuff. He's just got to execute the pitch,'' Bosio said.
``Sometimes this game speeds up for all of us. We have to slow it down, see the sign, see the catcher's setup and see the catcher's glove.
``He got too quick [Saturday]. He has a tendency to do that. He's also an up tempo guy. Jeff [Samardzija] is like that. [Shawn] Camp is like that. [James] Russell is like that. And when they all get going too quick, they all get out of whack.''
Marmol has issued 14 walks in 11 1/3 innings and hit three batters, an indication that hitters are laying off his offerings.
``He's admitted that he thinks guys are going to swing at every pitch out of his hand. He tries to make every pitch a two-strike pitch, and that's part of the problem. He's trying to bury the pitch and over-throw the pitch.
``Hitters will get themselves into hitter's counts,'' Bosio said. ``But when [Marmol] is working ahead in counts, like all pitchers, they'll have success.
``You need to back off,'' he said. ``A lot of times you try to do too much, and that can be a deterrent.''
Manager Dale Sveum repeated Sunday he would continue to call on Marmol.
``We're really in no different situation. He has to throw strikes. He's one of the seven guys [in the bullpen] and he has to pitch.''
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Carlos Marmol carried the blame--again--for Saturday's 6-4 loss to Cincinnati, unable to retire a batter in what became a decisive four-run eighth inning.
But Alfonso Soriano, whose pair of two-run homers could have meant a victory for starter Jeff Samardzija, saw something else at fault.
``It's happened too many times, and not just him but the whole team,'' Soriano said of Marmol. ``Sometimes we don't get the big hit and sometimes we don't get the big out. That's the difference between a first place team and a last place team.
``We play so hard, but we have to learn how to win. It's not only today. We shouldn't have the record we have [11-19] because we were winning five or six games we lost.''
They were winning 4-2 when Marmol (2-2) entered in the eighth for his record-setting 453th appearance as a Cub, surpassing Lee Smith.
But he couldn't find the strike zone--again--walking two and then hitting Brandon Phillips, the batter manager Dale Sveum hoped he could get to ground into a double play.
All three eventually scored as the Reds batted around against Marmol and Hector Rondon--and only had one hit.
``I don't know if he threw one strike,'' Sveum said of Marmol, who has issued 14 walks and hit three batters in 11 2/3 innings.
Yet he and Smith are the only closers in franchise history to have consecutive seasons of 30 or more saves (2010 and 2011), and Marmol has 117 career saves.
``One way or another, he's got to get it fixed,'' Sveum said, though no one has found the antidote the last two seasons.
``I didn't throw strikes. I'm giving people a chance to score,'' Marmol admitted. ``I have to throw strikes and get people out.
``It's tough. It's tough for me, for any pitcher in baseball,'' he said. ``I'm giving 100 percent. I don't think bad things [on the mound]. But I have trouble with the first hitters. I'll try to be better.''
With a $9.8 million left on his contract, the Cubs have no choice but to hope he will.
``We only have seven guys [in the bullpen],'' Sveum said. ``He's got to pitch. One way or another, we have to get him fixed because he has to pitch.
``He's not throwing the ball over the plate. It doesn't matter what pitch is called. He still has stuff, so I'm not jumping to any conclusions, but it gets tough to have confidence with [14] walks.''
But Marmol is only one of many problems, Sveum admitted.
``Half our losses have been these kind. Turn the switch around [on mistakes] and we could have eight more wins,'' he said, the Cubs with nine losses in games they led at some point.
``Whether it's errors or walks, there's not a lot of clean games in the first 30.''
Samardzija, with two no-decisions in his last two starts and winless since Opening Day, knows his problem-- using up too many pitches early.
He threw 111 pitches in only six innings, giving up a homer on his first pitch to Shin-Soo Choo, then making a wild pickoff throw after walking Choo in the third leading to an unearned run.
``It's simple--it's because you're putting guys on for free,'' he said of Marmol's struggles, and his own heavy pitch counts. ``You have to attack the zone. It's the same for starters as relievers.
``If you don't want it to happen, go deeper in games,'' he added of the no-decision. ``Marmol has done some great things for us. Lou [Piniella] ran him out every day, so you don't forget that--and the type of guy he is and how much he cares.
``I've had my struggles in the zone, too. When he's in the zone, he's unhittable. He needs to know that.
``This team is pretty resilient and we come ready every day to win. We just need to learn from these mistakes and stop shooting ourselves in the foot.''
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The Cubs made it official late Friday, and manager Dale Sveum reaffirmed it Saturday morning: Ian Stewart isn't in the team's immediate third base plans any more.
``He's [at Class AAA Iowa] as a triple A player now,'' Sveum said. ``[Cody] Ransom and [Luis] Valbuena are our third basemen now.''
Stewart was activated from the disabled list Friday then optioned to Iowa. He had been rehabbing from a quadriceps strain since spring training, a setback as he tried to return to playing after wrist surgery last season. He was granted free agency after the season, but the team re-signed him to a $2 million contract. It was not guaranteed though he remains on the 40-man roster.


