April 2013

4/24 Extra bases

Dale Sveum will still rely on the best matchup in determining his closer. On Tuesday, Kevin Gregg picked up the save, and is one of the options. So is Carlos Marmol, who lost the job after the first week of the season.

“I didn’t say [Marmol] would not be the closer,” Sveum said Wednesday. “I said it would come down to matchups.”

Gregg’s save was his first since 2011.

“Today was an awesome feeling,” Gregg said after Tuesday’s game. “I really enjoy that. That’s a lot of weight on your shoulders when you’re out there making pitches in that situation. I love that pressure, I love what comes with it, of what comes from being able to carry home a victory for the team.”

* Kyuji Fujikawa, on the disabled list with a strained right forearm, is throwing from 135 feet on flat ground, and has yet to throw a bullpen session. He is doing his rehab in Chicago.

* Ian Stewart was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on Tuesday in a rehab start for Triple-A Iowa. Stewart is coming back from a strained left quad, suffered Feb. 21 in an intrasquad game. In seven games, he’s 2-for-24 with a double and three RBIs.

* Alfonso Soriano singled and stole two bases in the second inning on Tuesday night, but after swiping third, the Cubs veteran took a brief time out.

“I was fine,” Soriano said Wednesday. “I steal second and third on two pitches, and at age 37, I think I need a little time. Thank God, I’m feeling good. At 37, I needed extra time. I took my extra time to breathe. I can’t remember the last time I had two sprints like that.”

The last time was August 2008. Soriano stole two bases in one inning twice that month, the last one on Aug. 25 that year against the Pirates. Don’t expect him to be putting together another 40-stolen base season, though.

“I feel good in my legs,” Soriano said. “If I have a chance to steal the base, I’m going to try to do it to make the game easier for my teammates and try to score some runs. We have a very good team. I want to try to take what they give me. If they give me a stolen base, I’ll take a stolen base.”

— Carrie Muskat

4/24 Matt Garza update

The Cubs will re-examine pitcher Matt Garza on Wednesday to determine the next step for the right-hander who was scratched from his scheduled rehab outing because of soreness in his right arm. Garza had been scheduled to throw 45-50 pitches on Wednesday at Double-A Tennessee. He is coming back from a strained left lat suffered Feb. 17 during a live batting practice session in Mesa, Ariz., which kept him from pitching in Spring Training. Last Friday, he threw a two inning simulated game at Miller Park, and followed that with a bullpen session Sunday.

“There was nothing going on after that bullpen that day,” Dale Sveum said Wednesday. “Hopefully, it’s just routine normal soreness, dead arm, whatever you want to call it.”

GM Jed Hoyer said Garza’s problems have nothing to do with his right elbow, which limited him to 18 games last season, and said the current problem is strictly muscular, nothing structural.

— Carrie Muskat

4/24 Cubs lineup

There are a few changes in the Cubs’ lineup for Wednesday’s game, although weather may affect the contest. Anthony Rizzo was dropped from third to fourth, Luis Valbuena is starting at second, and Cody Ransom gets another start at third base against Reds right-hander Mat Latos. Wednesday also will be Alfonso Soriano’s first day off with Julio Borbon getting the start in left. The forecast calls for rain. We’ll see. Here’s the lineup:

DeJesus CF
Borbon LF
Castro SS
Rizzo 1B
Schierholtz RF
Navarro C
Valbuena 2B
Ransom 3B
Samardzija P

Jeff Samardzija is four strikeouts away from making the top 10 list of Cubs pitchers for all-time single season K total for the month of April. Samardzija enters Wednesday’s game with 31 strikeouts; Rich Harden and Ken Holtzman are at No. 10 on the list with 35 each. Samardzija is fifth in the NL in strikeouts.

— Carrie Muskat

4/24 Minor matters

Nick Struck gave up two runs over six innings in Iowa’s 4-1 loss to Memphis on Tuesday. Ryan Sweeney extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a fifth inning single.

Jonathan Mota homered and drove in two runs in Tennessee’s 4-3 loss to Montgomery. Christian Villanueva and Johermyn Chavez each had two hits. Kyle Hendricks gave up one run on three hits over seven innings and struck out nine, but did not get a decision.

Ben Carhart had two hits in Daytona’s 3-0 loss to Dunedin. P.J. Francescon gave up one run on five hits over five innings and took the loss.

Kane County’s game against Peoria was postponed because of rain. Rock Shoulders was named Midwest League hitter of the week for April 15-21 after batting .475 with two home runs and five RBIs.

— Carrie Muskat

4/23 Extra bases

* Cody Ransom made the most of his Cubs debut. He homered on the first pitch he saw, and is the first Cubs player to hit a home run in his first at-bat since Starlin Castro did so on May 7, 2010, also in Cincinnati. Ransom also homered in his first at-bat with the Yankees in 2008.

