September 2013

9/21 Cubs lineup

Travis Wood goes for his 10th win on Saturday when the Cubs play host to the NL East leading Braves, whose magic number is now one. Here’s the lineup:

Castro SS
Valbuena 3B
Rizzo 1B
Navarro C
Schierholtz RF
Sweeney CF
Bogusevic LF
Barney 2B
T. Wood P

9/21 Theo and Gregg

The Cubs announced Saturday that Theo Epstein accepted Kevin Gregg’s apology, and the right-hander will not be released. Epstein had considered such a move after Gregg criticized management following Friday’s game, which he gave up four runs in the ninth. Gregg was upset that he was no longer going to be the closer in the last week of games. Gregg later apologized Friday, and walked up to the press box to make sure the media knew.

– Carrie Muskat

9/20 Gregg and the Cubs

First it was Edwin Jackson vs. Dale Sveum, then Jeff Samardzija vs. David Bell. On Friday, it was Kevin Gregg against Theo Epstein. The Cubs have eight games remaining, and now they’re arguing over who is the closer.

The Braves beat the Cubs, 9-5, on Friday and moved closer to clinching the NL East. Gregg gave up four runs in the ninth and took the loss. After the game, the right-hander said he was upset at being told this week that he was no longer the closer.

“For an organization to just come out and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to go in a different direction …’ You know, professional courtesy would’ve been nice,” Gregg said after the game in the clubhouse.

Sveum gave Gregg the news, but the pitcher said he felt the decision came from Epstein.

“[Friday's game] didn’t unfold like I wanted, but I probably tried a little too hard,” Gregg said. “What they told me over the last couple of days makes it difficult to play this game anyway … let alone knowing what they think. That shows they are not that interested in me coming back here. I will worry about next year next year. But it gives me a good indication of their thoughts going forward.”

Epstein was angry when he heard Gregg’s comments, and went up to the press box to meet with the media.

“Apparently, Kevin misunderstood Dale and thought he was having his job permanently taken away, despite getting the ball in the closer’s role the last couple of days,” Epstein said. “He apparently had some choice words. … Upon hearing that, I called him up to Dale’s office to tell him how disappointed I was with him, given the way we’ve treated him this year. You know, briging him back … and showing faith in him and the great job he has done for us this year. It took him a couple minutes to understand he misunderstood Dale and he apologized to me and to Dale. I told him I would sleep on it and decide whether we would have any disciplinary action … let him know if he was released [Saturday] morning.”

Gregg then came up to the press box to talk.

“In the conversation I was having with Dale [in Milwaukee], I didn’t understand exactly what he was saying,” Gregg said. “Unfortunately for myself, it kind of got under my skin.

“Now that I have sat down with Theo and Dale again, they clarified things and I was able to cool off a little bit. It helped to be able to talk to them and see what they actually are thinking. They want to get a look at Pedro, but they are not going to take anything from me, either. They wanted to work together to see what the future holds for the organization with him and myself. I am OK with that. I like that idea.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/20 Minor matters: Baez & more

Javier Baez may not be playing in the Arizona Fall League but he will make at least two trips to Mesa, Ariz., to work with Cubs hitting coordinator Anthony Iapoce and others. Baez, the top prospect on MLB.com’s list of Cubs’ 20 prospects, also will play some second and some third base, but do so “at the right time,” Theo Epstein said Friday.

Baez, who be honored on Saturday as the Minor League Player of the Year, was on the Mesa Solar Sox roster for the AFL but the Cubs decided the shortstop needed a break from a long season at Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. He hit 37 home runs and totaled 111 RBIs in 130 games combined.

“What I really like about him is his insincts of the game,” Epstein said. “[It's impressive] for a high school kid to show up in pro ball … to show a feel for the game, a feel to be a winning player. On defense, he’s got a great internal clock, and he knows how fast the runner is at first, he knows what he needs to do, how quick his release has to be on his throw. He was born with it. He showed that in high school and has carried that over into pro ball.”

