4/25 Thinking outside the box

Lou Piniella has had to be creative since coming to the Cubs. Moving Carlos Zambrano from the rotation to the bullpen is his latest experiment.

“What are we supposed to do? Put the burden every day on four young kids?” Piniella said. “Is it fair to them? Is it fair to us? I’m trying to win baseball games here. The new owner wants to win baseball games here. You’ve seen what happens here the first two weeks of the season and that wasn’t going to change overnight.”

What happened the first two weeks is the Cubs struggled to score runs and the young pitchers found themselves entering games without any room for error. Nine of the first 12 games were decided by two runs or less. This season, the Cubs have been outscored 20-12 in the eighth inning.

Angel Guzman and Esmailin Caridad, both expected to be key contributors in the pen, are  on the DL. James Russell, Justin Berg, Jeff Samardzija and Jeff Gray have been asked to grow up quickly.

“You have to bring young pitchers along the right way,” Piniella said. “You throw them into the fire and they don’t respond the right way, you’ll get more adversity than success. I like these kids who are here — I’ve said that coming out of Spring Training. But not in a 2-2 ballgame in the eighth inning or a 2-1 ballgame in the eighth inning. It’s not going to work.

“It could work six weeks from now if they’re brought along the right way,” he said. “Right now, it’s expecting too much. It’s like bringing a kid up from the Minor Leagues and having him hit fourth and bringing up another kid and having him hit fifth. You’re not going to get the consistency that those positions demand.”

Piniella has one goal.

“I’m trying to win baseball games, that’s all I’m trying to do,” Piniella said. “My job description is to win baseball games, as many as I can, and at the same time to do what’s best for the baseball team. That’s all I’m doing and that’s all I’m trying to do. You better be able ot think outside of the box.”

Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano are the two highest paid players on the Cubs’ payroll. But Piniella isn’t making decisions based on their salaries.

“They’re high-paid players who have had a lot of success and I recognize that,” Piniella said. “But the payroll of the team doesn’t change one way or another if you use them one way or another. The payroll stays the same. They should pay the manager more for doing these things.”

Was Piniella asking for a raise?

“Yeah, I want a raise,” he said, laughing. “I said that jokingly, obviously.”

— Carrie Muskat

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