March 2010

3/27 Marshall OK with relief role

Sean Marshall is OK with the news that he’s in the Cubs bullpen and not the rotation.

“I can’t be disappointed,” Marshall said. “I’m still in the Major Leagues and I obviously have some value as a pitcher. We do have a young bullpen and I do have some experience, although not as much as a guy like John Grabow. I think I can help the pitchers down there and use my experience to my advantage to get guys out.”

On Friday, Lou Piniella tabbed Tom Gorzelanny and Carlos Silva for the rotation, and assigned Marshall and Jeff Samardzija to the pen. All four had expressed a desire to start.

“I realize I am an asset in the bullpen,” Marshall said. “I enjoy coming into the game in big situations and enjoy getting to work on a little more regular basis than you would as a starter and especially as a fifth starter.”

He was the fifth starter at the beginning of last season and was skipped a couple times. Marshall also won’t be the only lefty in the pen. Besides Grabow, James Russell appears to have locked up a spot.

“From the beginning of spring, it was a competition,” Marshall said of the battle between the four pitchers. “I tried my best to win the competition. I realize I did pitch well and our bullpen is maybe lacking just a touch in experience. I can help out there. You can’t be disappointed. I’m pitching right now as good as I can and I feel I’m improving. Hopefully by Opening Day, I’ll be as good as I can get.”

— Carrie Muskat

3/27 Lou on Colvin: "He wants a spot"

Tyler Colvin is batting .475 this spring after going 4-for-5 on Saturday, and may have locked up a spot on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster.

“He’s not looking for a roster spot,” Lou Piniella said. “He’s looking for somebody’s position.”

The 2006 No. 1 Draft pick may have convinced the Cubs that he’s ready. The question is, can they give Colvin enough playing time?

“Remember what I said about four, five, six days ago that if he’s on our team, we have to play him some?” Piniella said. “He’s making it very easy to do that.”

When the regular season begins, Xavier Nady will not be able to throw full speed. Piniella also has said he’d like to give the regulars more rest to keep them fresh. It could work.

“You don’t want a young kid like that just sitting and being a defensive replacement,” Piniella said. “So, basically if he’s here, he has to play a couple days a week to get some at-bats and see how he does.

“I have a good left fielder in [Alfonso] Soriano, I have a good center fielder in [Marlon] Byrd, and I have a good right fielder in [Kosuke] Fukudome,” Piniella said. “The spring that this young man has had has opened up a lot of eyes. He put some weight on over the winter, he put on some muscle. We’ve noticed he’s banged the ball around all spring and he’s played very well in the outfield. That being said, I have three professional outfielders who have had long careers and good ones and this kid is going to have to be patient, that’s all I’m saying.”

The other reality is the Cubs have committed $202.3 million to Soriano, Byrd, Fukudome and Nady.

Colvin was on a mission. He added 25 pounds of muscle after a tough offseason workout program with the Cubs strength coach, Tim Buss. It has paid off.

“We noticed right from the start of Spring Training at Fitch Park that he was taking some really good batting practice and driving the ball left center, right center,” Piniella said. “We wanted to see when Spring Training started how that would translate into these games. He’s taking aggressive passes. He looks like a Major League hitter up there.”

He may be the best runner on the team as well. Colvin did get thrown out trying to steal Saturday but that’s because someone missed the hit and run sign.

“He’s saying to us, ‘Hey, get my name in that lineup and I can get some things done,’ and that’s what he’s doing,” Piniella said. “It’s good to know that one of our good young players is really stepping up and making it very interesting.”

— Carrie Muskat

3/27 Bench players down to five

The battle for the Cubs’ last two bench spots has come down to Chad Tracy, Micah Hoffpauir, Kevin Millar, Sam Fuld and Tyler Colvin.

“You can’t figure it out from the player’s part,” Millar said. “You have to just do your thing.”

Millar started in left field on Saturday and has been taking grounders at third and first.

“I came in here to be as versatile as I could and take my groundballs at third, play some left field, play some first base and do whatever they ask me to do,” he said. “My body feels good and we’ll see what happens here in the next few days.”

With the trade of Andres Blanco to Texas, there aren’t many decisions to be made. Colvin had four hits on Saturday and now was batting .475. It’ll be tough to leave him behind. GM Jim Hendry said they’ll make a final decision by Tuesday or Wednesday.

“I feel confident,” Millar said. “It’s a great group of guys here and you just have to get these guys believing. This is a good team. I feel confident. You just keep going to the finish line and ultimately they’ll make a decision.”

— Carrie Muskat

3/27 Selig: No "Cubs tax"

MLB commissioner Bud Selig said Saturday his office has stepped in to determine a way to finance the Cubs’ new Spring Training facility and avoid implementing a ticket surcharge to Cactus League games.

The commissioner was at HoHoKam Park to watch the Cubs play the San Diego Padres. He said John McHale, executive vice president, administration and chief information officer for Major League Baseball, is working full-time on the matter.

