August 2012

8/27 Looking for some relief

Joe Mather did not want his sporadic pitching career to continue, but the outfielder was needed in the ninth inning on Monday. The good news for the Cubs: He threw four pitches, all strikes. The Cubs called upon Mather to get the final out and end a nine-run ninth inning as the Brewers posted a 15-4 victory.

“Obviously in the ninth it got out of hand,” Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun said, “but it was a really close game and a tightly-contested game up until that point.”

The Brewers led 6-4 going into the ninth against Alex Hinshaw, and sent 13 batters to the plate. Braun, Ramirez and Corey Hart hit consecutive home runs off Hinshaw to take an 11-4 lead. Lendy Castillo took over but served up four more runs before he was pulled for Mather, the first position player to pitch for the Cubs since Gary Gaetti on July 3, 1999, against the Phillies. Mather, making his second career relief appearance, gave up a RBI single to pinch-hitter Jeff Bianchi, but got pinch-hitter Martin Maldonado to hit into a force and end the inning.

“Those guys have to pitch when we’re losing,” Dale Sveum said of the relief corps. “We can’t just keep throwing [Shawn] Camp and [Manuel] Corpas and [James] Russell and those guys in the games. Those other guys have to get through those innings. Obviously, we couldn’t accomplish that.”

Mather last pitched April 17, 2010, while with the Cardinals in a 20-inning game.

“Obviously, it’s never what you want to do,” Mather said. “I know Dale doesn’t want someone to come in and throw like that. It’s an unfortunate thing you have to do, and tonight we got out of it pretty quick.”

He did throw strikes.

“I think it goes back to your childhood and you want to be competitive,” Mather said. “You want to get the team out of the situation it’s in and you want to get those guys out. You can’t help but want to go out and beat the guy you’re facing.”

— Carrie Muskat

8/27 Castro deal close

Could Starlin Castro have a new contract on Tuesday? His agent, Paul Kinzer, was at Wrigley Field on Monday to meet with the Cubs front office and finalize details of what is reportedly a seven-year, $60 million contract extension. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported late Monday that Castro’s contract would include a $6 million signing bonus with salaries of $5 million for 2013 and 2014; $6 million in 2015; $7 million in 2016; $9 million in 2017; $10 million in 2018; and $11 million in 2019. There is a club option of $16 million or a $1 million buyout. If Castro wins the Most Valuable Player award, or finishes first through fifth twice, the final year of the deal and the option year each escalate by $2 million. The deal would cover all four years of arbitration plus at least two free agent years.

— Carrie Muskat

8/27 A little financial advice

The Cubs have been in discussions with Starlin Castro and his agent about a new contract, reportedly worth $60 million over seven years. Alfonso Soriano has seen what happens to some players who sign large contracts. He’s given Castro some words of wisdom.

“I said to him, ‘I want you to be the same person but you have to be more smart because you’re going to have a lot of people come to you,'” Soriano said Monday about his advice to the 22-year-old shortstop. “[I told him] ‘Just believe in your father and your mother, and don’t forget where you come from and who gives you the money. Baseball gives you that money. Don’t quit because you have the money.’ Now is the time he has to work more because you get paid if you’re a good player.”

Soriano, 36, gave Castro some examples of players who have lost their money by spending unwisely or giving it to so-called “friends.” Plus, the veteran gave Castro a little dose of reality. He reminded Castro he’ll have to pay his agent plus pay taxes.

“You get $60 million and it sounds like a lot of money but you give 40 percent to the United States — or 50 percent,” Soriano said. “It’s not $60 [million] — it’s $30 million. You have to be smart.[Other people] will say, ‘Oh, he signed for $60 million,’ but they don’t see his family, they don’t see he has to take care of himself, save money for the future. [Those people] don’t know that. I hope he knows that he has to be smart and not spend too much money. This is baseball. That may be the only contract you have. You better save money for the future.”

Soriano knows a little about large contracts. He received an eight-year, $136 million deal from the Cubs in 2007.

“When I signed my contract, I was 32,” Soriano said. “I knew what I wanted. Before, during my years of arbitration, I had a lot of ‘friends,’ but my agent and my financial guy were always on top of me. They said, ‘You got the money, more people will come. Don’t be afraid to say no. You didn’t have that friend before — why is the friend now coming?'”

