* Starlin Castro was the Cubs’ leadoff man Friday by default.
“It’s just kind of process of elimination, really,” manager Dale Sveum said of his lineup against Nationals lefty Ross Detwiler. “The two choices were him and [Cody] Ransom, and having Ransom in the lineup, hopefully, he’ll hit a home run and I’d like him to do it with somebody on base.”
David DeJesus is the Cubs’ leadoff man against right-handed pitchers and Sveum was using outfielder Dave Sappelt there against left-handers but Sappelt was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on Monday after batting .178 in 20 games with the Cubs. The other possibility against southpaw starters is Julio Borbon, Sveum said.
“He’s one of those hitters where he’s going to be the same hitter no matter where you put him in the lineup,” Sveum said of Castro.
Castro was looking forward to the switch.
“I like it,” Castro said. “Wherever he puts me, I’ll do my job.”
* When Kyuji Fujikawa last pitched for the Cubs in mid April, he was the closer. On Friday, the Japanese right-hander was activated from the 15-day disabled list and won’t be used in the late innings, Sveum said.
“We’ll ease him in right now to make sure everything is good — velocity, command, life,” Sveum said. “We’ll ease him into whatever situation, sixth, seventh inning, depending on the score of the game, obviously.”
Said Fujikawa: “Who knows what role I’ll play in? Whatever the manager says, I’ll pitch in that role.”
Fujikawa, 32, has been sidelined since April 13 with a strained right forearm. In five relief appearances with the Cubs before he was injured, Fujikawa was 1-0 with two saves and a 12.46 ERA. He did not like being sidelined.
“I let the team down, so I would like to contribute more,” he said.
* Edwin Jackson caught up with his former teammates on the Nationals prior to Friday’s game. On Saturday, it’ll be all business when the Cubs right-hander faces Washington and Stephen Strasburg.
“It’s going to be fun,” Jackson said. “I get to face 98 [mph] tomorrow. I talked to ‘Stras’ and told him I’ll be ready to swing it. Once the game starts, it’ll be no friends and they’ll be trying to get me and I’ll be trying to get them.”
Jackson signed a four-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs in the offseason and enters Saturday’s game 0-5 with a 6.39 ERA.
“It’s been a slow start, to say the least,” he said. “It’s not exactly how I had it envisioned. I feel good mentally, physically. I’m ready to go. I’ll continue to work hard and continue to grind out the season and finish strong.”
* The Cubs traded infielder Alberto Gonzalez to the Yankees for future considerations. Gonzalez made the Cubs’ Opening Day roster, primarily to help in the infield while Darwin Barney was on the disabled list. In 11 games with the Cubs, he was 5-for-23 (.217).
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs open a three-game series against the Nationals in Washington, D.C., on Friday. Jeff Samardzija gets the start while the Nats counter with lefty Ross Detwiler. Starlin Castro is batting leadoff for the first time this season. Here’s the lineup:
* In 74 games as the leadoff man, Castro has a .319 average, .362 OBP, .459 slugging. He’s a .297 hitter batting second, .282 batting third, .296 batting fifth.
* The Cubs are 7-4 against teams that finished below .500 last year, and 6-17 against winning clubs.
* The Cubs batting .273 in 18 games at Wrigley Field; .207 in 16 road games.
* The Cubs did win eight of first 10 games at Nationals Park, but have gone 1-7 in the last eight games.
* Travis Wood (.179), Scott Feldman (.200), Carlos Villanueva (.209), and Jeff Samardzija (.210) rank third, seventh, 11th and 13th in the National League in opponents batting average.
– Carrie Muskat
Darnell McDonald hit a solo home run but it wasn’t enough as Iowa lost 5-1 to Colorado Springs on Thursday. Drew Carpenter gave up three runs on six hits over five innings, striking out six. Brett Jackson, activated from the DL Thursday after missing time because of a turf toe, went 2-for-4. Brad Nelson also had two hits.
