4/5 Villanueva to start Sunday

Rick Renteria confirmed Saturday that Carlos Villanueva will start on Sunday in the series finale against the Phillies. Villanueva, named the fifth starter in Spring Training, was needed to pitch in relief Monday and Wednesday in extra inning games against the Pirates, and took the loss in both.

The right-hander can only hope he continues the strong outings so far by Chicago starters. In the first four games, the Cubs starters have combined for a 1.78 ERA, giving up five earned runs over 25 1/3 innings. They haven’t gotten much offensive support, though.

“It’s early,” said Travis Wood, who posted a quality start but took the loss on Friday. “We have a good group of guys here who are gamers and they’re going to find their stroke and put some runs up on the board.”

Renteria said the players’ approach at the plate is fine, and noted that the Cubs did out-hit the Pirates in the opening series.

“It’s not so much offensive struggles — it might be situational struggles at times,” Renteria said. “As long as our pitching keeps us in the game and we catch the ball, we have a good chance every single day to win a ballgame.”

The Cubs rank 14th in the National League with runners in scoring position, batting .121 (4-for-33) in the first four games.

– Carrie Muskat

4/5 Minor matters

Matt Szczur had two hits, but that was all Iowa totaled in a 9-0 loss to Memphis. Marcos Mateo and Blake Parker combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief. Zac Rosscup struck out two in the ninth.

Kris Bryant hit his second homer in as many games to lead Tennessee to a 1-0 win over Pensacola. Bryant connected in the seventh. C.J. Edwards gave up one hit and walked one while striking out four over four innings.

Pin-Chieh Chen had three hits and one RBI but it wasn’t enough as Daytona lost, 4-3, in 10 innings to Brevard County. Bijan Rademacher hda two hits.

Kane County’s game against Quad Cities was postponed because of cold weather. The two teams will play a doubleheader on Saturday.

4/5 Cubs lineup

The sun is shining at Wrigley Field, but it’s still a little chilly as the Cubs prepare to play the Phillies in Game 2 of their three-game series. Here’s the lineup vs. lefty Cliff Lee:

Bonifacio CF
Castro SS
Ruggiano RF
Rizzo 1B
Lake LF
Olt 3B
Castillo C
Barney 2B
Samardzija P

4/4 Cabrera to Iowa – UPDATED

Alberto Cabrera joined Triple-A Iowa on Friday. The Cubs designated Cabrera for assignment on March 30, and he cleared waivers, and was outrighted to Iowa. To make room on the roster, the Cubs transferred Casey Coleman to the short-season Boise roster. Coleman will report to the team’s complex in Mesa, Ariz.

Cabrera began last season in the Double-A Tennessee’s rotation and was 9-3 with a 3.20 ERA in 18 starts. He was selected to the Southern League All-Star team at mid-season before his promotion to Iowa on July 18. The right-hander had a chance to make the big league team this spring, but instead the Cubs selected Brian Schlitter.

Coleman talked to reporters in Des Moines on Friday.

“This is just a very temporary thing and hopefully I can pick up with a new team soon,” he said.

Coleman was selected in the 15th round of the 2008 Draft. He leaves the Cubs with a 7-13 record and 5.76 ERA in 48 Minor League games.

“It’s just kind of a lot of people’s dream, that kind of opportunity,” he said. “And I got to experience it.”

4/4 This and that

* The Cubs are 52-46-1 in 99 home openers at Wrigley Field.

* Dating to 1976, the Cubs have played 139 home/Chicago openers in their National League history, and are 78-59-2.

* On Saturday, Jeff Samardzija faces lefty Cliff Lee in Game 2 of the three-game series. Expect Mike Olt and Junior Lake in the lineup.

4/4 Phillies 7, Cubs 2

Ernie, Billy, Fergie and Ryno took part in pregame ceremonies, helping celebrate Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary, but the Phillies spoiled the festivities at the Cubs’ home opener. Chase Utley hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning and added an RBI single in the seventh to lift the Phillies to a 7-2 victory Friday over the Cubs in front of 38,283 chilled fans.

The game marked the start of the team’s year-long celebration of Wrigley Field, which first opened in 1914 and has been the Cubs’ home for 98 seasons. Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg shared the first-pitch duties and all but Sandberg sang the seventh-inning stretch. The former Cubs second baseman had to take care of his on-field duties.

The Cubs totaled three hits, including Welington Castillo’s solo home run, which wasn’t enough for Travis Wood. The lefty took the loss in his first start of the year, striking out eight and scattering six hits over 6 1/3 innings. Wood totaled 24 quality starts last season, and picked up his first this year.

“Give Travis credit, he got through some innings that we kind of muffed a little bit and he got out of them but that took his pitch count up,” said Rick Renteria, specially pointing to the Phillies’ fourth.

In the fourth, Marlon Byrd reached on an error by Chicago third baseman Luis Valbuena, who couldn’t close his glove on the ball. Byrd moved up on Ryan Howard’s single and scored on Domonic Brown’s base hit that skipped past shortstop Starlin Castro.

With one out in the Phillies’ fifth, Carlos Ruiz singled and Utley smacked the first pitch into the right-field seats to take a 3-2 lead. A career .267 hitter against left-handers, Utley had never faced Wood before Friday’s game, and hit his RBI single in the seventh off another southpaw, Wesley Wright.

