August 2012

8/30 Raley to make last start

Thursday will be Brooks Raley’s last start of the season. The Cubs lefty knows it. He entered the game against the Brewers with 151 innings pitched this season, beginning at Double-A Tennessee. He totaled 136 1/3 innings the previous two seasons.

“Unfortunately, we have to shut him down after today’s game,” Dale Sveum said of the 24-year-old pitcher.

Expect Chris Rusin, 25, to fill that spot in the Cubs rotation for the final month. He has 140 1/3 innings at Triple-A Iowa and five more with the Cubs this season.

The Cubs also have been monitoring Jeff Samardzija’s innings this year, and there’s a chance he won’t finish the season. This is the right-hander’s first year in the rotation.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Sveum said. “He’s pitching seven innings every game right now, which hopefully continues. He’s been so strong, we’re just going to have to evaluate that as the season goes the rest of the way and where we are as well with starting pitchers to fill spots, too.”

Samardzija has pitched a career-high 158 2/3 innings so far. He totaled 88 last year.

— Carrie Muskat

8/30 Valbuena: “I have to make that play”

In the seventh inning Wednesday, Darwin Barney nearly lost his bid for a National League record for consecutive error-less games. After a review, Cubs third baseman Luis Valbuena was charged with the error and OK with that.

“I feel good they gave it to me,” Valbuena said Thursday.

The official scorer originally charged Barney with a throwing error in the seventh inning, but later switched the call to a fielding error by Valbuena. Barney finished with an error-free game, No. 114 in a row for the second baseman.

“It was an easy play,” Valbuena said Thursday. “I have to catch that ball. I felt so bad.”

Valbuena apologized to Barney after the game.

“I said, ‘I’m sorry about that,'” Valbuena said. “I saw the ball and I missed it. It was a good throw.”

Barney, who has now played in an NL record 114 error-free games, originally thought he was charged with the error. He appreciated Valbuena’s gesture.

“With a guy like him, you can’t be happy he got the error,” Barney said. “He’s a really good teammate.”

— Carrie Muskat

8/30 Vitters’ growing pains

Luis Valbuena started at third base for the Cubs on Thursday, and may be getting more playing time in the final month than Josh Vitters, which is a switch from Dale Sveum’s plan a short time ago. Vitters was batting .093 (5-for-54) with 19 strikeouts and hitless in his last four games.

“I’ll still mix and match,” Sveum said. “You might see Valbuena in there a little bit more. We’re just giving Vitters some time to kick back here now and see what happens. You’re trying to evaluate but you’re trying to win ballgames at the same time. We’re having trouble scoring runs, period, so the at-bats — Valbuena is getting on base, he’s swinging the bat well, playing good defense.”

Sveum admitted it’s a change from earlier.

“I have shifted gears a little that way because we’re not getting anything out of that position,” Sveum said. “A guy who hasn’t struck out much is striking out quite a bit and not making contact. We’re just going to evaluate and keep plugging along to determine what do we have and moving forward and evaluating these guys in situations that hopefully they’re going to succeed.”

Vitters is working hard, getting extra time in the cage with hitting coach James Rowson.

“I can hit at the Major League level now,” Vitters said. “There’s always adjustments that need to be made. I’m working on making strides to be where I need to be next year.”

Part of that is developing a game plan every at-bat and sticking to it, plus trusting himself. He was batting .304 at Triple-A when called up on Aug. 5 but said he wasn’t consistent.

“It’s the same story now,” he said. “I’m hoping the hot part comes or I can find a way to be more even through the whole season.”

His splits at Iowa: .261 in April, .284 in May, .324 in June, .301 in July. His strikeout numbers did increase — he went from 10 in 20 games in April to 29 in 27 games in July.

 — Carrie Muskat

8/30 Staying positive

Unfortunately for David DeJesus, he’s played on losing teams before, so he has dealt with what the Cubs are going through this season. That doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. DeJesus says he sticks to his routine and hopes the young players follow that example.

“It’s showing guys the professional side of it,” DeJesus said. “I’ve been through a lot of losing in my career so I understand it’s tough and it’s not something you want to be a part of. I understand that tomorrow’s another game, and tomorrow you have to show up and be mentally ready and physically ready to perform.”

