July 2010

7/27 Growing pains

Andrew Cashner took the loss Tuesday and also got a quick lesson. The game was scoreless going into the Houston seventh and Cashner was ahead of Humberto Quintero 0-2. But he hit the Astros catcher with a pitch. That allowed the Astros to lift Quintero for pinch-runner Jason Bourgeois, who stole second and moved up on Brett Myers’ sacrifice.

If Cashner gets Quintero out, Myers is probably lifted for a pinch-hitter. Instead, Michael Bourn was intentionally walked and Bourgeois scampered home on a safety squeeze by Angel Sanchez. Cashner had retrieved the ball and tried to flip it to catcher Koyie Hill but it was too late.

“It was a tough inning for Cashner,” Lou Piniella said. “On the squeeze play, you just concede the run and get the out and get the heck out of the inning. Those are things you learn as a young pitcher.”

“It was a good bunt,” Cashner said. “I thought I had a chance. I went and looked at it [on video] and I see I didn’t have much of a chance and should’ve made the play at first.”

Hunter Pence followed with a RBI single to make it 2-0. Carlos Lee walked and Jeff Keppinger was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Lance Berkman, who drove a 2-0 pitch from Cashner to center for his fifth career grand slam. The Cubs bullpen was short-handed because of overwork and it was Cashner’s inning.

“That was a tough at-bat,” Cashner said of Berkman. “The first pitch was kind of close and he made a good swing. I could’ve pitched him a little different right there. I put myself in a jam. It is what it is.”

It’s part of the growing pains for the rookie right-hander, who got a pep talk from Ted Lilly. That’s one more reason why Piniella and the Cubs players would hate to lose the lefty.

“I just hope [Cashner] doesn’t worry about it too much and his focus stays the same,” Lilly said. “The game of baseball is crazy. It can be easy to doubt yourself at times. Hopefully he doesn’t. He’s got great makeup and clearly he has a special arm and a very good sound delivery to go along with it.”

— Carrie Muskat

7/27 Lou on Lilly: "He wants to stay"

Ted Lilly and Lou Piniella shared a cab ride from their downtown Houston hotel Tuesday to Minute Maid Park. The two have been together with the Cubs for the same period of time, both joining the team in 2007. They have a special relationship.

Piniella is retiring at the end of the season but whether he’ll have Lilly around for the final two months may not be known until Saturday’s trading deadline. Lilly did not get a decision in the Cubs’ 6-1 loss to the Astros Tuesday. The question now is when — and for whom — Lilly’s next start will be.

“He wants to stay here but he understands,” Piniella said of Lilly, rumored to be sought after by pitching-needy teams still in the playoff race. “He’s been a huge part of my four years. He’s a good young man. He’s a professional and I’ve got nothing but admiration for him.”

Was this Lilly’s last start for the Cubs?

“Maybe,” the lefty said. “That’s what I’ve been hearing and reading. We’ll see.”

There were at least five scouts at Minute Maid watching the lefty. Saturday at 3 p.m. CT is the trading deadline.

“Sometimes things like that can help you, sometimes they can hurt you, sometimes they’re irrelevant,” Lilly said. “I’d like to think that of those three, they’re irrelevant. You hear about it, you read about it, you hear people talk about it, you guys ask me questions. There’s no doubt I’ve thought about it. Again, that’s one of those things you have to deal with, things in this game that don’t necessarily have anything to do with locating the fastball.”

Piniella has Lilly scheduled to start Monday in the series opener against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field.

“Let’s not talk about [the possibility of Lilly leaving] until we get some word,” Piniella said. “Let’s hope we’ll have him out there at Wrigley for us.”

— Carrie Muskat

7/27 Rumors

There are at least a half dozen Major League scouts on hand at Minute Maid Park to watch Ted Lilly and the Astros’ Brett Myers. Lilly has drawn interest despite his 3-8 record because that mark is a reflection of the lack of run support. The lefty leads the Major Leagues in least amount of runs (2.43 per start). Through five innings Tuesday, he’s rarely topped 90 mph on the stadium radar gun but his curve has been sharp.