— Carrie Muskat

8/27 Being selective

One of the things Dale Sveum has stressed with the Cubs players is the need to improve their pitch selection, which will hopefully make them smarter hitters. Sveum was the hitting coach for the Brewers for three years and was asked about one of his former pupils, Ryan Braun. Did he take a lot of pitches in the beginning?

“Not when he came up,” Sveum said Monday of Braun. “He swung at more pitches out of the strike zone than anybody in baseball his first two seasons.”

So, how do you teach someone to be more selective?

“It’s not the easiest thing to teach because you’re still trying to create slugging percentage,” Sveum said. “You have to remember, Braun went to a major college and played for a long time. The bottom line is, he came to the conclusion that he was strong enough, fast enough and confident enough that he was going to hit any fastball in his count. A lot of times, young players don’t have that confidence in their ability to hit a fastball in any count so they speed things up. He’s changed things, he’s able to hit 0-1 with no panic. He doesn’t swing at a lot of 2-0 pitches, he doesn’t swing at 3-1 pitches, but that comes with a tremendous amount of confidence.”

So, is it something that can be taught?

“It’s very difficult to teach,” Sveum said. “Unless you tell them to take pitches, it’s a very difficult thing. About the time you do that, there’s a ball right down the middle and they get frustrated and the whole system breaks down. The system of on-base percentage and OPS — those are obviously the stats we judge people by offensively but remember that curve is brought up by the Yankees and the Red Sox and the Rangers. They have 28 to 32 year old hitters. That’s why that scale is so high. That doesn’t come with young players. Every one of those guys over there on the other side of the fence today [on the Brewers] were young and none of them walked. They walk enough to keep their heads above water. Rickie Weeks was the only one who walked from the get go but sometimes it wasn’t the best thing either. When J.J. Hardy was there to Corey [Hart] to Braun to Prince [Fielder], none of them walked.

“But you get old enough and tired of swinging at pitchers’ pitches, and you get more confident in your own abilities, that scale starts coming up when you play the game,” Sveum said.

The Cubs, by the way, rank 13th in the National League in slugging percentage, and 15th in OPS.

— Carrie Muskat

8/27 Minor League report

Chris Rusin struck out seven and gave up three runs over seven innings but took the loss in Iowa’s 4-3 loss to Oklahoma City on Sunday in the last home game of the season. James Adduci had two hits, and Blake Lalli was 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored. It was Rusin’s 11th quality start. The Iowa Cubs travel to Nashville Monday.

Jae-Hoon Ha hit a RBI triple in the eighth to help Tennessee beat Mobile, 4-3. Ha was 3-for-4 with a double, triple, and one RBIs. Eric Jokisch posted a quality start, giving up three runs over seven innings. Trey McNutt got the win, throwing two innings in relief.

Daytona was off Sunday, and plays host to Clearwater on Monday.

Jeffry Antigua threw seven shutout innings in Peoria’s 10-3 win over Wisconsin. Jacob Rogers hit his first home run, Jorge Soler had two hits and two RBIs, and Dustin Geiger had three hits and three RBIs. Antigua struck out seven and did not walk a batter. He’s 2-2 with a 1.53 ERA.

Jeimer Candelario and Darien Martin each had two hits in Boise’s 5-1 loss to Vancouver. Felix Pena took the loss, giving up four runs over 4 1/3 innings.

Duane Underwood gave up two hits over 2 1/3 scoreless innings in Mesa’s 5-2 win over the Athletics. Ben Carhart and Trevor Gretzky each had three hits. Juan Paniagua picked up the win in relief.

— Carrie Muskat


8/27 Cubs lineup

Josh Vitters is back in the Cubs lineup, playing third, as they open a four-game series against the Brewers. Milwaukee has had the edge this season, posting a 10-3 record so far. This week is their last meeting of the year. Justin Germano takes the mound. He lost to the Brewers last Monday at Miller Park, giving up seven runs on eight hits over 4 2/3 innings. Here’s the lineup:

DeJesus RF

Vitters 3B

Rizzo 1B

Soriano LF

Castro SS

Clevenger C

Jackson CF

Barney 2B

Germano P

— Carrie Muskat

8/27 Cubs acquire Recker

The Cubs have acquired catcher Anthony Recker from the Athletics in exchange for catcher/infielder Blake Lalli. Recker was batting .265 with nine home runs at Triple-A Sacramento. He had been designated for assignment on Aug. 20. In 18 games over two seasons with the A’s, Recker hit .146. He was an 18th round pick in the 2005 Draft. Recker, who turns 29 on Wednesday, will join Triple-A Iowa’s roster. To make room on the 40-man roster, left-handed pitcher Scott Maine was designated for assignment.