DeJesus and Anthony Rizzo have been working out together before games. It should help the rookie develop a routine. DeJesus thinks Rizzo can handle the ups and downs of a Major League season.

“I think he’s mentally strong,” DeJesus said. “I think he’s a guy who lets go of yesterday’s stuff and comes today refreshed.”

DeJesus keeps a positive attitude. The Cubs now are a season-low 31 games under .500.

“It’s not fun coming to the park every day,” DeJesus said of teams in losing seasons. “You have a little more chance to lose than not. You have to understand this is a game of professionals. We’re men, we have to do a job, and we have to put our best foot forward.”

— Carrie Muskat


8/30 Cubs vs. Giants

Looking ahead, the Cubs play host to the Giants this weekend. It won’t be easy. Here are the pitching matchups:

Friday: RHP Chris Volstad (1-9, 6.28) vs. LHP Madison Bumgarner (14-8, 2.93)

Saturday: RHP Justin Germano (2-4, 5.91) vs. RHP Tim Lincecum (7-14, 5.30)

Sunday: LHP Travis Wood (4-11, 4.71) vs. RHP Matt Cain (13-5, 2.82)

— Carrie Muskat

8/30 Cubs lineup

Alfonso Soriano gets a day off Thursday in the Cubs series finale against the Brewers. Here’s the lineup:

DeJesus LF

Valbuena 3B

Castro SS

Rizzo 1B

LaHair RF

Clevenger C

Jackson CF

Barney 2B

Raley P

— Carrie Muskat

8/29 Extra bases

* Jeff Samardzija’s throwing error in the seventh inning led to the Brewers’ go-ahead run and a 3-1 victory Wednesday night over the Cubs, who lost for the 22nd time in the last 28 games. The Cubs couldn’t muster much support for Samardzija (8-12), who struck out 10 over seven innings. Chicago’s only run came in the second on Darwin Barney’s run-scoring groundout, driving in Bryan LaHair, who had singled.

“It’s not good when everybody in the lineup is struggling at the same time,” Dale Sveum said.

It was Samardzija’s 15th quality start, most on the team. In the last eight games, Cubs starting pitchers have a 3.26 ERA, and have given up three or fewer earned runs in seven of those games.

“He’s got good stuff,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of Samardzija. “I mean, his fatsball is not just hard, when it’s down, it’s diving. His slider is good. His split-finger is really good, guys aren’t picking it up. He’s a good pitcher.”

* Starlin Castro extended his hitting streak to five games with a double in the first. He’s hitting .316 in those five games.

* The Cubs have lost eight straight games to the Brewers, and are 5-20 in their last 25 against Milwaukee.

“You show up every day as a professional and do your job,” Samardzija said. “I go out every day to win the ballgame. That’s not going ot change. We’ve just got to do the little things right, and that includes myself.”

* Ryne Sandberg won nine Gold Gloves playing half of his games at Wrigley Field. The infield is tough. And that makes Darwin Barney’s milestone even more impressive. Barney now has played in a NL record 114 consecutive error-less games.

“You have a lot of respect for a guy like Sandberg,” Barney said. “The field plays pretty true but it’s been played on for 100 years. There’s no ground ball that’s a routine ground ball. When you reflect, you think of the close calls. It’s a tribute to everyone around me. There have been a couple feeds where [Starlin] Castro bailed me out and [Anthony] Rizzo made good plays. Something like this is not just you, it’s guys around you busting their tails for you.”

Barney isn’t blaming the ground crew.

“It’s hard on them to get this field ready to play every day,” Barney said. “It’s your baby. You have to say it’s the best field you’ve ever been on and go from there.”

* In the sixth inning, Samardzija and Ryan Braun exchanged smiles after Braun flew out to deep center. Braun nearly had home run No. 36.

“He’s a heck of a hitter,” Samardzija said of Braun. “He had two hits off me already. I thought I made a couple good pitches and he thought he put good wood on it and it stayed in the park. I was pretty surprised — I thought it was gone for sure. He was smiling a little bit. He’s a good hitter. Those guys are fun to face, especially when they’re swinging at hot as he is. You’ve got to make good pitches against those guys.”

