March 2013

3/23 Cubs 7, Angels 6

Scott Hairston hit a tie-breaking solo home run to highlight a four-run seventh inning but the Cubs had to rally in the eighth as pinch-runner Shawon Dunston Jr. scored the game-winner on a wild pitch to post a 7-6 victory Saturday over the Angels.

With the game tied at 6 in the Chicago eighth, Steve Clevenger doubled to lead off and was lifted for Dunston, son of former Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston Jr., now a coach in the Giants’ Minor League organization. One out later, Dunston scampered home on a wild pitch by the Angels’ Ernesto Frieri.

The Cubs trailed 5-2 going into the seventh. Brent Lillibridge tripled to open the inning and chase Joe Blanton. Nick Maronde then walked pinch-hitter Dave Sappelt, and David DeJesus hit a RBI double. Alberto Gonzalez, battling for a spot on the bench, delivered a two-run double but was thrown out at third trying to extend his hit. One out later, Hairston connected on his home run.

Carlos Marmol picked up the win despite blowing the lead in the eighth when he walked two and hit another batter. The Angels tied the game when a run scored on a passed ball by Clevenger.

Edwin Jackson started for the Cubs, and gave up five runs on eight hits over five innings.

“They came out swinging,” Jackson said of the Angels. “I left a couple balls out over the middle of the plate and they did a good job hitting the ball. I challenged hitters, and they got their hits.”

He also collected two hits, including a RBI single in the fifth. Jackson will start the Cubs’ final game at HoHoKam Stadium on Thursday, and then be slotted after Jeff Samardzija for the second regular season game, April 3, against the Pirates. Is he ready?

“Health-wise, I feel pretty good,” Jackson said. “If the season started tomorrow, I’d be confident where I am and I feel I can go out and do what I need to do to help the team win.”

— Carrie Muskat

3/23 Extra bases

* Scott Baker was to be examined Sunday by team orthopedic specialist Dr. Stephen Gryzlo. Baker was shut down after his one Cactus League start last Sunday because of discomfort in his right elbow. He’s coming back from Tommy John surgery and expected to open the year on the disabled list.

“I’m happy with the progress it’s made,” Baker said of his elbow. “Obviously, we’re doing something right as far as treatment and the medication is helping and there’s nothing wrong with taking it easy either.”

Baker will likely stay in Mesa for extended Spring Training. Scott Feldman also was expected to stay in Mesa and start March 31 before joining the Cubs, throwing 50 pitches in a game. He will start the Cubs’ fourth game, April 5 in Atlanta.

* The decision for the final spot in the Cubs bullpen may not be determined until the last weekend in Houston. Four relievers are competing, including Hisanori Takahashi, Zach Putnam, Rafael Dolis and Cory Wade. Dolis has been bothered by a blister. There’s no favorite, Sveum said.

“It’s completely undecided now,” Sveum said. “We’ll sit down and weigh all the options and everything, and the teams and durability. All that stuff comes into play.”

* The Cubs are monitoring the waiver wire to see who is available. They’re looking for some backup infield help. Javier Baez was not an option. This spring, Baez batted .389 against left-handed pitchers, but was 7-for-29 (.241) against right-handers.

“He’s so far away from the big leagues, the defense and everything,” Sveum said. “The guy has to develop. I know he hit all the home runs and everything, but he’s still premeditated swinging. He’s got a lot to learn yet. There was never a thought he’d be on this team.”

* Brett Jackson, bothered by soreness in his right shoulder, was able to throw on Friday and took about 20 swings off a batting tee. The Cubs hope he can play in a Cactus League game this week.

* The Cubs have three more games at HoHoKam Stadium. On Friday, officials with the Athletics toured the facility to consider changes for 2015 when Oakland moves in. There will be a new scoreboard and an updated clubhouse. The bleachers in left and right field will be removed, as will the seats. New, wider seats will be installed.

* Dave Sappelt was picked for the Cubs’ 25-man roster because of his ability to play center field. That’s his preferred position.

“I was defensive player of the year two years with the Reds in center,” Sappelt said. “I bounced around when I got here. I don’t have a problem with it. The corners are easy. You can make a lot of good, cool plays. Center is kind of wide open, you can catch them standing up; the corners you can dive, run into the wall.”