— Carrie Muskat

8/27 Good guys

Darwin Barney, Bryan LaHair, James Russell and Jeff Samardzija will help about 50 children from the Cubs Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program have a fun time at Monday’s game. The kids will receive round-trip transportation to the game, meet the players, get free tickets, food and beverages, part of the Major League Baseball Players Trust’s “Buses for Baseball” program. The Players Trust is supported by the Cubs organization in providing a unique, up close and personal opportunity to share the thrill of Major League Baseball with those less fortunate. The Cubs RBI program has operated in the Chicago area since 2000 and reaches over 600 youth ages 5-18. It is designed to increase participation and interest in baseball, especially among minorities, and to increase the number of talented athletes prepared to play in college and the minor leagues.

— Carrie Muskat

8/26 Extra bases

* Chris Volstad got the win, but there were other key moments on Sunday in the 5-0 win over the Rockies. Dale Sveum was pleased with Brett Jackson’s day as he drew a walk in the second, singled in the fourth, and walked again in the eighth. He then scored on a wild pitch in the eighth. The rookie center fielder also made a nice defensive play. Sveum said Anthony Rizzo was more aggressive at the plate, which was good to see. The first baseman was 2-for-2 with two walks, including an intentional pass in the seventh. It was Rizzo’s 16th multi-hit game.

* Starlin Castro had two hits, and leads the Cubs with 38 multi-hit games. He has an extra base hit in 10 of his last 31 games. Castro also scored three runs.

* Darwin Barney ended an 0-for-15 skid with a RBI single in the sixth.

* The Cubs are 7-2 in their last nine series at Wrigley Field.

— Carrie Muskat

8/26 Volstad’s streak is over

After waiting 413 days and 24-starts without a win, the longest wait for Chris Volstad must have been the extra 30 minutes on Sunday when the umpires called for the tarp because of rain.

“The tarp being pulled in the ninth inning, it’s like, ‘C’mon, let’s get it over with,'” Volstad said. “It’s only fitting that it took pretty long, right?”

The delay gave his teammates enough time to prep for a victory shower. Volstad could finally celebrate a win Sunday, ending a string of 24 consecutive winless starts as the Cubs edged the Rockies, 5-0.

It was Volstad’s first “W” since he beat the Astros way back on July 17, 2011. If that seems like a long time ago, it was. He had to wait even longer as the start of the game was delayed 2 hours 23 minutes, and was called after eight innings and another 30-minute delay. Hopefully, he’ll get the “W” flag flying on top of the Wrigley Field scoreboard after the game.

“It was nice for him and I know that’s a huge monkey off his back,” Dale Sveum said. “I think the team was incredibly happy for him.”

Not as happy as Volstad (1-9), who was pitching for the Marlins the last time he won a game. He gave up three hits over 6 2/3 innings, striking out three and walking three. His reward? The Cubs took the series, and he was showered in beer.

“He was really excited,” Darwin Barney said of Volstad. “When you’re an offensive position player and you have a game where your team wins and you contribute and have a couple knocks, you go home feeling pretty good about yourself. He hasn’t had one of those days in a while. He hasn’t had that day when everything worked out and they didn’t get a cheap hit off him and the defense picked him up. He’s been pitching pretty consistent of late and has been just getting some bad luck, and today we were able to get him a lead,” Barney said. “It was good. I think he liked the little shower we gave him.”

The Cubs had scored one or no runs while Volstad has been on the mound in eight of his 12 starts prior to Sunday. He had not received more than three runs of support in a game until Sunday.

“The biggest thing was me putting up zeros — that’s always nice,” Volstad said. “They definitely backed me today and did a good job at the plate.”

— Carrie Muskat