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9/14 Pirates 7, Cubs 3

Matt Szczur hit the ball hard at the wrong time for the Cubs Sunday. Szczur, one of the fastest players on the Cubs, hit into a triple play in the fourth inning sparked by Josh Harrison, who also drove in two runs to lead the Pirates to a 7-3 come from behind victory. The Cubs lost for the eighth time in their last nine games and ended their road trip 1-5. Chicago struggled to generate any offense without Anthony Rizzo (back), Jorge Soler (paternity leave) and Starlin Castro (ankle). It didn’t help when the Pirates thwarted a rally with their web gem.

Chicago led 3-0 when Chris Valaika doubled to lead off the fourth against Edinson Volquez, who then walked Mike Olt. But Szczur smacked the ball to Harrison at third base to start the first triple play at PNC Park and the first the Cubs have hit into since May 14, 2000, at Montreal.

“It was a heck of a play,” Szczur said. “I was looking for a good pitch to hit and something to hit hard, and it was probably the wrong time I hit the ball hard.”

Szczur remembers he and Logan Watkins were on the bases once for a triple play while at Class A Daytona. That was the last one he could recall.

“I thought I was going to [beat the throw],” Szczur said. “It was close. I put a good swing on it and tried to get out of the box as fast as I could. Wrong time to hit it hard, that’s for sure.”

Cubs manager Rick Renteria felt Szczur had a chance.

“He hit it right on the nose, and Harrison made a really nice play because he ended up catching it going away from him — he didn’t even back hand it, he stayed with it — and it took him right to the bag,” Renteria said.

Renteria didn’t feel that play turned the momentum in the game.

“I don’t allow our guys to put their heads down,” Renteria said. “That’s just a play that happened. We were still in the lead. That’s baseball.”

The Pirates would respectfully disagree.

“Anytime you pull a triple play, I think you’re going to feel an instant boost of energy,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s an exciting play, it was crisp, it was fun.”

Said Neil Walker: “It was huge. You don’t see that too many times, and we were in spot in the game where we were just playing flat for the first several innings, [Volquez] was having a tough time getting his rhythm, and we were having a tough time putting together some at-bats. All of a sudden, that kind of momentum carried us into the offensive side of things. Really cool to be a part of that. “

– Carrie Muskat

9/14 Triple play

It’s been tough for the Cubs to get much offense going on this road trip, and the Pirates snuffed out a potential rally with a triple play in the fourth inning Sunday.

Chris Valaika doubled to lead off the fourth against Edinson Volquez, who then walked Mike Olt. But Matt Szczur smacked the ball to third baseman Josh Harrison to ignite a 5-4-3 triple play, the first the Cubs have hit into since May 14, 2000, at Montreal. Harrison fired to second baseman Neal Walker, who stepped on the bag, and threw in time to Andrew Lambo at first.

It’s the first triple play turned by the Pirates since April 12, 2009, at Cincinnati.

This was the 77th triple play the Cubs have been involved in, and the 37th they’ve hit into.

In the May 14, 2000, game, the Cubs had runners at first and third when Henry Rodriguez hit into a 3-4-2 triple play.

– Carrie Muskat

9/14 Soler, Rizzo updates

Jorge Soler was expected back in the lineup Monday when the Cubs opens their last homestand of the season but Anthony Rizzo was still questionable because of his low back strain. Soler, who was batting .356 in 12 games, missed the weekend series against the Pirates to be in Miami for the birth of his first child, a boy.

Rizzo has not played since his back tightened during a rain delay in the Aug. 26 game in Cincinnati. The Cubs had hoped the first baseman would return Monday against the Reds.

“That one I will reserve for [Monday],” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “We’re trying to get him out there running. I’d still look more ahead, and take anything sooner as a plus.”

The Cubs are taking a conservative approach with Rizzo, who was batting .278 and hit his 30th home run in his last game.

“I don’t want to put a date on [his return],” Renteria said. “Let’s hope that sometime in the coming week we’ll see something and go from there. If it happens to be much sooner than later, good for us.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/14 Cubs lineup

Jacob Turner gets the start Sunday for the Cubs in the series finale against the Pirates. Here’s the lineup:

Alcantara CF
Baez SS
Coghlan LF
Valbuena 3B
Valaika 2B
Olt 1B
Szczur RF
Baker C
Turner P

9/14 Szczur perfect home run

Matt Szczur timed his first big league home run perfectly. The rookie outfielder led off the eighth inning Saturday night with his first blast in the Cubs’ 6-4 victory over the Pirates, and had his family, his fiance and her family, and lots of friends from Villanova in the crowd of 38,024 at PNC Park.

It was almost harder to get the ball than it was to hit it. Szczur’s homer sailed into the left field seats, and a young fan ended up with it. The Cubs coaches got word to third base umpire Paul Schrieber about the importance of the home run, and he intervened, going over to the stands to ask the young man for the ball.

“There were a lot of people involved trying to get that baseball,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

“After the inning, [Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio] came up to me and said ‘Hey, Szczur, we got the ball for you. We had a hard time getting it, but we got it,'” Szczur said. “I was like, ‘Did you make sure you signed it?’ He sure did — he signed it for me.”

Bosio autographs each ball with the date, the location and the pitcher — which is how the Cubs authenticate the souvenirs.

The Cubs rookies have provided plenty of pop this season with Javier Baez hitting his ninth homer Saturday. Mike Olt has 12, Arismendy Alcantara has nine and Jorge Soler has four.

“I don’t know about [joining the] rookie home run derby — that’s my second of the year,” Szczur said. “It’s good to be here [in the big leagues]. It’s really exciting. Hopefully this ignites some wins and we finish the season strong.”