Jason McLeod, director of scouting and player development, said if Baez did have to move from shortstop, that he felt second would be an easier transition.

“I don’t think any of us envisioned he’d hit 37 home runs,” McLeod said of Baez. “There are very few 20 year olds who did what he did.”

Kyle Hendricks will be honored as the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year on Saturday as well in pre-game ceremonies. McLeod said the right-hander showed a strong ability to “dissect the plate” with his pitches. McLeod also was excited to see how C.J. Edwards, Corey Black and Pierce Johnson developed after strong seasons in the Minors.

As for third base, Kris Bryant, the team’s No. 1 pick in the June First-Year Player Draft, will play in the AFL. He will open next year in either Daytona or Tennessee. The Cubs have two other talented third baseman in Christian Villanueva and Jeimer Candelario. McLeod said Villanueva may be the best defensive third baseman in the organization. The Cubs also are eager to see what Mike Olt can do. He was acquired from the Rangers in the Matt Garza deal, and will spend some time working out in Mesa.

– Carrie Muskat

9/20 Epstein: Evaluation continues

Theo Epstein said Friday he understands the speculation about Dale Sveum’s status after the Cubs president of baseball operations said the manager was being evaluated. But Epstein added the review is a normal process. Sveum is finishing his second season as the Cubs manager, and has one year remaining on his contract with an option for 2015. On Tuesday in Milwaukee, Epstein would not confirm whether the manager was returning next year.

“I gave an answer that could be interpreted a number of different ways,” Epstein said Friday at Wrigley Field. “The bottom line is we have a process at the end of the year, unless it’s been a perfect season and everyone gets pats on the back. Until we get to where we want to be as an organization, everyone, including myself, gets evaluated and we look to find places where we can do things better next year.”

Speculation has begun in the Chicago media on who would possibly succeed Sveum. Epstein dismissed talk about any names.

“We wouldn’t be doing our job if there wasn’t an evaluation process,” Epstein said. “I totally understand that [for the media] it became a story. We answer questions honestly. Is anyone definitely coming back? At this point, Well, no, because we’re in the midst of an evaluation process.

“That’s really standard for this time of year,” he said, “and it’ll be resolved quickly after the season and we’ll move forward. I’m proud of a lot of what Dale and the staff have accomplished with the big league team this year in certain areas.”

A decision could come as early as Sept. 30 when Epstein, Sveum and the coaching staff were expected to meet in Chicago.

– Carrie Muskat

9/20 Castillo done for season

Welington Castillo has a partial meniscus tear in his right knee, which will require arthroscopic surgery. He is done for the season.

“With proper rehab, it’s the type of thing you come back 100 percent from with rehab,” Theo Epstein said Friday.

This was Castillo’s first full season as the Cubs regular catcher.

“He had a fantastic year,” Epstein said. “I think it’s a developmental success story in every facet. With catching, it starts with winning the trust with your pitchers and putting the right fingers down and he did an outstanding job. He’s really involved in game planning and game calling. I think every pitcher now loves throwing to him. He did an outstanding job defensively. His blocking has been at an elite level.”

Castillo struggled offensively at the beginning of the season but came on strong at the end.

“He made some adjustments and learned a lot about his swing and has gotten pitches that he can drive and is doing damage with them,” Epstein said. “He’s always been a super talented player and great kid, and this is one of those years he’s established himself. Unfortunately it ends this way but he had a full year.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/20 Cubs lineup

The Cubs open their final homestand of 2013 on Friday against the NL East-leading Braves. Here’s the lineup against lefty Paul Maholm:

Castro SS
Barney 2B
Rizzo 1B
Navarro C
Murphy 3B
Lake LF
McDonald RF
Sweeney CF
S. Baker P

9/19 Castillo out with sore knee

Cubs catcher Welington Castillo had to leave Thursday’s game in the sixth inning because of a sore right knee, and wasn’t sure if he will be able to play in the team’s final nine games. Castillo led off the sixth inning with a ground out to Milwaukee shortstop Jeff Bianchi, and grabbed his right hamstring as he ran down the line. Castillo then slowly walked back to the dugout. The team announced he was pulled because of right knee soreness.