* Alex Hinshaw’s Cubs career ended when he was designated for assignment on Tuesday. He finished with a 135.00 ERA. Only one Cubs pitcher had a worse ERA, and that was right-hander Mort Cooper, who appeared in one game on May 7, 1949, and faced three Brooklyn batters. He entered in the fourth with one out and two on, and walked the first batter he faced, Pee Wee Reese, then threw a wild pitch, allowing a run to score. Gene Hermanski hit a RBI single, and Duke Snider followed with a two-run homer. Cooper was then lifted. The Cubs lost, 10-4.

Hinshaw appeared in two games with the Cubs, gave up five earned runs on four hits, including three home runs, and at least got one batter out. He faced six batters.

— Carrie Muskat

8/29 Barney sets NL mark

Darwin Barney set a National League single-season record for consecutive games without an error by a second baseman, playing in game No. 114. He topped the mark of 113 games, set by the Padres’ David Eckstein in 2010.

However, the Cubs’ second baseman’s streak nearly ended. With the game tied at 1 and one out in the Brewers seventh, Nyjer Morgan bunted for a base hit and was safe at second on Jeff Samardzija’s throwing error. Morgan advanced on a wild pitch, and scored on Jean Segura’s single to center.

One out later, Segura stole second and moved up on a throwing error by catcher Welington Castillo. Barney retrieved the ball in shallow center and threw to third, trying to get Segura. The throw was low but hit third baseman Luis Valbuena’s glove. Segura scored, and official scorer Bob Rosenberg originally charged Barney with an error. After reviewing the play, Rosenberg changed his call, and gave the error to Valbuena, his seventh this season. He’s no threat to Barney. Valbuena had played just seven error-free games since his last mistake.

The American League single-season errorless streak record for a second baseman is held by Placido Polanco, who went 141 games without a miscue in 2007 for the Tigers.

“He’s gone far and above preparation on an everyday basis to make himself better,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Barney, who leads NL second basemen in fielding percentage. “It all started in Spring Training, the hours he put in and the extra time and the adjustments he made around the bag on the pivot, understanding about when he moves left and right, and using his glove and taking his bare hand out of the equation to get him more length through certain ground balls and angles and positioning.

“He’s made a conscious effort to be the best in baseball on an everyday basis,” Sveum said. “Not one day have I seen him take any ground balls off or take any days off. It’s been the same routine, same intensity every single day for him.”

Gold Glove anyone?

— Carrie Muskat

8/29 Soler to play instructional league

The Cubs did consider having Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler play in the Arizona Fall League but feel he needs more time. Soler, who signed a nine-year, $30 million deal with the Cubs in late June, was expected to play in the Cubs instructional league in Mesa this fall. The 20-year-old outfielder was batting .305 with two home runs and five doubles in 15 games with Class A Peoria.

“Jorge hasn’t played much baseball,” said Brandon Hyde, the Cubs’ Minor League field coordinator who was promoted Wednesday to the club’s director of player development. “We’re excited about the start he’s had in Peoria. He just hasn’t played much and we want to get him in instructional league and get him five weeks to ge this legs underneath him and get in playing shape. He was short on experience this last year. He’s a special talent.”

— Carrie Muskat

8/29 Rizzo gets breather

Cubs rookie first baseman Anthony Rizzo did not start Wednesday to give him a chance to work with hitting coach James Rowson and get back on track. Rizzo was batting .211 (8-for-38) in his last 11 games with one double as his only extra-base hit and three RBIs.

“He’s not feeling right at the plate and it’s snowballing a little bit now so you want to stop that from snowballing any further and let him kick back and work with [Rowson] today and get things ironed out,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.

Part of the problem, Sveum said, is Rizzo may be “thinking too much and trying to do too much all the time instead of just letting it happen.”

Rizzo was the National League Rookie of the Month in July, batting .330 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs in 25 games. He’s hit one home run in August.

“Who knows the reason why,” Sveum said of the dropoff in power numbers. “To me, it’s more a young man who got here and was obviously on top of the world and doing everything, and unfortunately, sometimes in this game, if you try to tell some young guys that for some reason, when you’re going good, you’re putting yourself in line for a slump sometimes. Why that happens is a million dollar question in hitting — why all of a sudden you’re on top of the world and the next day you feel like you’re on ice skates in the batter’s box. That’s why you give guys day off and give them a chance to regroup.”

— Carrie Muskat