April 2012

4/20 Extra bases: Reds 9, Cubs 4

The Cubs committed three errors Friday which contributed to a loss to the Reds, Chicago’s sixth straight defeat. Chris Volstad (0-2) gave up six runs (five earned) on seven hits and two walks over five innings. Bryan LaHair, batting fourth in place of Alfonso Soriano, had two hits.

* Ryan Dempster is questionable for Sunday’s start because of a right quad strain. Dempster underwent an MRI on Friday. Randy Wells was brought to Chicago from Triple-A Iowa in case the Cubs need a starter. Dempster is 0-1 but has a 1.33 ERA in his three starts this season and has struck out 23.

* The Cubs have a Major League low five home runs. The Yankees hit five homers Friday against the Red Sox.

* The Cubs placed Kerry Wood on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to April 14, with right shoulder fatigue and recalled left-handed reliever Scott Maine from Triple-A Iowa. Maine spent most of last season at Iowa where he went 3-4 with 12 saves and a 3.68 ERA. Wood has appeared in four games, with his last outing one week ago in St. Louis. It’s the 16th time in his career he’s been placed on the DL.

* The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball announced that Dodgers Minor League pitcher Angel Guzman has received a 50-game suspension after a second violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program for a drug of abuse. The suspension of Guzman, who is currently on the roster of Triple-A Albuquerque, was effective immediately.

* Sports radio host Dan Patrick will lead the Wrigley Field crowd in the seventh inning stretch on Saturday. On Sunday, it will be Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett. On Monday, UIC men’s basketball coach Howard Moore will do the honors. On Tuesday, it will be Loyola men’s basketball coach Porter Moser. On Wednesday, former Seinfeld actor Jason Alexander will sing “Take Me out to the Ballgame.”

— Carrie Muskat

4/19 Marlins 5, Cubs 3

The Cubs began their first road trip with a confidence-boosting win over the defending World Series champions, and ended it Thursday with a sputtering offense. Greg Dobbs hit a two-run double to back Ricky Nolasco and lift the Marlins to victory and a sweep of the Cubs. They went 1-5 on this trip. Jeff Samardzija (2-1) took the loss in the shortest outing by a Cubs starter this season, lasting 3 2/3 innings. He deflected Logan Morrison’s liner off the meaty portion of his right hand in the fourth but stayed in to strike out Giancarlo Stanton and was then pulled.

“I should’ve caught it,” Samardzija said. “That was the least of my worries.”

The problem was a lack of first-pitch strikes. In Samardzija’s first start of the year against the Nationals, he threw first-pitch strikes to all but five of the 31 batters he faced. On Thursday, he did so for 12 of the 21 batters faced.

“I’m not 100 percent disappointed,” Samardzija said of his outing. “There are just things you have to work on.”

* The Cubs rank last in the Major Leagues in home runs and are 28th in the Majors in slugging percentage. Since their April 13 win over the Cardinals, they’ve been outscored, 34-10. They’re not panicking; just need some consistency in all facets of the game.

“It’s tough,” David DeJesus said of the five-game skid and overall 3-10 record. “We come to the field to win the games. It’s not like we’re coming to hang out and have fun. We just have to get better as a team. We have to focus and take every at-bat the way professionals do. I feel that will lead to better innings and ‘W’s in the win column.”

* The Cubs finally got the big inning they’ve been looking for in the second, sparked by Darwin Barney’s three-run triple. But in the three-game series at Marlins Park, the Cubs were 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position and stranded 15 baserunners.

* Geovany Soto posted his first multi-hit game of the season. He led NL catchers in 2011 with 21.

* Starlin Castro extended his hitting streka to seven games, and is .444 in that stretch. He’s reached base safely in 52 of his last 53 games since Aug. 15, 2011.

* Ian Stewart had two hits to end an 0-for-13 skid.

* On Friday, the Cubs open a three-game series and six-game homestand against the Reds. Chris Volstad will face Homer Bailey on Friday.

— Carrie Muskat

4/19 Theo toasts Fenway

Theo Epstein will be skipping the Fenway Park celebration on Friday, celebrating the ballpark’s 100th anniversary. Instead, the Cubs president of baseball operations will be at Wrigley Field, the second oldest Major League ballpark, to watch the Cubs play the Reds.

“I hope tomorrow is a great day for Red Sox fans and for the whole organization,” Epstein said Thursday. “I have plans to be at the Cubs game tomorrow, but I will take a moment to toast Fenway along with everyone else who loves that ballpark.”

— Carrie Muskat

4/19 LaHair to sign for good cause

Bryan LaHair will sign autographs at the Sports World, 3555 N. Clark Street, across from Wrigley Field after Saturday’s game against the Reds. Proceeds will benefit the Chicago Urban Initiatives program. Fans will have the opportunity to purchase wristbands for $10, which will serve as a donation to the charity and allow them to receive one autograph and a photo with the Cubs first baseman. Urban Initiatives is a nonprofit organization that runs a health and education sports program, called the “Work to Play Program” in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). It helps children overcome the obstacles of poor health and educational under achievement by emphasizing the values of physical fitness, nutrition education, academic performance and character development. The event will begin approximately 45 minutes after the end of the game.

— Carrie Muskat 

4/19 Volstad comes home

The Cubs’ three-game series in Miami was a homecoming for Chris Volstad, who was traded by the Marlins to Chicago in January for Carlos Zambrano.