There are rumors that teams also are interested in Derrek Lee, who will be a free agent at season’s end like Lilly. However, the interest is limited. Lee is batting .352 in his last 16 games since July 6 with seven doubles, one homer and eight RBIs but he’s hitting .251 overall.

According to reports, the Cubs are offering Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Zambrano to teams, but both have significant guaranteed money on their contracts. Fukudome is batting .253 and has been bumped by rookie Tyler Colvin. It’s uncertain how Big Z will do in his comeback from the restricted list.

Neither GM Jim Hendry nor assistant Randy Bush are in Houston, opting to stay in Chicago. The trading deadline is Saturday at 3 p.m. CT.

— Carrie Muskat 

7/27 Lineup vs. Astros & Soto

Geovany Soto is not starting Tuesday so he can give his left foot a day to heal. He fouled a ball off his instep on Monday. Chances of Soto playing Wednesday in series finale are 50-50, Lou Piniella says. The other question is: is this Ted Lilly’s last start for the Cubs? Saturday is the trading deadline. Here’s the lineup:

RF Colvin

SS Castro

1B Lee

3B Ramirez

CF Byrd

LF Soriano

2B Theriot

C Hill

P Lilly

— Carrie Muskat

7/27 Cubs narrow list of Mesa sites

Now it’s down to three. The Cubs apparently have narrowed the list of potential Spring Training sites in Mesa, Ariz., to three locations, including Riverview Park and its golf course, a downtown area known as Site 17, and another in the northeast part of town.

Mesa officials need to finalize a plan before the November election and early balloting, which will begin in either late September or early October. Voter approval is required for the city to spend more than $1.5 million on a sports complex. Mesa was expected to spend as much as $84 million on new facilities for the Cubs. A second ballot would raise the hotel bed tax from 3 percent to 5 percent, which could raise another $30 million. City officials say Mesa would cover any remaining costs by borrowing against surplus land the city owns in Pinal County.

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith confirmed the three locations to the Arizona Republic.

If the Cubs picked the Riverview site, that would mean the end of a proposed water-themed resort there. That project has stalled because of a lack of financing. Riverview would give the Cubs a 15-minute access to four other Cactus League ballparks via access to Loop 202 and Loop 101.

The downtown location, known as Site 17, is a barren tract cleared a decade ago for a resort that was never built. The Cubs actually began training in Mesa in 1952 at downtown Rendezvous Park.

“The big challenge … is that it would involve multiple parcels of land and multiple parcels of land and multiple negotiations,” Smith told the Arizona Republic. “I’m not sure we have the time to make it happen, but we’re working on it.”

The third candidate is a site near the Longbow Golf Course south of Loop 202.

Smith said the key factor is where the Cubs believe their “Wrigleyville West” plan for tourism development will be most successful.

— Carrie Muskat

7/27 Szczur to Class A Peoria

Matt Szczur, the Cubs’ fifth-round pick out of Villanova, will be promoted from Boise to Class A Peoria. Szczur has hit safely in all 18 games with Boise, batting .397 (29-for-73) with nine doubles, 16 runs scored, eight RBIs, a .439 on-base percentage and .521 slugging percentage. With Villanova, he batted .443 (77-for-174) and was named to the All-Big East first team after leading the team in eight offensive categories.

Szczur also starred on the Villanova football team, whom he helped lead to its first National Championship (Football Championship Subdivision) as a junior in 2009.  He was named the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year and Special Teams Player of the Year. In the national championship, he rushed for a career-high 159 yards, 270 all-purpose yards and was named Most Outstanding Player. His deal with the Cubs allows him to return to Villanova to play football in the fall, after which he is expected to decide between declaring for the NFL Draft or continuing his baseball career next spring.

Szczur also earned recognition and praise for donating his bone marrow to a young girl with leukemia earlier this spring. He missed 10 baseball games in order to help her.

— Carrie Muskat

7/27 Minor matters

Jeff Samardzija gave up three runs, one earned, on two hits and give walks over six innings in Iowa’s 6-5 loss to Round Rock. Samardzija also hit his first homer, going 2-for-3, and struck out seven. Bryan LaHair also homered.