Sappelt’s nickname is “Mighty Mite,” and he got that from Dusty Baker.

“Whatever I’m listed at, I’m probably not that height, and I can probably hit the ball pretty far,” said the 5-foot-9 Sappelt.

— Carrie Muskat

3/23 Go Eagles

Casey Coleman went to Florida Gulf Coast University because the school’s baseball team would let him play both pitch and play infield. Coleman is older than the school, which played its first collegiate baseball game when the Cubs right-handed pitcher was in high school in Ft. Myers, Fla.

On Friday, Coleman found out he was being assigned to the Cubs’ Minor League camp, but later that day, he was able to celebrate. Florida Gulf Coast University, a 15th seed, had done the impossible, upsetting No. 2 seed Georgetown in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, 78-68.

“I knew they were good,” Coleman said Saturday of FGCU. “I don’t know if I’d give them enough credit to beat Georgetown, not because I didn’t think they could but because Georgetown is an unbelievable team. I’ll tell you, after meeting that coach, I knew he wasn’t going to let them go in there intimidated.”

It’s been a wild year for the Eagles, who beat Miami and played Duke, Iowa State and VCU this season. Next up in the NCAA tournament is seventh-seed San Diego State on Sunday. Coleman had gone to Phoenix on Friday for the Cubs game against the Brewers, and was keeping track of the action on the bus ride back to Mesa. He got to watch most of the second half.

“Everyone was surprised at how athletic they were,” Coleman said of the Eagles. “I knew they were athletic and knew they could shoot some three’s. I knew there was a chance — but it’s tough to envision them actually beating a team like Georgetown.”

Did Coleman pick his school in his bracket?

“I didn’t fill out brackets this year,” Coleman said. “I let family and friends do the ones here. They did not pick them.”

Hindsight is easy, but would he have picked FGCU if he did his own bracket?

“With there not being a clear cut No. 1 this year, it would’ve been fun to pick them,” he said. “Personally, I would’ve seen Georgetown losing to Florida anyways so why not pick a team like FGCU to have fun with it? Florida’s going to be tough. FGCU has a tough matchup against San Diego State, but that’s a winnable game, too. When you get to Florida, that’ll be interesting. If they can get to that Sweet 16 againt Florida, that’ll be a fun story.”

Recruiting should improve at FGCU, which already has an edge. There’s a beach on campus. At 25, Coleman is older than the school itself.

“What they did, [beating Georgetown], that’ll be talked about forever,” Coleman said. “They’re going to be a big school. They’re going to get football in the next 10 years. [Ohio State coach] Urban Meyer’s daughter goes there. He’s been around the campus giving them ideas on how to start it up. I think Dan Marino’s son went there. They’ve got a bunch of name guys who will help the school and help it grow.”

— Carrie Muskat

3/23 Final spots – UPDATED

The Cubs have one spot open in the bullpen and one on the bench, and expect to make their decisions before the truck leaves with players’ stuff on Wednesday. Here’s an update on the candidates from Saturday’s game:

Position players:
Steve Clevenger: delivered pinch-hit single in ninth on Friday vs. Brewers. On Saturday, doubled to open eighth vs. Angels and was lifted for pinch-runner who scored game-winning run. Also charged with passed ball in Angels eighth that allowed a run to score.

Alberto Gonzalez: Went 1-for-1 vs. Angels and drove in two runs with a double in the seventh. He’s batting .281.

Cory Wade: Gave up one run on one hit, a home run, vs. Brewers and charged with blown save. Has 5.63 ERA.
Zach Putnam: Gave up one hit, walked one, struck out one in one inning vs. Brewers and picked up save. Has 3.12 ERA.
Rafael Dolis: Picked up win Saturday. He’s been slowed by blister and this was first appearance since March 17. Gave up two hits in one inning. Now has a 4.76 ERA in six games.
Hisanori Takahashi: Effective Thursday in Tucson vs. Dodgers. Gave up two hits and struck out two on Saturday vs. Angels in two innings. Now has 3.29 ERA.