* Carlos Villanueva now has a 1.53 ERA in four starts, and has four quality starts.

* Starlin Castro’s 14-game hitting streak came to an end. He went 0-for-4.

* Dave Sappelt, Alfonso Soriano and Julio Borbon each stole a base for the Cubs, and finished with four as Soriano swiped two in one inning. The four stolen bases by the team is a season high.

* Kevin Gregg picked up his first save since Sept. 24, 2011.

4/23 Cubs 4, Reds 2, 10 innings

Carlos Villanueva delivered some much-needed innings, Darwin Barney provided the go-ahead run, and Kevin Gregg filled the closer’s role for the day as the Cubs held on long enough for a 4-2, 10-inning win Tuesday night over the Reds.

“It was nice, a good win,” manager Dale Sveum said. “It wasn’t easy.”

Barney hit a tie-breaking home run with one out in the 10th off Manny Parra for his first home run of the year, only his fourth hit in 27 at-bats this season. Dave Sappelt added a RBI single for insurance.

“I wouldn’t say I needed it, I think our team needed that win,” Barney said. “I think it was good for us. Obviously, it was nice to get an RBI. No one was in scoring position — I’m probably like 0-for-1,000 in those situations. It feels good to contribute on that side of the field for sure.”

It was a weird home run because Cincinnati’s Corky Miller got in the way.

“They called catcher’s interference on the play, so when I first hit, I thought I got it pretty good and when [umpire Marvin Hudson] called interference, you never know how much it’ll take off your bat speed,” Barney said.

Wait a second — catcher’s interference on his home run?

“Maybe I would’ve rolled it over if it didn’t hit the glove,” Barney said.

Chicago led, 2-1, going into the ninth, but the Reds forced extra innings for the second straight game. Shin-Soo Choo walked to start the ninth against Villanueva, who was pulled one out later after throwing 99 pitches. Carlos Marmol entered to face Joey Votto, who was 1-for-15 in his career against the right-hander with nine strikeouts. The odds were in Marmol’s favor, but Votto lined a RBI single past Barney to tie the game.

“Those numbers don’t lie,” Sveum said of Marmol’s stats vs. Votto. “He got the ground ball. I’m like, ‘Really? You can’t hit it at somebody? You’ve got to be kidding me.’ Marmol was all right.”

Villanueva was the hero. The Cubs were coming off a 13-inning game on Monday, and needed him to go at least five. He topped that by pitching into the ninth. It was his fourth straight quality start, but he has only one win to show for it. Marmol ended up with the win, and now leads the team in the category.

“He’s been outstanding,” Sveum said of Villanueva. “To stick with a game plan is the ultimate dream for a pitching coach and a manager to be able to say, ‘Just do this and you’ll get these guys out’ and he’s able to pull it off.”

Marmol wasn’t able to do that, which is why he lost his closer’s job after one week. Gregg, released by the Dodgers on April 3, picked up his first save since 2011.

“For me, it’s about going in there and helping the ballclub now in whatever role it can be,” Gregg said. “Today was an awesome feeling. I really enjoy that. That’s a lot of weight on your shoulders when you’re out there making pitches in that situation. I love that pressure, I love what comes with it, of what comes from being able to carry home a victory for the team.”

Sixteen of the Cubs’ first 19 games have been decided by three runs or less, the first time that’s happened in franchise history since 1991. The tight games make it tough on everyone.

“You can’t dwell too much on the close games,” Villanueva said. “It’ll crush your spirits sometimes. You have to look at the positives, and the positives are that we are close. We’re not getting killed, it’s just one-, two-run games. Hopefully, this will turn it around and we start winning some ballgames now.”

— Carrie Muskat

4/23 Garza shut down

Cubs pitcher Matt Garza was scratched from his Minor League rehab start, scheduled for Wednesday, because of some soreness in his right arm, which general manager Jed Hoyer said was similar to the “dead arm phase” many pitchers go through in Spring Training. Garza has been trying to come back from a strained left lat suffered Feb. 17 during a live batting practice session in Spring Training. He did not pitch in any spring games, and threw two innings in a simulated game on Friday at Miller Park. The right-hander was scheduled to pitch Wednesday for Double-A Tennessee, but now will be shut down, and then throw a bullpen.

“It’s all muscular, nothing structural,” Hoyer said Tuesday. “We’ll give him a couple days, throw a bullpen and get him right back on schedule.”

Hoyer said Garza did not bounce back quickly after his last bullpen, which was Sunday in Milwaukee with the Cubs.

“We’re certainly hopeful it’s a dead arm [thing],” Hoyer said. “It’s a muscle and forearm and biceps, kind of a dead arm period thing. We’re hopeful he takes a couple days, throws a bullpen and gets back out there.”

The good news, as far as the Cubs are concerned, is that Garza’s problems have nothing to do with his right elbow, which shut him down last July.