“The weird part is being in a hotel like it’s another road trip in a different state, city, whatever because this is close to where I grew up and my family is right around the corner and this is where I used to play.”

Well, not exactly where Volstad played. When he was with the Marlins, they played their home games at the NFL Dolphins home field.

A native of nearby Palm Beach Gardens, Volstad had plenty of family at the games. He used to rent a place in Ft. Lauderdale during the season.

“Being in Florida and not being in one of those two places is kind of weird,” he said.

What does he think of the new Marlins Park?

“It’s definitely Miami,” he said. “It’s definitely needed and it’s nice. It’s a great place to play.”

— Carrie Muskat

4/19 Theo: Look at the big picture

Theo Epstein, in Miami after scouting some players for the upcoming Draft, said fans need to look at the big picture rather than panic over the Cubs slow start.

“You never want to start off poorly,” Epstein said Thursday. “There are a lot of things we can improve upon and we will, but you also don’t want to read too much into one homestand and one road trip. Certainly, it crystalized some areas that we need to ascribe to be better.”

The Cubs have been lacking in terms of slugging percentage — Alfonso Soriano, for example, does not have an extra base hit — and also speed.

“Every team has stretches where they don’t hit and we’re in one of them,” Epstein said. “We have certain guys with offensive upside and it’s a continual process to have those guys reach that upside and start swinging the bat better and the way you score runs is by getting guys on base and swinging the bat well as the same time. We don’t have that right now.”

Dale Sveum hinted he may alter the lineup for Thursday’s series finale against the Marlins but did not. Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo are doing well at Triple-A Iowa. Any chance those two kids will join the big league team?

“Those guys are continuing their development at Triple-A and there are things they’re working on to continue to improve,” Epstein said. “We’re also not giving up on guys after a homestand and a road trip. Guys need time to get into a rhythm of the season and show what they can do. Baseball is best understood from bigger samples and from a distance sometimes. N0 one wants to get off to this kind of start and the lineup isn’t performing well but it’s a little early to be thinking about those kind of moves, specifically with your better prospects.”

What Epstein and the Cubs are looking at is the big picture, not short-term.

“[We look at] what will help us maximize our competitiveness in 2012 and the bigger picture is how do we build a championship caliber organization,” Epstein said. “That’s a longer term issue. When those two interests butt up against each other, we’ll defer to the long-term. There are things we can do, smaller moves we can make and probably will make over the course of the season to try to put together a club that can be more competitive. We’re also looking out for the best long-term interests of the organization.”

— Carrie Muskat 

4/19 Minor League report

Jay Jackson gave up five runs on six hits over 5 2/3 innings in Iowa’s 6-4 loss to Albuquerque on Wednesday. Luis Valbuena had two hits, including a home run, and two RBIs. Brett Jackson reached base twice with a walk and a double.

Dallas Beeler gave up one unearned run on nine hits over 5 2/3 innings in Tennessee’s 2-1 loss to Huntsville in the first game of a doubleheader. In the second game, Ty Wright homered in a 1-0 win. Frank Batista picked up the save, his fifth.

Daytona had Wednesday off. The D-Cubs return to action Thursday against Tampa. Zach Cates is scheduled to start.

Jose Rosario gave up four runs on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings in Peoria’s 5-2 loss to Cedar Rapids. Paul Hoilman had two hits and Oliver Zapata had one RBI.

— Carrie Muskat

4/19 Cubs lineup

Dale Sveum hinted he might tinker with the lineup but apparently decided not to for the Cubs’ series finale Thursday against the Marlins. Here’s the order:

RF DeJesus

2B Barney

SS Castro

LF Soriano

3B Stewart

1B LaHair

C Soto

CF Byrd

P Samardzija

— Carrie Muskat

4/19 Bunting tournament

When Matt Garza was pulled from the Wednesday’s game against the Marlins, he grabbed a bat in the dugout and went into the tunnel. What gives?

“He thought he was going to hit,” Dale Sveum said with a smile. “He went to get some swings down in the tunnel.”

Sveum pointed out there was a batting tee and a net down there. Only the Cubs and Garza know what happened.

Said Garza: “I wanted to go square up in the mirror and see where I was at with my stance and stuff like that.”

— Carrie Muskat 

4/19 Thursday morning quarterback

In the sixth inning Wednesday, the Marlins had a runner at second when Donnie Murphy blooped a ball into shallow left. Alfonso Soriano fielded the ball, but didn’t throw it quickly back into the infield. Murphy hustled to second and got a double from what should’ve been a single.

“It was [Murphy’s] hustle but we could’ve done a lot of things differently,” Dale Sveum said. “We have to get the ball and get the ball to second base. ‘Sori’ knows that and he knows he made a mistake and took something for granted there.”

Murphy eventually scored on a sacrifice fly, part of a three-run inning in the Marlins’ 9-1 win over the Cubs.

Marlins Park is huge and provides hitters plenty of chances for doubles and triples. It’s not good to give one away.

“There have been a few hiccups you’d like to have back but the bottom line is when our starting pitching is pitching that good and keeping us in ballgames, we have to be able to keep ourselves in ballgames and score runs,” Sveum said. “If that’s as bad as [Matt] Garza is going to be, giving up five runs in 5 1/3 or whatever it was, it’d be nice to have three runs and be 5-3. We’ve got to find a way to score some runs.”

— Carrie Muskat