Nuggets from the Cubs' 7-5 loss

Nuggets from the Cubs' 7-5 loss
April 10, 2012, 4:13 am
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The Cubs couldn't complete their comeback attempt Monday in the first night game at Wrigley in 2012. But they showed fight, something that should become commonplace as the season wears on. We've seen it so far in four games, even though manager Dale Sveum only has one win to show for it.

Prior to Monday's game, we took a look at some of the things to keep an eye out for in this Brewers series. Ryan Braun did get booed, as was expected. Some other things were a bit more surprising, especially:

--Starlin Castro's ninth-inning strikeout

The young Cubs star struck out just 96 times last year in almost 700 at-bats, but he just didn't look comfortable with the game on the line in the ninth.

Castro came to the plate with the tying run on second and winning run on first base and proceeded to display the aggressiveness that has helped him earn 351 hits in just 286 major-league games, swinging and missing on a breaking ball low and out of the zone. Another well-placed breaking ball caught Castro looking for strike two. But then he stared at a fastball right on the outside corner and the fat lady began her singing.

It's rare Castro takes even one strike, let alone two in a row like that to end an at-bat. It was a great sequence from Brewers closer John Axford, but Castro normally doesn't fall victim to such at-bats. Maybe it was the pressure of the game on the line? He is just 22 still, after all.

--Darwin Barney's homer
There was much made about Barney bulking up this offseason and the scrappy second baseman proved that with his first homer in just the fourth game of the season. It was the first home run of the season for the Cubs, too. Who would have thought Barney would be the first Cub to go yard after just 13 home runs in over 600 professional games prior to Monday?

--Jeff Samardzija's pinch-running experience

In a creative move by Sveum, he sent Samardzija out to second base to pinch-run for Steve Clevenger at second base in the ninth-inning rally. Not a bad option, considering Samardzija was a standout wide receiver at Notre Dame and is obviously very athletic.

We've seen Cubs managers pinch-hit and pinch-run pitchers before, like Carlos Zambrano and Jason Marquis. We could see this more with Samardzija. Why waste a bench player when one of the most athletic players on the roster is a starting pitcher?

Mike Quade couldn't do this last year, since Samardzija was in the bullpen. Now that it's a guarantee Samardzija will only appear once in every five games, Sveum has that tool at his disposal. Unless Tony Campana gets called up and takes over pinch-running duties, that is.

--Chris Volstad's debut

Volstad, who came over in the deal that sent Carlos Zambrano to Miami, debuted as a Cub Monday and the best way to describe it was just "OK." He wasn't bad, but wasn't necessarily good, either. The big right-hander threw five innings, allowing five hits, two walks and three runs while striking out six. Not flashy, but he was close to a quality start (at least six innings with three or less runs surrendered).
--Aramis Ramirez's error

Ramirez's return to Wrigley went off without a hitch...until the bottom of the ninth inning. He failed to field a Marlon Byrd goundball cleanly and the rally was extended. It could have cost the Brewers a win and it was definitely not the way the veteran wanted to return to the North Side of Chicago. But, things worked out just fine as Axford was able to escape.

--Lendy Castillo's MLB debut

The Rule 5 pick has never pitched above Single-A and has only made 38 appearances in professional baseball. He just became a pitcher two years ago and yet the Cubs opted to keep the young right-hander on their big-league roster because they see his potential. Castillo just turned 23 Sunday and then made his MLB debut Monday, but only got two outs while hitting a batter and surrendering a base hit. He'll no doubt get more time as the season wears on, and hopefully he got the butterflies out of his stomach now.

--More bullpen struggles

We'll discount the one run Castillo gave up considering his lack of experience and how nervous he must have been. But Shawn Camp struggled mightily in his two innings, allowing five hits and three runs.

Despite giving up four runs in four innings, the Cubs actually lowered their bullpen ERA on the season, which stood at 11.57 coming into action Monday night.