— Carrie Muskat

3/22 Carlos & Yo

Carlos Villanueva wanted to avoid seeing his former Brewers teammates until he took the mound on Friday. He doesn’t believe in fraternization between teams. But Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo did a sneak attack.

“Someone mentioned to me [that he doesn’t like to talk on the field],” Gallardo said. “I was like, ‘Oh, I have to talk to him on purpose now and see what he does.’ We said hello before the game. He was a good friend of mine, and he still is. It’s good to see him doing well.”

Gallardo started by sending his former teammate text messages around 7 a.m. Friday.

Villanueva left Mesa before the Cubs’ team bus, and was hoping to avoid seeing anyone from the Brewers. But when he got to Maryvale Baseball Park, there was Gallardo, waiting for him. The two hugged.

“Of course, he’s warming up right there,” Villanueva said of Gallardo. “I couldn’t just push him away. Pitchers, I’m OK with.”

Villanueva and Gallardo were together on the Brewers from 2007-10, and good friends.

“Me and Yo, we were tight when I was there,” Villanueva said. “There was a lot of trash talking back and forth for the last couple days. I have a lot of friends on that team, but when it comes down to business, it’s business, and they know it.

“We’ll be facing them a lot during the season and sometimes it’s a good thing I know a little bit about them because that way I can maybe use some of that against them, but hopefully those two years I was away [playing for the Blue Jays], they forgot a little bit.”

Villanueva threw six scoreless innings, while Gallardo gave up one unearned run over 5 1/3 innings. Gallardo did offer a scouting report on Villanueva.

“He looked pretty good to me,” Gallardo said. “He’s got good stuff. Even when he was here, he’s got four plus pitches, commands the ball very well, and any time you have the off-speed like he does, you’re one pitch away from getting out of a tough inning.”

Villanueva’s Cubs got the upper hand on Friday, rallying to beat the Brewers, 4-1. They’ll meet again April 8-10 in the Cubs’ regular season home opener at Wrigley Field.

— Carrie Muskat

3/22 Cubs 4, Brewers 1

Darwin Barney hit a two-run home run with two outs in the ninth and Dioner Navarro followed with a solo shot to lift the Cubs to a 4-1 victory Friday over the Brewers. Carlos Villanueva did not get a decision, but had a solid start, throwing six shutout innings. The right-hander walked one, the first free pass given up by a Cubs starter in the last three games.

“I think the way this staff is rounding up now, you want strike throwers,” Villanueva said. “I had that one walk and I’m furious about that. You hate giving up free runners. I don’t know what the percentage is but they usually end up scoring. You make them earn it. Sometimes, it sounds kind of [strange], but you’d rather give up a homer than a walk. If it’s going to score, at least you earn it.”

Hector Rondon, the Cubs’ Rule 5 pick, earned the win in relief, striking out two over one inning.

— Carrie Muskat

3/22 Roster breakdown

With Friday’s roster moves, the Cubs have set the final 25-man roster with the exception of one spot in the bullpen and one on the bench. Here’s the breakdown:

Jeff Samardzija
Edwin Jackson
Travis Wood
Scott Feldman
Carlos Villanueva
Carlos Marmol
Kyuji Fujikawa
James Russell
Shawn Camp
Hector Rondon
Michael Bowden

* Last spot to be determined among: Cory Wade, Hisanori Takahashi, Zach Putnam, Rafael Dolis

Position players
Anthony Rizzo
Darwin Barney
Starlin Castro
Luis Valbuena
Alfonso Soriano
David DeJesus
Nate Schierholtz
Welington Castillo
Dioner Navarro
Scott Hairston
Brent Lillibridge
Dave Sappelt

* Last spot to be determined among: J.C. Boscan, Steve Clevenger, Alberto Gonzalez

Matt Garza, Ian Stewart, Scott Baker and Arodys Vizcaino are expected to open the season on the disabled list.

