April 2010

4/29 Speaking same language

Kosuke Fukudome’s hitting coach, Kyosuke Sasaki, predicted this spring that the Cubs outfielder will finish this season batting above .300. On Thursday, Sasaki said he’s encouraged by his star pupil.

What Sasaki started working on this offseason — and what Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has continued — is to have Fukudome lower his body in his stance and be more compact.

“At the end of last year, just watching the video, I was thinking that he probably should lower himself down a little bit,” Sasaki said Thursday through Fukudome’s interpreter Hiro Aoyama. “Then, at the end of the season, he came to Osaka where I live. I started to talk about it and he was actually thinking the exact same thing. We were in agreement. Then I started working with him about it.”

“What I am thinking is the same thing [Jaramillo] is thinking,” Sasaki said. “I’m thinking Kosuke is comfortable around him.”

Entering Thursday’s game, Fukudome was batting .333. One year ago, the outfielder got off to a good start and hit .338 in April but finished at .259. In two seasons in the U.S. Major Leagues, Fukudome has compiled a .258 batting average. In nine years in Japan, he hit .305, winning a batting title in 2006 when he hit .351.

Sasaki predicts this will be a good year.

“Just looking at him, he’s definitely getting better,” Sasaki said. “As a batter, I think everybody has to be ready for the quick approach and he is ready for it so I think it’s definitely a better situation for him.”

— Carrie Muskat

4/29 About last night …

The Cubs trailed 3-2 on Wednesday when Marlon Byrd doubled to lead off the eighth inning. Mike Fontenot was up next and popped up to Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond. After the game, Lou Piniella became a little testy with a reporter who asked if Fontenot should’ve bunted. What did Fontenot think?

“Whatever he wanted me to do, I’d do,” said Fontenot, who obviously wasn’t bunting. “I should’ve been able to get the job done swinging the bat. That’s part of the game. When there’s a guy on second, nobody out, the pitcher knows — everybody knows — you’re trying to pull the ball.

“Usually they try to keep it away — he actually wasn’t trying to keep it away,” Fontenot said. “He threw a few pitches and I had really good swings and fouled them off. I had a good swing on the last one and the ball just went the wrong way on me.”

The Cubs stranded 11 in the loss, so it wasn’t just Fontenot who failed to deliver with men on.

“We had opportunities,” Fontenot said. “Myself, I had opportunities a couple times and I didn’t get it done. As a team we didn’t get it done yesterday and that’s what it comes down to. After the fact, there’s always things you can say, like ‘I could’ve done this.’ Long story short, swinging the bat, I should’ve gotten it done.”

— Carrie Muskat

4/29 Lineup, Caridad & Keller

No changes in Thursday’s lineup. It’ll be:

SS Theriot

RF Fukudome

1B Lee

3B Ramirez

CF Byrd

LF Soriano

2B Fontenot

C Soto

P Lilly

* Also, Esmailin Caridad, rehabbing from a strained right forearm, was to throw one inning on Saturday in Mesa. The rookie is about 10 days away from returning.

* Cubs roving Minor League hitting instructor Dave Keller is with the team for the series to help Rudy Jaramillo.

— Carrie Muskat

4/29 Cubs Inbox

The latest Inbox is up. Have a question? Send it to cubsinbox@gmail.com, and please include your full name and hometown. We’ll try to get on a regular Monday schedule.

Here’s the link to the Inbox:


— Carrie Muskat


4/29 Minor matters

Blake Lalli drove in two runs and Robinson Chirinos posted his fifth multi-hit game of the year but it wasn’t enough as Tennessee lost, 6-5, to Birmingham on Wednesday. Russ Canzler extended his hitting streak to five games, going 2-for-4 with two RBIs.

Brett Jackson had two hits, including a triple, in Daytona’s 5-3 loss to Lakeland. DJ LeMahieu had two RBIs. Rebel Ridling, playing his second game with the Daytona team, hit a RBI double.

Peoria scored three runs in the sixth to beat Wisconsin, 4-2. Richard Jones had two hits and two RBIs. The Chiefs are 8-0 at home, tying the 2003 team for the best start in O’Brien Field history.

Iowa had Wednesday off and will face Omaha Thursday night.

— Carrie Muskat

4/27 Sing along

On Tuesday night, new Bears running back Chester Taylor will lead the crowd at Wrigley in the seventh inning stretch. Bears players Robbie Gould, Brad Maynard and Pat Mannelly will do the honors on Wednesday.

Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins will sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on Thursday and actor Tracy Morgan will do so Friday. Chicago native Vince Vaughn will do so Saturday and former Cubs first baseman Mark Grace will sing on Sunday.

