June 2013

6/25 Garage sale?

The Trade Deadline is July 31, and the Cubs are open for business. GM Jed Hoyer said he and Theo Epstein have talked to every other general manager in the last four, five days about possible deals.

“The phone calls ramp up this time of year,” Hoyer said Tuesday. “In some ways, it’s an invigorating time of year because there is a lot of action going on and a lot of things going on.”

One National League scout at Miller Park joked that he saw the “garage sale” sign and wanted to see what was available. Matt Garza and Scott Feldman will likely draw the most interest from teams looking for starting pitchers. Feldman starts Wednesday, Garza on Thursday. Expect more scouts at Miller Park for those days.

“He’s a big part of this team right now, and throwing the ball well,” Hoyer said of Garza. “I’m happy for Matt that he feels as good as he does about how he’s pitching, and how he’s feeling. We’re not going to discuss whether we’re talking about an extension or trade.”

— Carrie Muskat

6/25 Marmol “sideshow” is over

Carlos Marmol was designated for assignment on Tuesday after the team decided it had enough. GM Jed Hoyer said they have tried to deal Marmol since last August but no takers. The right-hander compiled a 1.52 ERA after the All-Star break in 2012, and opened this year as the closer but lost the job after struggling in the first week. On June 16, he blew a three-run lead in the ninth against the Mets that resulted in a 4-3 loss, made one more appearance last Thursday against the Cardinals, in which he was efficient, throwing 11 pitches (nine strikes), and that was it.

“He had a really good second half last year, and no one bid at the August deadline, and we didn’t have any offers other than someone else’s undesirable contract for ours,” Hoyer said. “There was a lot of talk about trade value and things like that, but that something we’d given up on long ago.

“He did provide value for us pitching in the middle of the game,” Hoyer said. “He had struggles that frustrated people at the end of the game. We held out on this move for a long time in part because with his salary, he was providing solid innings in the sixth and seventh. The decision really came down to it had become a distraction. It became hard to pitch as well as he could because every time he threw two balls, he’d get booed, and I don’t think that’s easy for anybody.

“I think it became difficult for his teammates because there was a little bit of a sideshow mentality to it,” Hoyer said. “We felt it was the right time. It had become a distraction and he wasn’t able to pitch late in the game for us. That was really the decision.”

Dale Sveum said Marmol handled the news Tuesday morning professionally and thanked the Cubs.

Kevin Gregg, who is 11-for-11 in save situations since taking over the job, said he hoped Marmol could find another team.

“He was kind of beating his head against the wall here,” Gregg said of Marmol. “The chance to get that fresh start, I think, will be good for him. He’s a great guy, a stand-up guy. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s great with fans. You always see him signing autographs, you always see him interacting with everybody. It’s part of the game. It’s unfortunate. I think he’ll be able to turn the corner and get his feet underneath him.”

In a strange twist, Marmol had replaced Gregg as the Cubs closer in 2009, and now they’ve switched places.

“I could sympathize with him,” Gregg said. “It’s a tough position to be in. When I was in Baltimore last year, it was the same thing for me. Getting my feet underneath me and a fresh start was all I needed.”

Gregg, who began this season with the Dodgers, then was released because they didn’t have a roster opening, knows only too well the roller coaster ride closers go on.

“We do our job and nobody says anything; we don’t do our job, and everyone puts you under a microscope,” he said.

This season, Marmol was 2-4 with a 5.86 ERA in 31 games, and 2-for-5 in save opportunities. Win or lose, save or not, he was always present in the clubhouse to answer questions post-game.

“The guy gave four really, really good seasons to the Cubs,” Hoyer said. “It kind of bums me out when I read some of the comments people make about his career in Chicago because they forget how dominant he was for four years. Frankly, I feel a lot of his ineffectiveness now is related to the fact that he was ridden so hard when he was at his best.

“He gave a lot to the Cubs and had a really good Cubs career,” Hoyer said.

The Cubs now have 10 days to either place Marmol on waviers, release him or trade him. Gregg is hoping Marmol finds a new team.

“I’m excited for him,” Gregg said. “I think it’s what he needed. He wanted to do it here. I think this is going to be good for him. As a friend, I think this is his chance to step back and look at himself in the mirror and say, ‘I can still do this’ and that little breath of fresh air will help him out.”

— Carrie Muskat

6/25 Castro gets a breather

Dale Sveum decided it was time to give Starlin Castro a breather, and the shortstop did not start in Tuesday’s game against the Brewers. It was his first day off this year, and first day off since Aug. 22, 2011. Castro was batting .228 for the season, and .131 in June.