— Carrie Muskat

3/22 Samardzija commits to Cubs

Did Jeff Samardzija dump his girlfriend to become a big league pitcher or didn’t he? In an interview with writer Joe Posnanski, Theo Epstein says Samardzija met with Dale Sveum the day he was hired as Cubs manager, and talked about his complete commitment to baseball. According to Epstein, Samardzija said: “I just want you to know one thing about me. I will do whatever it takes to help the team. And I think the best way to help this team is by being a starting pitcher. I’m eliminating everything in my life that gets in the way. I’m dumping my girlfriend. I’m moving to Arizona. I just want the chance to show you that I’m a starting pitcher.”

On Friday, Samardzija said that he did meet with Sveum on the day he was hired in November 2011, and yes, he did dump his girlfriend.

“In previous years I didn’t feel like I had done everything I could,” Samardzija said Friday about baseball. “I thought I worked hard in the offseason and did a lot of things but especially in midseason I didn’t feel I was putting myself where I needed to be to be the best I could be. I worked hard that offsesaon and when I met, I told [Sveum], I had no distractions in my life, and this game can be a lot about just minimizing distractions from the outside. The older you get, the most you realize that.

“I wanted to level with him that I didn’t have any distractions and the only thing on my mind was making the rotation and pitching 30, 32 starts,” Samardzija said. “The best way I could describe it was by saying I didn’t have a girlfriend.”

So he dumped her?

“Hey, that’s fine — I dumped my girlfriend,” Samardzija said. “That sounds like a better story.”

It’s also true. He did break up with her, but it was about six, seven months before Samardzija met with Sveum.

“Like I said, I wanted to let [Sveum] know and let the staff know I was all in with this team and I wasn’t going to have any distractions on the outside and I was commited to being the guy they needed me to be for this team,” Samardzija said.

— Carrie Muskat

3/22 Cubs lineup

Today’s lineup vs. the Brewers in Maryvale:

DeJesus CF
Castro SS
Rizzo 1B
Soriano LF
Schierholtz RF
Castillo C
Valbuena 3B
Barney 2B
Villanueva P

3/22 Cubs roster moves

Eleven players were sent to the Cubs Minor League camp on Friday, including pitchers Jensen Lewis, Drew Carpenter, Blake Parker, Casey Coleman and Jaye Chapman. Chris Rusin was optioned to Triple-A Iowa, but will start on Sunday for the big league team against the Indians. The position players assigned to Minor League camp include Brad Nelson, Edwin Maysonet, Brian Bogusevic, Johermyn Chavez and Darnell McDonald.

That leaves 35 players in camp, and four of those are expected to open the season on the disabled list. There appears to be one bullpen spot open, and four pitchers competing for it: Rafael Dolis, Zach Putnam, Hisanori Takahashi and Corey Wade. Takahashi is the only lefty in the mix.

Brett Jackson is still limited because of his shoulder injury, but position players still in camp include catchers J.C. Boscan and Steve Clevenger and infielder Alberto Gonzalez. Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Dave Sappelt has made the 25-man roster, barring any unexpected additions from the waiver wire. Clevenger could backup at first, second or third if needed.

“It’s one of those days you dread,” Sveum said about the roster cuts. “A lot of those guys had good springs. Bogusevic had a really good Spring Training and did everything we asked. The Colemans, the Parkers, they all threw the ball well. That shows you some guys have stepped up, some guys have gotten healthy. One more extra year under their belt they’ve become more comfortable and done a good job at the big league level.”

Bogusevic, an Oak Lawn, Ill., native, had a great spring, batting .410 in 20 games.

Coleman will continue to pitch in relief. He has made some adjustments, using a new arm slot that has helped him be more consistent.

Sappelt batted .266 at Triple-A Iowa last year, and .275 in 26 games with the Cubs. He batted .182 in 18 games this spring.

“I think the writing is on the wall — ‘Sap’ is going to be on the team,” Sveum said. “There’s still things that can happen through guys getting released and waiver wires and all that with the extra spots. He’s proven to me and the organization he can swing the bat and he’s done a really nice job in center field.”

The Cubs front office is still looking at outside help. Last year, they acquired Shawn Camp in the final week of Spring Training.

“Through the waiver wire, people become available in other camps,” Sveum said. “No matter what you think you have, you’re always trying to make yourself a better team.”

— Carrie Muskat