The Cubs might be the poster children of why some numbers don't always add up in baseball:
--Their starting pitchers are among the better rotations in the National League, with a collective 3.49 ERA. They also are fourth in quality starts with 17--and the ERA in those games is 2.08.
But their 23 errors are among the most in baseball, with only Washington having more (24). The mistakes have led to 14 unearned runs, fifth highest in the majors.
--The offense generated 35 home runs in April, the third highest in franchise history after hitting only nine last April.
But the team is hitting only .178 with runners in scoring position.
And though they are playing close games--24 of their 29 have been decided by three runs of less--they have lost 15 of them.
The latest was Friday's 6-5 loss to Cincinnati, a game that was close because of a ninth inning rally that fell short.
``We didn't do much I the first eight innings, leaving guys on and then they added runs--once without a hit [in the seventh,]'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``That haunts you at the end of a game.''
Especially in a game where the Cubs pushed Reds ace closer Aroldis Chapman to the brink, scoring three with four singles and two walks before Reds manager Dusty Baker had to call on J.J. Hoover (first save) to get the last out, fanning Darwin Barney.
Chapman had allowed only one run all season--a solo home run to Miami's Justin Ruggiano.
``It was being patient,'' said Starlin Castro, one of nine who batted in the ninth. ``He throws hard but he doesn't throw every pitch for a strike.''
The rally helped the team ``feel better'' after Thursday's mistake-marred loss, Castro said. ``That was tough to lose because we didn't play well. That's why everyone was ready in the ninth.''
Sveum credited the team for having ``great at-bats'' against Chapman. ``They made adjustments against his velocity. Hopefully we learn from that when they're facing a guy who throws 90 instead of 94.''
The Cubs stranded nine runners through the first eight innings, leaving 12 for the game.
``It's a game of inches,'' said starter Carlos Villanueva (1-2), who trailed 1-0 in the first after the Reds stroked a single and double between three strikeouts. ``We've lost so many games by one run [seven]. We're missing that one hit.
``It's [about] making a better pitch and a better at-bat, and we have to do things to improve on that.''
The Cubs had 15 hits, including nine against starter Mike Leake (2-1). Anthony Rizzo (3-for-5), Alfonso Soriano (2-for-5), Nate Schierholtz (2-for-4) and Luis Valbuena (3-for-4) had multiple hits, though Soriano twice couldn't come through with the bases loaded.
Valbuena's three-hit game matched his career best.
His average is up to .253 with five homers and 13 RBI.
``I know Valbuena has `pull' power and opposite field power,'' Sveum said. ``We worked on a few things in spring training to get a little more `pull' power and think a little more about slugging. It's been paying off, and he's been doing a good job.
``That's a left-handed bat that has power for a smaller-stature guy,'' he said of Valbuena. ``You have to take advantage of that.''
The victory was only the fourth road win for the Reds, who are 12-4 at home. But it was their seventh straight victory at Wrigley Field, the Cubs also having lost seven straight home games to the Reds from June 25, 2002 to April 14, 2003.
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Infielder Ian Stewart was activated from the disabled list Friday, but the still rehabbing third baseman was optioned to Class AAA Iowa. He is still far from being major league-ready.