Rafael Dolis gave up one run on two hits over three innings in Tennessee’s 10-5 win over Mississippi. Tony Thomas drove in four runs and hit his eighth home run. Brandon Guyer had three hits.

Nicholas Struck gave up two runs on three hits in five innings in Peoria’s 6-5 win over Lake County. The Chiefs turned four double plays in the win. Nelson Perez hit a solo homer.

Matt Szczur extended his hitting streak to 18 games in Boise’s 4-3 loss to Yakima. He also had two RBIs.

— Carrie Muskat

7/27 Zambrano eager to apologize

Carlos Zambrano said Tuesday he can’t wait to see his Cubs teammates to apologize in person, something he would have done sooner if allowed.

“I know I made a mistake,” Zambrano told MLB.com. “I’m a person and a human, and I know when I make a mistake. I have to come to the team and apologize.

“I’m not going to [apologize] because [the Cubs] said I have to do it,” he said. “I’m going to do it from my heart. I want to be clear and at peace with my teammates.”

Zambrano spoke before traveling to Albuquerque with the Triple-A Iowa team. Currently on the restricted list, he was expected to pitch Tuesday or Wednesday, and then be activated Friday when the Cubs begin a three-game series in Denver against the Rockies. He has made two appearances with the Iowa Cubs so far.

He did an interview with ESPN on Monday but said he was motivated to do that in an attempt to clear up some misunderstandings. The Iowa Cubs had announced Zambrano would talk last week when he reported to the team but he didn’t. He also did not talk to the media after his outing in Des Moines and said Tuesday he was told not to speak to reporters by the Cubs front office.

“I saw a little bit of [the ESPN interview],” Lou Piniella said Monday of Zambrano’s comments. “I’m sure he’s contrite and I’m sure he’s looking forward to coming back but the important thing remains that he talk to his teammates.”

Zambrano said Tuesday he wanted to apologize to his teammates immediately after the incident happened June 25 at U.S. Cellular Field but was told by the Cubs to stay away. However, all sides agreed at that time that Zambrano needed to undergo treatment before meeting with the players.

“I don’t like to lie,” Zambrano said Tuesday. “I wanted to do this way before this time. I wanted to come to the clubhouse and apologize and talk to my teammates.”

He’ll get his chance on Friday.

— Carrie Muskat

7/27 Smokies' Archer honored

Tennessee pitcher Chris Archer was named Southern League pitcher of the week. Archer has yet to give up an earned run in 28 1/3 innings since being promoted to the Double-A team from Class A Daytona. The right-hander picked up his fourth win on Sunday, giving up one hit over six innings and striking out five. He did walk four. He has not been charged with an earned run since June 22.

The Smokies won Archer’s start, the second game of a doubleheader Sunday against Mississippi, 4-0. Tony Thomas hit his seventh homer, a solo shot. In the first game, Robinson Chirinos hit his 14th homer but it wasn’t enough as Mississippi won, 7-6.

* Casey Coleman picked up his 10th win in Iowa’s 14-2 win Sunday over Round Rock. He gave up one run on four hits over five innings and Micah Hoffpauir added his 15th home run, driving in two runs.

* Chris Siegfried threw five shutout innings for Daytona in a 6-1 win over St. Lucie Sunday. Junior Lake hit two home runs and drove in four. Justin Bour notched his 23rd multi-hit game in Peoria’s 4-3 win over Lake County. Matt Szczur extended his hitting streak to 17 games in Boise’s 8-2 loss to Yakima. Anthony Giansanti homered in Mesa’s 7-6 win over the Athletics.

— Carrie Muskat 


7/27 Theriot's blast

Ryan Theriot hit his first home run in nearly 13 months in the Cubs’ 5-2 win Monday. The homer, which was Theriot’s first since June 29, 2009, ended his streak of homerless at-bats at an even 700. According to Elias, it was the third third-longest current home run drought among active players, behind Juan Pierre and Reggie Willits.

— Carrie Muskat