Renteria believes he has some good hitters, too, but in four games, the Cubs are batting .201.

“We’ve been having good at-bats and guys are seeing pitches,” Darwin Barney said. “We’re getting to the starter a little bit but we’re not keying in in situations and making it hurt. I think four games in, hopefully, we can keep getting more comfortable and keep getting better.”

The Cubs staff is looking more at the approach at the plate, not the numbers.

“You don’t know, four games in, the identity of an offense,” Barney said. “I think none of us are too worried about it. Obvoiusly, pitching has been good enough to be 4-0 right now. If we can turn it around offensively a little bit, I think things will look better.”

Castro and Anthony Rizzo are each 2-for-17, although Rizzo nearly took advantage of the bizarre 23 mph westerly wind in the first when he hit a fly ball to the track in center. On cold days at Wrigley, the wind usually blows in and favors pitchers.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen it that way — I asked a lot of guys and even asked Sandberg about it,” Barney said. “He said it was really odd that the wind was blowing out even though it was so cold.”

Castro, slowed this spring by a strained hamstring that resulted in him playing more Minor League games than Cactus League ones, wasn’t worried about the slow start. The shortstop said in Spring Training he wanted to get back to having an All-Star type season. Is he putting pressure on himself?

“No,” Castro said. “I try to get my mind strong. I know who I am, I know what I can do and I’m going to be good.”

The fans have high expectations for the Cubs, and some showed their displeasure at the sluggish offense.

“We all know how the fans are,” Renteria said. “They want to see a good ballgame and they want their team to do well and they have every right to be dissatisfied when we don’t do well, as we all are in that clubhouse. The one thing I have to maintain and we will maintain is that we take an even-keel approach and address those things that need to be addressed, and we’ll play another game tomorrow.”

– Carrie Muskat

4/4 Hall of Famers

FirstPitch0404

Here is Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams and Ryne Sandberg throwing out first pitches for Cubs home opener.

(Photo courtesy of Cubs)

4/4 Extra bases

* Cubs top prospect Jorge Soler had to leave his Minor League season opener Thursday after he hit a double because of a sore left hamstring. Soler doubled in the first inning for Double-A Tennessee off Mat Latos, who was making a rehab start for Pensacola. Soler was limited to 55 games at Class A Daytona last season because of a strained left calf.

“It sounds like the exact same injury,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Friday. “He maybe rushed back too early to get ready for Opening Day or maybe it’s a coincidence. He hits a double in the gap against Latos and it’s a shame that’s the way his season started out. Hopefully, we’ll get good news and he’ll be back on the field soon.”

Soler was to have an MRI on his leg either Friday or Saturday, Hoyer said.

* Hoyer would not say whether the Cubs are still talking to Jeff Samardzija about a contract extension, or if the team would discuss anything this season.

“We’ll keep that in house,” Hoyer said. “In general, it’s up to the player [whether to talk in-season]. We don’t have any problem negotiating in season. I don’t have to hit a fastball or throw a strike. It doesn’t bother me or [president of baseball operations Theo Epstein], but if he or his agent thinks it’ll influence a performance at all, then we don’t do it. We take it on a case by case basis.”

* Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva threw a bullpen on Friday in preparation for what he feels will be his first start on Sunday. The right-hander was eager to get back on the mound.

“I threw a bullpen and I told [pitching coach Chris] Bosio, ‘I wish I could pitch today,’” Villanueva said. “I feel really good today.”

Villanueva took the loss in the Cubs’ first two games Monday and Wednesday, pitching in relief. His start on Sunday was in question because of the workload and manager Rick Renteria said he would talk with Bosio to go over their options. As far as Villanueva is concerned, he’s starting in the series finale against the Phillies.

“I’m in on Sunday,” Villanueva said. “Unless, they tell me otherwise, I’m in.”

– Carrie Muskat

4/4 Minor matters

Chris Rusin gave up five runs on six hits and walked four over 3 2/3 innings in Iowa’s 10-2 loss to Memphis. Josh Vitters hit a solo home run and Christian Villanueva had two hits, including a double.

Kris Bryant hit a two-run home run in his first at-bat, Zeke DeVoss tripled in a run in the second, but it wasn’t enough as Tennessee lost 6-5 to Pensacola on Thursday in the Double-A season opener. Tony Zych took the loss, giving up five hits and two earned runs. Smokies starter Dae-Eun Rhee walked four, struck out four and gave up two hits over four innings. Bryant’s home run to left came on a 3-0 pitch from Mat Latos, who was making a rehab start. DeVoss extended the lead to 3-0 with his triple off Latos.

Gioskar Amaya had two hits in Daytona’s 1-0 loss to Brevard County. Felix Pena gave up three hits over six innings and took the loss.

Yasiel Balaguert had four hits, including three doubles, and drove in two runs in Kane County’s 8-4 win over Quad Cities. Carlos Penalver was 3-for-3 with one RBI.

4/4 Cubs lineup

Happy home opener, Cubs fans. It rained early in Chicago but the skies are supposed to clear up for the game against the Phillies. Once again, manager Rick Renteria overloaded the lineup with left-handed hitters against the Phillies’ Roberto Hernandez. Here’s the lineup:

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

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