“I felt some sharp pain,” Castillo said. “I don’t know what happened. I was running hard and tried to beat the throw, and felt some sharp pain.”

He will be examined on Friday in Chicago.

“I want to finish the season hard,” Castillo said. “I feel my body this year is in really good shape, good health. Stuff happens, and you go and give 100 percent, and that kind of stuff can happen.”

Was he a little worried?

“Yeah, because I want to finish strong,” Castillo said. “The doctor will decide what to do [Friday].”

– Carrie Muskat

9/19 Cubs 5, Brewers 1

Jake Arrieta’s extended audition for the Cubs’ 2014 rotation went very well Thursday. Nate Schierholtz hit a two-run homer and Luis Valbuena and Brian Bogusevic each added solo shots to back Arrieta, who gave up three hits over seven innings in the Cubs’ 5-1 victory over the Brewers at Miller Park, snapping a five-game losing streak.

Acquired from the Orioles in July in the Scott Feldman deal, Arrieta walked leadoff batter Norichika Aoki, then retired 11 straight before Aramis Ramirez singled with two outs in the fourth. The right-hander retired the next seven batters he faced before Carlos Gomez spoiled the shutout bid with a leadoff home run in the seventh on an 0-1 pitch. Two outs later, Jeff Bianchi doubled for the third hit off Arrieta.

“Everything was working really really well,” Dale Sveum said of the outing by Arrieta. “He hung one cutter to Gomez, but other than that, there was weak contact. … That was a pretty impressive outing.”

This was Arrieta’s eighth start with the Cubs, and it was his longest outing since he threw seven shutout innings against the Cardinals on Aug. 16.

“He was throwing filthy stuff,” Gomez said of the right-hander. “The fastball was explosive, had good sink. He commanded the curve really good. He’s got good stuff. I don’t know why he was never more successful most of his career. This guy’s going to be good.”

The emphasis was on keeping the ball down and having command of his pitches.

“I told [pitching coach Chris Bosio] after the game, I feel like I just threw my pre-game ‘pen, and I could’ve gone another 100 pitches, that’s how good I felt today as far as controling the game and my effort,” Arrieta said.

The knock on the right-hander has been a lack of command but he not only showed he could control his cutter/slider and two-seam fastball but also had a good curveball.

“You have to get that [command] established as early as possible and not allow hitters to eliminate pitches and today they weren’t able to do that,” Arrieta said. “You saw a lot of below average swings and a lot of guys were just off balance and not able to anticipate what I was coming at them with. That’s one of the big things I have to do as a starter to try to pitch deep in the games is keep them off balance and get them to pitch to contact early.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/19 Baez to miss AFL

Cubs top prospect Javier Baez will not play in the Arizona Fall League, general manager Jed Hoyer said Thursday, so the shortstop can rest for the 2014 season.

“He’s emotionally and physically drained after the season,” Hoyer said. “We have no problem with [him missing the AFL].”

Baez was one of four Cubs prospects headed to the Arizona Fall League, and would have joined this year’s first-round pick Kris Bryant, outfielder Albert Almora, who was the No. 1 selection in 2012, and Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler on the Mesa Solar Sox.

Almora and Soler both missed time in the Minor Leagues this year because of injury, while Baez started at Class A Daytona and moved up to Double-A Tennessee. The 20-year-old shortstop was named the Cubs’ Minor League Player of the Year after batting .282 with 37 home runs and 111 RBIs in 130 games in his second pro season. He will be honored on Saturday at Wrigley Field along with Kyle Hendricks, who was named Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

“The last thing we want him to do is go there and risk injury,” Hoyer said. “He had a full season, he had a great season, and I feel we’ll see him in Arizona working out.”

The Cubs may add another player to the Mesa Solar Sox roster.

– Carrie Muskat

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