Rafael Lopez and Jonathan Mota both homered in Tennessee’s 9-7 loss to Birmingham. Alberto Cabrera gave up six runs on 13 hits over 4 1/3 innings, striking out five.
Javier Baez had two hits, including a double and a triple, and stole a base in Daytona’s 4-3 win over Dunedin. Baez was batting .244 overall. P.J. Francescon gave up three runs on eight hits over five innings and did not get a decision. Dustin Geiger had two hits and raised his team-leading RBIs total to 29.
Kane County’s game against Burlington was postponed because of rain. It’s the Cougars’ 10th postponement this year.
The Cubs activated Kyuji Fujikawa from the 15-day disabled list, and optioned pitcher Rafael Dolis to Triple-A Iowa. Fujikawa, 32, has been on the DL since April 13 with a strained right forearm. In two rehab games, he threw three scoreless innings, giving up one hit and walking one while striking out two. On Wednesday, he needed 16 pitches to throw two scoreless innings for Double-A Tennessee.
In five relief appearances with the Cubs before he was injured, Fujikawa is 1-0 with two saves and a 12.46 ERA.
Dolis, 25, did not give up an earned run in two relief appearances over two games with the Cubs. He had a 3.52 ERA in eight appearances at Iowa.
In other roster moves, reliever Kameron Loe was given his release. He was designated for assignment on Monday.
– Carrie Muskat
Brian Bogusevic had two hits, including his second home run, to help Iowa beat Colorado Spring, 8-6, on Wednesday. Alberto Gonzalez had four hits and Brad Nelson had three hits, including two doubles. J.C. Boscan also had three hits and drew a walk. Blake Parker converted his fourth save.
* Outfielder Brett Jackson, who had been sidelined with turf toe, was activated from Iowa’s disabled list and infielder Edwin Maysonet placed on the DL with a sprained right ankle.
Tim Torres and Rubi Silva each homered in Tennessee’s 12-11, 14-inning loss to Birmingham. Rafael Lopez was 3-for-5, and Matt Szczur, Arismendy Alcantara, Silva and Torres each had two hits. Kyuji Fujikawa gave up one hit over two scoreless innings in his rehab outing. He threw 16 pitches, 10 for strikes.
Jorge Soler had three hits, including his fifth home run and two doubles, but it wasn’t enough as Daytona lost, 6-5, in 10 innings to St. Lucie. Austin Kirk started, and gave up five runs on nine hits over five innings.
Pierce Johnson gave up four runs on five hits over four innings in Kane County’s 4-0 loss to Burlington. Bijan Rademacher had two hits, and now has hit safely in six straight games.
As we celebrate the anniversary of the last cycle by a Cubs batter (Mark Grace, May 9, 1993, vs. the Padres), it’s time for a Cubs Inbox. Have a question? Send it to: CubsInbox@gmail.com. Here goes.