He hit his only other home run April 13.

“I thought I was going to have about 20, and I ended up having one,” Szczur said. “That’s what I get for thinking.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/14 Renteria: “I don’t worry about my job”

Rick Renteria is wrapping up his first season as manager, and was eager to build on what the Cubs did this season. Last week, Theo Epstein complimented Renteria, saying the challenge for the rookie manager was to “provide an environment for the young players to develop and thrive at the big league level.” Renteria did just that.

Is Renteria comfortable in his job?

“Fortunately for me, the players, [the media], the front office, everybody has made it an easier transition than I would have imagined,” Renteria said. “I think everybody’s been very supportive. Everybody has a sense of what the organization is trying to do, so maybe that’s made it easier for me in my transition to manager as opposed to being a coach.”

He admitted that sometimes he’s done things that may seem a little odd, such as batting Javier Baez second — he’s more of a middle of the order hitter — and carrying an extra reliever in the ‘pen.

“There are things you do to make sure guys are gaining experience and knowledge in key situations that they need to develop those roles that they’ve fallen into,” he said.

But the Cubs development phase may be ending soon. Does Renteria expect more pressure next year?

“I don’t think it’s pressure,” he said Saturday. “It’s what you expect to do. Any club at any Major League sport is expected to win. I’ve been the first one to say it and I won’t be the last, I place expectations on myself to lead men and hopefully not get in the way and allow them to perform and win ballgames. The results are truly their process of how they play the game and giving yourself a chance. In the end if I don’t do what I was brought here to do, change is inevitable. My hope is I’m able to do a good enough job and our staff is able to do a good enough job to continue to move us forward and ultimately win.”

He isn’t losing sleep over the season.

“I’ve always said I’ll do my job and in the end, I’m always hopeful that what I do is good enough to take care of me and where I’m supposed to be,” he said. “I don’t worry about my job, never have. I’ve never done it as a Minor League coach, big league coach. I focus on my job. I think there are a lot of good things in place here. I think the organization is moving in the right direction here. I sincerely believe that. I sincerely believed that when I first interviewed for this job. It’s legitimate.”

Look at Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Both have bounced back from disappointing 2013 seasons.

“We’re all individuals and we all do what we think is best and we all have to feel comfortable in our own skins, and I think at the end of the day, when I look in the mirror, good day or bad day, I want to make sure I did everything I could,” Renteria said. “If it didn’t work out, I have to put it to rest. If it did, I put it to rest, and then I go to bed. That’s the way it is, that’s the way I live my life. It’s not going to change.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/13 Kane County wins MWL championship

Jacob Rogers smacked a two-run home run and finished with three RBIs to lead Class A Kane County to a 7-2 win over Lake County and clinch the Midwest League championship.

The Cougars went unbeaten in the postseason. They were 3-0 in the best-of-five championship series to win their first league title since 2001. Kane County also swept Wisconsin in the quarterfinal round and Cedar Rapids in the division championship round.

Daury Torrez held Lake County to one run on five hits over five innings for the win.

Carlos Penalver hit an RBI double in the second to tie the game at 1, and Kane County took a 3-1 lead on Rogers’ homer in the third. Rogers added an RBI single in the fifth. Rogers and Jeimer Candelario collected three hits each.

9/13 Cubs lineup

Felix Doubront starts Saturday night for the Cubs in Game 2 of their three-game series against the Pirates. Here’s the lineup:

Alcantara CF
Baez SS
Valbuena 3B
Castillo C
Valaika 2B
Olt 1B
Lake LF
Szczur RF
Doubront P

9/13 Minor matters

Will the Cubs keep their affiliation in Daytona? What about Boise? Kane County? Major League teams are in a two-week period in which they are free to explore possible moves for their Minor League properties, which are owned independently but are part of a business relationship with the big league team.

The Cubs did not renew their agreement with Boise. Hawks GM Todd Rahr said Friday the Cubs had until 10 p.m. MT Thursday to do so. Rahr said: “We’re technically free agents right now.”

The Cubs also may be ending their relationship with Daytona.

“It’s clear that the Cubs are looking at other options,” Daytona team owner Andy Rayburn told the Daytona News-Journal on Friday.

The Daytona Cubs have been part of the 12-team Florida State League for the past 22 seasons.

The Cubs also have not renewed their contract with Kane County.

The Cubs do have a contract with Iowa, home for their Triple-A team, that runs through the 2016 season, and the Cubs and Double-A Tennessee announced a four-year extension that runs through 2018.

– Carrie Muskat

9/12 Castro, Rizzo making progress

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro was allowed to walk without a supportive walking boot on his left ankle Friday, and predicts he’ll be back before the season ends. Meanwhile, Anthony Rizzo continued to make progress in his rehab from a lower back strain, and was able to run the bases for the first time on Friday.

Castro, who suffered a high ankle sprain on Sept. 2 in an awkward slide at home, said it’s important for him to get some at-bats in the final two weeks.

“This is a great season for me,” said Castro, who was batting .292. “I think I can improve more than what I’ve done. I want to be healthy, I don’t want to go into the offseason not playing. I want to play — if it’s three games, I’ll play three games.”

Rizzo has not played since he left the Aug. 26 game in Cincinnati when his back tightened up. Manager Rick Renteria said the first baseman most likely will not return until Monday when the team returns home to face the Reds.

“Obviously, we’re taking it very slow,” Rizzo said Friday. “We want it to be 100 percent going forward. We don’t want any setbacks.”

Rizzo did take batting practice for the second day, but running was a new part of his rehab.

“It was nice to throw cleats on and sweat like that,” he said.

– Carrie Muskat

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