— Carrie Muskat

4/23 Hoyer: We’re in this together

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said he and Theo Epstein share in the team’s poor start, and Hoyer made a trip to Cincinnati to give manager Dale Sveum a vote of confidence. Hoyer said Sveum, now in his second season at the helm, has their “full support” and the 5-13 start is not because of the Cubs manager.

“We’re all in this together,” Hoyer said Tuesday. “We’ve struggled, it’s been painful to watch because we keep on squandering leads. That’s on Theo and that’s on me. We have to figure out ways to get better. We’re not the most talented team in the league right now. We’re trying to build to get there but as we get there, we can’t continue to make the kind of mistakes we’ve been making. We have to clean it up and get better. Dale has our complete support. That’s not what he should be thinking about in the least.”

The Cubs rank among the NL leaders in errors and have the worst batting average with runners in scoring position. The miscues were evident during the Brewers’ weekend three-game sweep when the Cubs out-hit them, 22-16. Sveum said they would find other options if players didn’t perform.

“The point Dale is trying to make, and I support him 100 percent, is that at some point there has to be accountability,” Hoyer said. “If that means benching a guy or reducing his playing time, disciplining him in some ways, at some point, [Sveum] has to be able to pull the strings he has to pull to manage the team successfully and obviously, he has our total support to do that. He’s got a great feel for the clubhouse, players respect him, and if he needs to do something to emphasize his point, then he has to do that.”

The Cubs have wasted solid pitching. The starters have a 3.11 ERA combined, third best in the National League. But the Cubs have been able to drive in just eight of the 28 players on third with less than two outs. The Major League average is 52 percent. The team isn’t doing the little things, such as advancing runners.

“Our starting pitching has been real good and if you had told me we were going to hit the number of home runs we have and have the kind of starting pitching we have, we should have a much better record,” Hoyer said. “We should have a much better record regardless.”

Hoyer and Epstein have communicated with Sveum a lot over the last few days, but the general manager felt he needed to meet with the manager and the team face to face.

“We know how hard he’s working and we’re having a lot of sleepless nights as we go through it, and we know he is as well,” Hoyer said. “We’re in this together. The front office doesn’t watch the games and think things are happening on the field that shouldn’t be. We’re in this together. We have to figure out how to play smarter baseball, whether that means making personnel changes, whether that means tightening up the players we have here, it goes without saying that we have to do better.”

What the Cubs front office is looking for is progress.

“The biggest thing for us, and this is Theo, me and everyone, we have to keep getting better,” Hoyer said. “I think we have a better team this year than last year. We haven’t played that way yet. We’re building toward something.”

He said the Reds are a good example of a team that is relying primarily on homegrown talent. That’s what the Cubs want to do.

“You want to see progress,” Hoyer said. “It’s a black and white business — our report card is in the paper every day, and you have to look at it that way. Wins and losses, that’s how we’re measured. … I think that’s part of why all of us are frustrated. We have played better than our record so far. As Bill Parcells said, ‘You are what you are,’ and we are 5-13, you can’t deny that. Feeling we played better doesn’t mean anything. We have to be better at converting these games to wins.”

— Carrie Muskat

4/23 Minor matters

Brooks Raley gave up two runs on five hits over 5 1/3 innings in Iowa’s 5-2 win over Memphis on Monday night. Brad Nelson hit his third homer, and drove in two runs. Ian Stewart was 1-for-3 with a double and two RBIs in the sixth game of his rehab assignment.

Eric Jokisch gave up one earned run on eight hits over 6 1/3 innings in Tennessee’s 8-3 win over Montgomery. Arismendy Alcantara had two hits, including his fourth home run, and two RBIs. Jokisch ranks fourth in the Southern League in ERA (1.11).

Austin Kirk gave up four runs on four hits and struck out eight over five innings in Daytona’s 7-4 win over Dunedin. Javier Baez had three hits and one RBIs and was batting .234. Dustin Geiger had three hits and three RBIs, and leads the team with 18 RBIs.

Dan Vogelbach hit his second home run in Kane County’s 9-6 loss to Peoria. Vogelbach was 2-for-4, and also hit a sacrifice fly. Rock Shoulder’s hitting streak was snapped at six games, but he did reach base three times via walks.

4/23 Cubs summer camp

Cubs Summer Camps will return, starting the week of June 24. There will be six one-week sessions to run consecutively though the week of Aug. 5 in Lake Forest, Riverside, Palatine, Niles, Naperville and Evanston. The camps are available to boys and girls between the ages of 5-13, with each camper receiving a full Cubs uniform. In addition to on-field skill development and professional instruction, campers will have the opportunity to take a guided tour of Wrigley Field and either meet with a current player or take a photo inside the clubhouse. For the first time, instructors will utilize video analysis for older campers in an effort to further develop their fundamental baseball skills. For more info, including Cubs Summer Camps enrollment forms, visit http://www.cubs.com/camps.