Q: Who leads Major League Baseball in blown saves since 2008 — individual and by team — and where do the Cubs and Carlos Marmol rank? I know it’s not a friendly stat but I am curious. — Steve T., Phoenix, AZ
A: Here you go:
Most blown saves: 2008-13
1. Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton, Chad Qualls, 30 each
4. Kevin Gregg, 29
5. J.J. Putz, 27
6. Carlos Marmol, 26
7. Juan Carlos Oviedo, 24
8. Rafael Betancourt, Tyler Clippard and Jonathan Papelbon, 23 each
12. Jon Rauch and Fernando Rodney, 22 each
Most blown saves, teams 2008-2013
1. Brewers, 123 blown saves
2. Nationals, 121
3. Orioles, 119
4. Marlins, 117
5. Rockies and Mets, 113
7. Mariners, 112
8. Angels, 111
9. Cubs and Cardinals, 110
This season, the Diamondbacks have two pitchers who lead MLB in blown saves: J.J. Putz (4) and David Hernandez (3). The Cubs’ Shawn Camp and Carlos Marmol both have two blown saves. Here are the individual leaders since ’08:
2012: John Axford, Brewers, 9 blown saves (Marmol 3)
2011: Marmol, 10 (tied with Angels’ Jordan Walden, 10)
2010: Tyler Clippard, Nationals, 10 (Marmol 5)
2009: Brad Lidge, Phillies, 11 (Marmol 4)
2008: Manuel Corpas, Rockies, and Kevin Gregg, Marlins, 9 each (Marmol 2)
2012: Brewers, 29 blown saves (Cubs 21 blown saves)
2011: Nationals, 27 blown saves (Cubs 24)
2010: Orioles, 27 blown saves (Cubs 14)
2009: Mariners, 28 blown saves (Cubs 18)
2008: Mariners, 31 blown saves (Cubs 24)
Q: Carlos Marmol had all spring to get it together. I say, release him, and bring up Chris Rusin. What say you? — Louis M., San Marcos, CA
A: Marmol went through the same rough start last year. The difference this season is that Dale Sveum acted sooner. Since the May 4 game against the Reds, Marmol has made two appearances, given up two hits and walked one over 2 1/3 innings, and has not allowed a run. It seems he needs to hit rock bottom. Last season, Marmol was able to get back on track after the All-Star break, posting a 1.52 ERA in 30 games, and going 12-for-13 in save situations. Marmol has to realize he’s not unhittable.
“He thinks that guys are going to swing at every pitch out of his hand, and he tries to make every pitch a two-strike pitch and that’s part of the problem,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said of the right-hander. “He tries to bury the pitch and overthrow the pitch. He needs to back off. A lot of times, doing too much can be a deterrent. You’re not relaxed, you’re not getting the spin on the ball, you’re not working over the top of the ball, you’re working under the ball. Get him to relax and get him to where he was the second half of last year. That’s where we all want him to be and that’s where he wants to be.”
This is the last year of Marmol’s three-year contract, and he is being paid $9.8 million. It’s too early in the year to just dump him. He’s one of the seven pitchers in the Cubs’ bullpen, and Bosio and Sveum have to figure out a way for him to contribute.
As for Rusin, I’d keep him at Triple-A Iowa and let him develop as a starter. He has a bright future.
Q: I’m wondering why Scott Hairston is not being considered an every day outfielder after hitting 20 home runs last year? How many at-bats is he projected to get this year? — Anthon S., Seattle
A: I can’t give you a number for how many at-bats Hairston will get this year but do know he hasn’t done enough to warrant every day status. Hairston batted .172 (10-for-58) this spring, and he’s batting .132 (5-for-38) so far. Plus, he’s been used in a platoon against left-handed pitchers, and is 3-for-30 and all three hits have been home runs.
Q: After this year, what will happen to Fitch Park and HoHoKam Stadium in Mesa? Do the Cubs own either facility? Would any other Major League team be interested in coming in and rehabbing the facilities? — Don W., Simpsonville, SC
A: The Athletics will be moving into HoHoKam and Fitch after signing a 20-year lease with the city. However, there won’t be spring games scheduled there for 2014. The A’s have plans to do some remodeling at HoHoKam, including widening the seats, installing a video scoreboard and updating the clubhouse. The Cubs have to remove all of their stuff from the two facilities at the end of this year.
Q: I just wanted to say, three years ago, I got a 4×4 Cubs alternate jersey logo tattooed over my heart. I cannot wait to put “World Champions” over it when we win it all. — Chuck L., Janesville, WI
A: I’m sure the Cubs appreciate the support but I think I would’ve gone with “Mom” instead.
Another day, another close game for the Cubs.
“Another one-run game — it [stinks],” Carlos Villanueva said. “We’re close, right there.”