“I think sometimes you end up looking in somebody’s eyes to see when [the time is right],” said Sveum, who has been considering the move for a few weeks. “I don’t like to give any core players a day off at home. … When people pay a lot of money to see their favorite player, you don’t want to do that at home.”

The Cubs had Monday off, and Tuesday was the start of a three-city, nine-game swing.

Sveum said he felt Castro needed a mental break.

“I told him to think about tomorrow as a whole [new] season and not try to hit .300 tomorrow,” Sveum said. “It’s not going to happen. You can’t get four hits every at-bat and think you’re going to get your average back up there. There’s plenty of time left in the season to hit .330 and you can finish at .290 or .300.

“I told him you’re not the first really, really good hitter to be in these kind of slumps,” he said. “It’s part of everyone’s career.”

— Carrie Muskat

6/25 Carlos Marmol gone

The Cubs designated Carlos Marmol for assignment, and selected the contract of outfielder Brian Bogusevic. Marmol, 30, lost his job as the closer after the first week of the season, and was 2-4 with two saves and a 5.86 ERA in 31 relief appearances this season. The game that may have decided his fate was June 16 in New York when he blew a three-run lead in the ninth in a 4-3 loss to the Mets.

“I feel great,” Marmol said last Thursday. “I’m waiting for the opportunity to pitch. We’ll see.”

He did get in a game in the eighth that day against the Cardinals, and retired the first two Cardinals batters before Pete Kozma reached on an infield single. Pinch-hitter Ty Wigginton then lined out to Marmol to end the inning. It was efficient, which is how Marmol had been in four outings prior to the June 16 implosion.

— Carrie Muskat

6/25 Stewart released

The Cubs officially parted ways with Ian Stewart on Tuesday, granting the third baseman his unconditional release. Stewart was playing for Triple-A Iowa, and issued a 10-game suspension for violating the loyalty clause in his contract when he made disaparaging comments about the Cubs and manager Dale Sveum on Twitter. His suspension, which ended last Saturday, was upheld.

“The release is probably best for all parties involved,” said Larry Reynolds, Stewart’s representative. “After a lengthy rehab, Ian was starting to get back to playing the way we all had hoped. We will move on and I expect that Ian, with hard work, will find himself back in the big leagues at some point in the near future.”

Stewart had not played since June 11 at Oklahoma City. He was batting .168 (19-for-113) with five home runs and 20 RBIs in 40 games before serving his suspension.

Stewart, who later posted an apology on his Twitter account, has hit .232 with 59 homers and 204 RBIs over parts of six seasons in the Majors. He was signed to a one-year, $2 million deal with Chicago.

— Carrie Muskat

6/25 Cubs lineup

Starlin Castro’s streak of consecutive games played is over. Castro is not in the Cubs lineup for Tuesday’s game against the Brewers, ending a streak of 269 consecutive games played, longest in the National League. Castro was batting .228 overall, and went 2-for-13 over the weekend.

“He’s struggling, there’s no doubt about it, and struggling with the fastball is the biggest thing right now,” Dale Sveum said after Sunday’s game. “Hopefully, he can kick back and get away from it [on Monday] and start over in Milwaukee.”

Here’s the lineup:

Valbuena 3B
Barney 2B
Schierholtz RF
Soriano LF
Rizzo 1B
Sweeney CF
Castillo C
Ransom SS
E. Jackson P

6/24 Extra bases

* The Cubs announced they have signed four more Draft picks on Monday. Left-handed pitcher Sam Wilson, an eighth-round pick who played at Lamar Community College, signed as did catcher Jordan Hankins of Austin Peay, an 11th round pick, and 13th round selection Trevor Graham, a right-handed pitcher who played at Franklin Pierce University. Also signing was 15th-round pick Michael Wagner, a right-handed pitcher who was No. 1 pick Kris Bryant’s teammate at San Diego.

* Right-handed pitcher P.J. Francescon has been promoted from Class A Daytona to Double-A Tennessee, and Smokies outfielder Jae-Hoon Ha has been promoted to Triple-A Iowa. Francescon, 24, was 5-4 record with a 4.76 ERA with Daytona. In 14 appearances (13 starts), he gave up 40 runs (37 earned) on 75 hits, walked 21 and struck out 62. He was a 40th round pick in the 2011 Draft.