— Carrie Muskat

4/27 Iowa sweep

Triple-A Iowa swept a doubleheader over Round Rock on Tuesday. Brad Snyder hit a two-run double in a 4-3 win in the first game. Jeff Samardzija pitched 1 2/3 innings in relief for the win. In the second game, Iowa scored three runs in the sixth, including a sacrifice fly by Darwin Barney and a RBI double by Bobby Scales. Casey Coleman gave up two runs on six hits over six innings for the win.

— Carrie Muskat

4/27 First month assessment

GM Jim Hendry was asked Monday about how he feels about the Cubs after nearly one month of play:

“I like the last three days [in Milwaukee] more than the first 2 1/2 weeks,” Hendry said. “The good thing is we played like we’re capable of three days in a row. It just kind of verifies what we thought we had. Things can happen. Not all 30 teams break and do well. … I’m optimistic now that we’re starting to swing the bat, our pitching has been real good, our bench is better, our depth is better and Lou has proven his entire career that if you have some hiccups early, he puts people into roles right away to see if they can sink or swim. You find out, you make adjustments, you move a few pieces around.”

One of those hiccups was the struggles the bullpen was having. Moving Carlos Zambrano to the set-up role has changed this dramatically in the two games he’s pitched.

“The bottom line is that at this particular time, it makes us a better club,” Hendry said. “[Zambrano] didn’t throw poorly. [Silva and Gorzelanny], their arsenal isn’t conducive to going to the pen. … There’s no agenda at all except it was the best fit at the time. He’s capable of doing it.”

Zambrano has said he will do this until the Cubs find another set-up pitcher. Nobody knows when that will be.

“I don’t have a time frame,” Hendry said. “It makes us a better club right now. All the other guys are pitching great. A month from now, somebody may slip up or someone has an injury and things change.”

Which means Zambrano could move back into the rotation. By that time, Esmailin Caridad may be ready for the job. One thing is clear, salary was not a factor.

“You can’t worry about anybody’s individual salary,” Hendry said. “Things change. People adjust. We’re going to have an injury or two along the way and we’ll adjust to that. … Nobody ever breaks camp with the 25 in the same role and just run the table, win 100 and goes to the playoffs. To get hung up on what somebody makes or what they used to do or what’s going to happen a month from now or who you’re going to acquire, that’s foolish thinking.”

— Carrie Muskat

4/26 Carlos y Carlos y Carlos

Carlos Silva, Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Marmol all pitched in Monday’s game. It’s the first time the Cubs used three pitchers with the same first name in a game since June 5, 1966, when Bill Hands, Bill Connors and Bill Hoeft all appeared in an 8-3 loss to the Reds in Cincinnati. Thanks to historian Ed Hartig for that.

* Brad Snyder was named the Pacific Coast League’s Batter of the Week for April 19-25. Snyder hit .480 (12-for-25) with three doubles, three home runs, five runs scored and seven RBIs in six games. During that span, his average and six total extra-base hits were tops in the PCL and he was tied for first in hits, doubles and homers.

* Ryan Theriot picked up his sixth-consecutive multi-hit game on Monday. He’s the first Cub to collect six-straight multi-hit contests since Alfonso Soriano had seven straight, May 10-17, 2008.

* Carlos Silva is the first Cubs pitcher to toss quality starts in his first four starts since Ted Lilly in 2007. Lilly did so in his first five games with the Cubs.

* Jeff Baker hit his first triple since Aug. 9, 2009 at Colorado. That day marked another Cubs note of interest. Silva’s bases-loaded walk Monday was the first by a Cubs pitcher since Ryan Dempster did so on Aug. 8, 2009, at Colorado.

— Carrie Muskat 


4/26 More at stake in Cubs vs. White Sox

The Cubs and White Sox will be battling for more than just bragging rights. The two teams Monday announced an official structure to the Interleague rivalry known as the Crosstown Classic. Starting this year, the series will be called the BP Crosstown Cup. Cubs owner Tom Ricketts and manager Lou Piniella joined White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham and catcher A.J. Pierzynski in announcing the details.

“Cubs and Sox fans have always been passionate about this rivalry. The BP Crosstown Cup recognizes the excitement of winning the crosstown series,” Ricketts said. “In addition to bragging rights, fans will have a chance to win prizes through this promotion, which will make the series even more fun.”

Under the rules of the BP Crosstown Cup, the two teams will continue to meet in a yearly six-game head-to-head series as they have since 1997. The team with the most wins in the yearly series will be formally awarded the rivalry’s namesake trophy. If the annual series is split 3-3, the BP Crosstown Cup will be awarded to the winner of the series’ last game.

The Cubs and White Sox kick off their first series of 2010 at Wrigley Field on June 11 and will celebrate their 75th meeting on June 13. The BP Crosstown Cup trophy will be awarded in a formal ceremony at U.S. Cellular Field following the deciding game of the six-game series.

— Carrie Muskat