August 2009

8/28 When the going gets tough …

Lou Piniella was asked what’s the toughest part when things aren’t going right?

“The toughest thing? Sometimes the questions I get asked,” Piniella said. “The game is relatively easy. You get a chance to relax and watch the team play and manage a ballgame. The questions, at times, are the toughest part.”

– Carrie Muskat

8/28 Power outage

It’s been nearly one month since Alfonso Soriano’s last home run, July 29.

“It’s been a long time,” Lou Piniella said. “[On Thursday], he had better at-bats. I’d like to see Alfonso get hot and hit for some power, more for himself than anything else.”

Piniella doesn’t feel Soriano’s left knee is the reason for the power outage.

“He hasn’t been happy about this either,” Piniella said. “I told him a few days ago that I’m really pulling for him. I’d love to see him get really hot. It’s been a struggle. One thing about him, he likes to play and he works hard and there’s no quit in him.”

What if he switched to a lighter bat? Soriano uses a 33-ounce model year-round.

“I don’t know,” Piniella said. “It’s been suggested, that’s all I know. I don’t have an answer as to whether it would help or not.”

– Carrie Muskat

8/28 LIneup, waivers & birthday wishes

Rookie Sam Fuld was starting in center field Friday in Game 1 vs. the Mets. New York is starting a lefty. It’ll be:

SS Theriot

RF Bradley

1B Lee

3B Ramirez

2B Baker

LF Soriano

C Soto

CF Fuld

P Lilly

* Rich Harden said he was surprised to hear he was claimed on waivers. FoxSports.com reported that Harden and Aaron Heilman were both claimed on Thursday, and if so, the Cubs would have until noon Monday to make a decision. The Cubs can either let the pitchers go to the team that claimed them, try to trade the pitchers to the team that claimed them, or pull them back and keep them. Teams that are in playoff contention need to finalize their postseason rosters by Aug. 31, so if a team were to add Harden or Heilman, they would have to do so by Monday.

“I’m happy being here and like being here,” Harden said Friday. “We’ll see what happens.”

Every team puts players through waivers, so it’s not unusual for Harden and Heilman to be subjected to this. What is unusual is to have their names released. The information is confidential. The Cubs won’t even confirm whether they’ve been contacted by the club that claimed the pitchers.

Harden is focused on his next start.

“I still plan on starting here Monday and anything can happen,” Harden said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but basically, my priority is to pitch for this team and nothing else. I’m happy here, I love playing here, the fans are good. We’ll see what happens.”

* On the final month of games:

“We’re trying to win as many games as we can and finish as well as we can,” Lou Piniella said. “I’d like to finish as strong as possible and I think the players feel the same way.”

* Expect the Cubs to call up seven or eight players when rosters expand Sept. 1. The list was expected to include players who have been with the big league team this year, which would include Micah Hoffpauir, Justin Berg, Andres Blanco, David Patton, and Bobby Scales.

* It’s not only Piniella’s 66th birthday Friday, but b-day greetings go out to Randy Wells and strength coach Tim Buss.

“I’m 66, but I feel like 76,” Piniella said. “Hopefully we’ll get a win and it’ll make me feel a lot better.”

– Carrie Muskat

8/27 Harden, Heilman reportedly claimed

Cubs pitchers Rich Harden and Aaron Heilman have reportedly been claimed on waivers.

FOXSports.com cited Major League sources Thursday as saying a National League team was awarded the claim on Heilman. The claiming team on Harden was not known, but presumably he did not get through the National League, either. Players must pass through their own league first before being exposed on waivers to teams in the other league.

The Cubs will have until Monday to work out trades, allow Harden and Heilman to depart on claims, or pull them back them from waivers. Harden is 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA in eight starts since the All-Star break.

The Giants, Rockies and Dodgers all are interested in adding starting pitching, and Harden would be an attractive pickup. Harden is 8-7, 3.99 ERA overall in 22 starts, while Heilman is 2-3 with a 4.55 ERA.

– Carrie Muskat

8/27 Chemistry class

Lou Piniella did not want to comment on Milton Bradley’s statement that he prays the games only go nine innings so he can spend the least amount of time possible on the field and then go home. However, Piniella did say this year’s Cubs team has not been one of the better mixes chemistry-wise that he’s had.

First, any reaction to Bradley’s comments?

“I can’t speak for Milton,” Piniella said Thursday.

A reporter said it seems as if Bradley doesn’t want to be with the Cubs.

“He’s getting paid to play,” Piniella said. “I’m getting to paid to put out a lineup and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

Was Piniella upset to read those comments?

“We’ve had enough problems here with injuries and so forth that we don’t really need any more controversy of any sorts,” Piniella said. “That speaks for itself.”