“[We’re trying to] find the best economic solution and we’ll go talk to everybody,” Selig said. “It is in our hands, it’s completely in our hands. We’re going to have to find a solution that we accept and if it involves a municipality, we’ll talk to them. We’re looking for the economic solution.”

On March 18, the Arizona House of Representatives approved a Spring Training ticket surcharge plan designed to generate more than $100 million for improvements to facilities across the Valley over the next 30 years. Arizona Republican Rep. John McComish had pushed the surcharge in House Bill 2736 despite opposition from other Cactus League teams. That bill is now dormant in the Arizona Legislature.

“To tax everybody for somebody is a dangerous precedent,” Selig said. “That could be dangerous not only to Spring Training but at the Major League level. There are economic solutions to everything and we have to be smart about it. We’re working on a couple things now and I’m satisfied we’ll work it out.”

— Carrie Muskat

3/27 Blanco to Rangers

The Cubs have traded infielder Andres Blanco to the Rangers for a player to be named later or cash considerations on Saturday. Blanco was batting .667 in seven games. He had been slowed this spring because of a sprained right knee. The move means the Cubs feel confident Mike Fontenot can handle shortstop and could help in terms of deciding the final bench spots.

— Carrie Muskat

3/27 Soriano, the Fuke to get extra work

Neither Alfonso Soriano or Kosuke Fukudome were in Saturday’s Cubs lineup. Both will be spending a lot of the day working with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Soriano is batting .286 this spring while Fukudome is hitting .289.

* Lou Piniella is still deciding the pitching rotation order now that they’ve picked Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny to fill the two spots.

* Xavier Nady will start in the outfield Sunday, then play first base in the Minor League camp on Monday. All of the Cubs regulars will be in the lineup Friday when the team plays the D-Backs at Chase Field. That will be the first and only spring night game.

* Expect final roster decisions to be made Tuesday. Piniella said they’ll meet to discuss the bench. “The harder the decision, probably the better for the ballteam,” he said.

— Carrie Muskat

3/27 Marmol not a fan of Arizona

Carlos Marmol may be one Cubs pitcher who wouldn’t mind seeing the team move to Florida. The dry Arizona air is not helping him get a good grip on his slider, which may be contributing to the closer’s struggles in his last two games. He took the loss Friday, serving up three runs, and has given up home runs in each of his last two outings.

“I’m OK,” Marmol said Saturday. “I tried to make my pitch, they saw it. We’re in Spring Training now. I didn’t walk people — that’s what I’m looking for is not walking people.”

And that’s what the Cubs want to see is better control, no walks. Pitchers do seem to favor Spring Training in Florida.

“I can’t feel my slider,” Marmol said. “That’s why I hit people with my slider. I can’t feel it in my hand. That’s why I want to leave here.”

He’s actually talking about leaving for the regular season, not Mesa.

What about his mechanics?

“I’m OK,” Marmol said. “My fastball is good. My slider, I need to work on it a little bit. We’ll see.”

It’s been a better spring for the right-hander who knows he’s the closer. There’s no competition this time.

“I feel good about that, I feel very comfortable,” Marmol said. “I don’t have to fight for the position with anybody. I feel more confident and I want to go out there and give my best.”

Lou Piniella tried to show the media what Marmol was doing wrong after Friday’s game. We’ll let pitching coach Larry Rothschild handle the mechanics.

“Sometimes you do a bad thing [with mechanics],” Marmol said. “Who knows? Nobody’s perfect. You make a mistake. Sometimes you win the battle, sometimes they don’t swing and miss, and sometimes you pay for it. I feel very comfortable and confident.”

— Carrie Muskat

3/27 Nady to play OF Sunday

Xavier Nady was not in the Cubs’ lineup Saturday. Nady says he wasn’t supposed to play Saturday, but will start on Sunday when they travel to Peoria to play the Mariners. Nady is tentatively scheduled to start Sunday, Wednesday and next Friday in the outfield as he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

— Carrie Muskat

3/26 Marmol "flat" in 2nd bad outing

Lou Piniella watched a little film of closer Carlos Marmol after Friday’s game. The Cubs closer served up a home run in his second straight outing in a 5-2 loss to the Athletics. Piniella felt Marmol was “flat” and wondered why.

“We’ll let Larry [Rothschild, pitching coach] work on it tomorrow,” Piniella said.

In his last two outings, Marmol has given up four hits and four runs over two innings.

“His mechanics are off,” Piniella said. “What he’s doing is showing the ball to the hitter quicker and he’s losing that nice depth on his breaking ball.”

The problem is Marmol was throwing more sidearm than over the top and his elbow was leading the ball. When you do that, Piniella said, “you lose that good snap. It was very evident in the film. It’s something to work on. That’s why it’s called Spring Training.”

— Carrie Muskat

3/26 Ted Lilly update

Ted Lilly threw 31 pitches over two innings in a Minor League game at Fitch Park on Friday. Lilly, coming back from arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder, gave up a couple runs in the first and retired the side in the second. He threw fastballs and changeups, no curves. Next step will be another Minor League start at the Cubs’ camp. Lilly is expected to be ready to join the rotation sometime after April 15.

— Carrie Muskat