Carlos Beltran hit a pair of RBI singles and Jon Jay drove in two runs, including a go-ahead RBI single in the eighth, to lift the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory on Wednesday over the Cubs, who hit into four double plays, and split the two-game series.
The Cubs now have had 28 of their 34 games decided by three runs or fewer, and the team is 10-18 in those games. Chicago is 5-8 in one-run games.
“It kind of speaks well for our team,” James Russell said of the tight games. “We don’t give up and we’re always in the game. If breaks fall our way, then we win a lot more games then we have right now.”
The loss wasted the fifth quality start by Villanueva. This was the 21st quality start by a Cubs pitcher, and they have compiled a 2.01 ERA but have won only eight of the games. Only the Cardinals (24) and Phillies (22) have more quality starts, and St. Louis has 15 wins and Philadelphia has 11.
“[Villanueva] did a nice job and got out of some jams and made the pitches when he had to,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “He got the outs when he had to and left it up to [Russell] who has been the most reliable guy for two years to get a left-hander out.”
Russell ran into trouble in the seventh. St. Louis trailed 4-3 when Matt Carpenter doubled off Russell and reached third on an error by Nate Schierholtz, who had trouble picking up Carpenter’s ball. Then Beltran delivered the game-tying RBI single.
“If I make a better pitch to Carpenter, I’m not in that situation,” Russell said. “I hung a curveball to him and he hit my mistake and that’s what good hitters do. He made me pay for it.”
Beltran’s hit snapped Russell’s season-opening scoreless streak at 13 innings, spanning 17 games.
“For some reason, the lefties they have over there, they hit left-handers pretty well,” Russell said of the Cardinals. “I’ve just got to find some different things to do against them.
“You’ll have those days when broken bat hits fall in and you’ll have days when guys will smoke balls and they’re hit right at somebody,” he said. “Right now, I was on the other end of it, but it is what it is.”
In the St. Louis eighth against Michael Bowden, Yadier Molina singled and moved up on a wild pitch before scoring on Jay’s single to center. Chicago now has lost 10 games in which it had a lead, tied with the Diamondbacks for the most in the National League.
The Cubs seem to have their starting pitching figured out and have settled on Kevin Gregg as the closer. It’s those middle innings that are a little tricky.
“We just can’t seem to shut anybody down in that sixth, seventh inning right now,” Sveum said. “We’re getting two strikes on people. We just can’t make a pitch when we have to.”
– Carrie Muskat
Kyuji Fujikawa threw 16 pitches over two innings in his second rehab outing Wednesday. The Japanese right-hander entered in the seventh for Double-A Tennessee against Birmingham, and retired the side in order, needing just six pitches. In the eighth, he gave up a leadoff single, then picked off the base runner. Of his 16 total pitches, 10 were strikes.
The reliever has been on the disabled list since April 13 with a strained right forearm. He was expected to join the Cubs this weekend in Washington to face the Nationals.
– Carrie Muskat
Darwin Barney, stuck in an 0-for-21 skid, took time Wednesday to hit the ball hard. Dale Sveum and Barney had an early hitting session at Wrigley Field in which the Cubs manager wanted his infielder to try to relax.
“It was nice to bring him out today and let him hit and not think about any mechanics, and get a mindset about hitting the ball as hard as he can,” Sveum said. “There were no mechanics going on out there.”
Sveum and Barney spent time together in Arizona for one week to work on the second baseman’s swing but whatever they did at that time has been “abandoned,” the manager said. The goal on Wednesday was to take some “brand new white balls and hit them as far as you can,” Sveum said.
Barney was batting .147 overall with a .275 on-base percentage.
“It’s confidence as much as anything,” Sveum said of the second baseman’s problems, “and understanding your job is to hit the ball hard and not try to do something with it every at-bat, just get a good pitch and hit it hard instead of trying to hit it to this field or that field or whatever. That was [the goal Wednesday] to have one mindset, hit the ball as hard as you can.”
– Carrie Muskat