Back to the issue of chemistry, does winning breed that or do players need to take charge in the clubhouse?

“Winning has a lot to do with chemistry,” Piniella said. “It makes a team come together a lot quicker. I told you all this spring, we had a big turnover. Sometimes it takes a while. It doesn’t necessarily fall in your lap, you know? This hasn’t been one of my better chemistry teams. Look, is that the reason, we’re winning or losing baseball games? No, I don’t think so. You can go beyond that.”

Piniella said the Yankees teams he played on in the late ’70s didn’t have great chemistry off the field, but on the field, they played as a team.

“When you start looking at chemistry, on the field chemistry is the best chemistry you can have,” Piniella said.

Earlier this season, Piniella, who turns 66 on Friday, was criticized by some in the media for losing the fire to manage. He said on Thursday that he’s learned to look the other way over the years.

“I’ve addressed everything that needs to be addressed here,” he said. “I don’t know what else I could do. Look, invariably when things don’t go right it’s always the manager’s fault. You want to blame me? Take your shots. It doesn’t bother me one bit. I’m the same manager I was this year that I was last year that I was the year before. Same manager. No different. When you don’t win, somebody’s got to stand up and be the scapegoat. If you all want to say it’s the manager, say it’s the manager. Fine with me.”

– Carrie Muskat

8/27 Lineup

Koyie Hill, who had three hits on Wednesday, including a two-run double, was back in the lineup for the series finale vs. the Nationals.

SS Theriot

RF Bradley

1B Lee

3B Ramirez

CF Fukudome

LF Soriano

2B Fontenot

C Hill

P Wells

– Carrie Muskat

8/26 Spring Training

The Cubs have reportedly informed Mesa, Ariz., officials they may leave if the city won’t improve the Spring Training facilities there and add more seats to HoHoKam Park. Mesa Mayor Scott Smith was putting a delegation together to meet with Cubs officials about what the city can do. The Cubs can leave Mesa in 2012 because of an opt-out provision. The Cubs have called Mesa their spring home since 1979.

– Carrie Muskat

8/26 Staying focused

Despite the fact that the Cardinals have a nine-game lead in the Central, and seem to never lose, the Cubs feel they’re still in the race.

“I think everybody in the clubhouse, we still believe we’re in it,” pitcher Rich Harden said after Wednesday’s 9-4 win over the Nationals. “Nobody’s down. You have to go with that mindset. We’ve got to win some games. You can’t get too ahead of yourself, ‘We’ve got to win how many in a row.’ I think we have to have an approach of taking it on a daily basis and win that game. The loss [Tuesday] was tough, but we came back today and played well and we can still win the series by winning [Thursday]. I think if you plan on winning the series, we’ll be in a pretty good position by the end of the season.”

Harden posted his 14th quality start, which matches his season total from 2008. His career high is 18 set in 2004. He has a 3-1 record and 1.80 ERA in his last seven starts. So far, the right-hander has struck out 143; he fanned 181 last season.

– Carrie Muskat

8/26 Good cause

Cubs catcher Geovany Soto will be the chairman at the second annual Rooters Ball on Wednesday, Sept. 2, to be held at Harry Caray’s restaurant, 33 W. Kinzie Street in Chicago. Proceeds will benefit Chicago Cubs Charities, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and The Major League Baseball Dominican Development Alliance.

Other players who will join Soto at the event include Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol, Randy Wells and John Grabow. Tickets are $100 each, with 100 percent of the proceeds being donated, and can be purchased at westsiderooters.com or call (312) 828-0966. Fans attending will enjoy a cocktail reception, buffet dinner and the chance to mingle with the players. There will also be a silent auction, the opportunity to pose for photos with the Cubs, and more.

* Speaking of good guys, Ramirez, Wells, Ryan Theriot, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster were filmed reading children’s books on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. The videos will be played at Children’s Memorial Hospital for the young patients there. The only problem Skyline Productions had with the taping was the players were fighting over which books to read.

– Carrie Muskat

8/26 Soriano update

Alfonso Soriano, who has not played since Friday, was in the Cubs lineup Wednesday. He said he’ll continue to get treatment on his left knee and if the discomfort does not go away, Soriano wants to get an MRI, possibly on the next off day, Sept. 10. The knee bothers him when he runs, not when he hits.

Soriano may consider a cortisone shot if that helps alleviate the pain.

“It goes to show you he wants to play,” Lou Piniella said. “That’s the first thing it shows you. Over the 17, 18 years I played in the big leagues, I had my share and more of cortisone shots in my shoulder to play. You have professional people administering these shots. If they can alleviate some discomfort and get you through the season without it being risky, I don’t see any problem with it.”

With the wet grounds on Wednesday, the Cubs may adjust the lineup to risk further injury.

– Carrie Muskat

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