Class A infielder Rock Shoulders and Class AA left-handed pitcher Eric Jokisch were named the Cubs' minor league players of the month for April.
Shoulders, 21, hit .370 with 19 runs scored, seven doubles, five home runs and 16 RBI in 22 games. He was named Midwest League player of the week for April 15-21.
Jokisch, 23, went 3-1 with a 1.84 ERA in five April starts. He struck out 21 and walked six in 29 1/3 innings. He finished the month tied for fifth in the Southern League in victories and ninth in ERA.

Samardzija's focus on baseball over "sideshow"

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Jeff Samardzija may be a traditionalist who grew up a Cubs fan in northwest Indiana, but as far as he's concerned sentiment has no place in his workplace.

Even if that workplace is Wrigley Field, and even if the owner has threatened to move the team from the 99-year-old landmark if the club can't erect ballpark signage.

"The roster wins games. The stadium doesn't win games," said Samardzija, the Cubs' Opening Day starter. "Unfortunately, this is stuff you have to deal with as a player and it comes with the territory. But in this locker room, the way this team is playing is exciting, and that's what should be talked about, and that's what we should be worried about instead of sideshow stuff.

"We could play in a parking lot, and it's not going to make a difference."

But the Cubs without Wrigley?

"It's definitely a weird concept to say," Samardzija said. "Then, again, we're here to play ball. We're not here to talk the aldermen or talk to whoever. We're kind of along for the ride, like everybody else is. The players and the fans are kind of in the same boat. Obviously, everybody wants to stay here in Wrigley and wants to make it work here."

But if they moving vans haul them to, say, Rosemont?

"It's the same players, and it's the same plan. And the 101 years is still there," said Samardzija, having lost count of the Cubs' lean years. "the goal of winning a championship is still the No. 1 goal regardless of where the games are being played at. If we're playing them on the South Side because this is getting renovated or we're playing somewhere else, as a player it really doesn't matter. Because you're here to win baseball games, regardless of venue, regardless of weather, regardless of the situation."

Ex-Cub Cashner's tough Wrigley return

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It wasn't exactly how Andrew Cashner envisioned this anticipated return to Wrigley Field - the place where his pitching career turned upside-down the last time he took the mound.

The hard-throwing right-hander got through just four innings in his third start of the season for the San Diego Padres as the Cubs beat their former first-round draft pick 6-2 Wednesday night in Cashner's first start at Wrigley since suffering a shoulder surgery in his starting debut two years ago.

By the end of that year, the Cubs had a new front office, a new field staff and a new outlook on Cashner - who was traded that winter for Anthony Rizzo.

"I don't think they knew if I would come back healthy or not," said Cashner, whose fastball had reached 98 mph in Arizona Fall League play by the time he was traded. "I look at it from both angles. They got an everyday guy vs. a starter every five days or a reliever. And I think they looked at me as a reliever."

Getting new life as a potential starter for the Padres, Cashner is trying to prove he's the impact starter the Cubs let get away. But that will have to wait for another night after walking four guys and giving up hard contact much of his four starts - including a leadoff single in the third to Rizzo.

"I think it was a great trade," said Rizzo before the game, who referred to the handwriting he saw on the wall when the Padres traded for Cincinnati first baseman Yonder Alonso before dealing him to the Cubs. "I got out of San Diego. I'm very happy in Chicago and way closer to home [in Florida] and not playing three hours behind everyone."

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