Ha, 22, hit .284 with five doubles, a home run and 14 RBIs in 28 games for the Smokies. Following a 42-day (May 7-June 18) stint on the disabled list, Ha appeared in the Smokies first three games of the second half and batted 2-for-13 with a run scored and a RBI.

* Maybe the Cubs should consider a move to the American League? They’re 8-3 this season in Interleague play.

* Anthony Rizzo has hit safely in four of his last five games (7-for-16, .438), and scored a career-high four runs on Sunday. He also had his first multi-RBI game since June 5, driving in four runs.

* The Cubs have hit 52 home runs at Wrigley Field, most home homers in the National League. On Sunday, they set season-highs in runs scored (14) and hits (16).

6/24 Minor matters

Nick Struck gave up five earned runs over five innings in Iowa’s 6-0 loss to Memphis. Barret Loux gave up two hits and struck out four over two innings of relief work.

Tennessee lost its third straight, dropping a 5-2 decision to Chattanooga. Eric Jokisch gave up three runs over six innings and struck out five.

Kyler Burke gave up one run on three hits over six innings in a 6-1 victory over Lakeland. Ben Carhart had three hits, and Zeke DeVoss, Javier Baez and Dustin Geiger each had two hits.

Carlos Escobar hit his first home run in Kane County’s 6-1 loss to Quad Cities.

Duane Underwood gave up six earned runs over 4 2/3 innings in Boise’s 8-6 loss to Spokane. The Hawks did collect 14 hits in the game, including three by Kevin Encarnacion and three by Jacob Rogers.

Mesa had Sunday off, and will play the Angels on Monday.

6/23 Castro gets tune-up

There’s been a lot of talk about Starlin Castro’s hitting mechanics. On Sunday, the Cubs shortstop was on the field working on his defense. Castro committed his 12th error on Saturday, the most in the Major Leagues. He, infield coach David Bell, bench coach Jamie Quirk and coach Mike Borzello joined Castro and second baseman Darwin Barney on the field before batting practice.

“There’s a lot of things in his defense that need to get better,” Dale Sveum said. “Today was working on his backhand, and trying to get more stable and have a base when you throw the ball and not be so off balance and understand the different things you have to have in your tool box with your backhand. … It was some things we have to get cleaned up.”

This hasn’t been a good year offensive for Castro, a two-time All-Star, who was batting .231. He began the year with a .297 career average in three seasons. Sveum didn’t see the 23-year-old infielder fretting too much.

“These are things everybody goes through and part of the adversity everybody goes through,” Sveum said. “Some guys have peaks and valleys. You’re going to go through this at some point in your career.”

This is the longest skid in Castro’s young career.

“People can go 25, 30, 35 years without any adversity in their life,” Sveum said. “You see what kind of man you are when you have to deal with adversity. Everybody has to go through it in life. Nobody said life was easy.”

— Carrie Muskat

6/23 Minor matters

Saturday’s games

* Chris Rusin gave up six runs over six innings in Iowa’s 6-2 loss to Memphis. Brian Bogusevic had two hits and stole a base. Brad Nelson also had two hits, including a double.

* Matt Szczur went 4-for-5 with three RBIs in Tennessee’s 11-8 loss to Chattanooga. Ty Wright was 2-for-3 and Jonathan Mota went 2-for-5.

* Javier Baez hit his 16th home run, a solo shot in the first, and Zach Cates gave up one run over 6 2/3 innings in Daytona’s 2-1 win over Dunedin. Baez had two hits, and two RBIs. His 52 RBIs are tied for fifth in the Florida State League. Dustin Geiger had two hits and a stole a base.

Baez connected off Kyle Drabek, who was making his first start since elbow surgery. Baez also hit a RBI single in the third.

“It doesn’t matter who is on the mound — he has to throw strikes,” Baez told the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Baez now is tied for first in the Florida State League with 16 home runs. He’s the active leader, as the other two players were promoted to Double-A.

Jorge Soler still sidelined with a sore left shin.

* Albert Almora and Rock Shoulders both homered in Kane County’s 6-5, 11-inning loss to Quad Cities. Shoulders had two hits and scored two runs.

* Justin Marra hit his first home run in Boise’s 3-2 loss to Spokane in the first game of a doubleheader. In the second game, Shawon Dunston Jr. hit his first home run in a 4-3 loss.

* Alexander Santana gave up three runs over 4 2/3 innings in Mesa’s 7-5, 10-inning loss to the Diamondbacks. The Rookie League team committed three errors.