CINCINNATI – General manager Jed Hoyer didn’t plan to make this road trip.
But with the Cubs buried in last place, and Dale Sveum making cryptic comments about core players and answering questions about his own job security, Hoyer showed up at Great American Ball Park and gave his manager a vote of confidence.
“He’s got our full support,” Hoyer said Tuesday. “We’re all in this together.”
There’s enough anxiety to go around. The Cubs had to sit through 10 more innings before finally beating the Cincinnati Reds 4-2 and getting to blast loud rap music in the postgame clubhouse.
[BOX SCORE: Cubs edge Reds in another extra inning affair]
The Cubs are 6-13 and don’t give Sveum any easy days at the office. Carlos Villanueva (1.53 ERA) pitched into the ninth inning before Carlos Marmol gave up the game-tying single to Joey Votto. Darwin Barney put them ahead in the 10th with his first home run and Kevin Gregg closed it out for his first save.
“We needed it,” Villanueva said. “You can’t dwell too much on those close games. They’ll crush the spirits sometimes.”
Hoyer and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein rarely traveled with the major-league team during their first year in Chicago, spending time in the office, scouting for the draft and visiting minor-league affiliates while allowing Sveum to run the show.
There were almost no outside expectations for Year 2 of this rebuilding project, but there have been breakdowns across the board.
A closer controversy sparked in the ninth inning on Opening Day and the bullpen has now blown six saves. The defense has committed 18 errors through 19 games. The lineup entered Tuesday hitting .147 (19-for-129) with runners in scoring position, which ranked worst in the majors.
“It’s been painful to watch because we keep on squandering leads,” Hoyer said. “That’s on Theo and that’s on me. We look at it and we have to figure out ways to get better. We’re not the most talented team in the league right now. We’re trying to build to get there.
“But as we get there, we can’t continue to make the kind of mistakes we’ve been making. We have to clean it up. We have to get better. That’s on us. Dale has our complete support. (Job security is) not what he should be thinking about in the least.”
Sveum lost enough patience that during Sunday’s media briefing in Milwaukee he floated the idea Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro could get demoted to Triple-A Iowa. The manager answered multiple questions about those two potential franchise players and would not rule out the possibility. Message sent.
“I feel like that was sort of a non-story,” Hoyer said. “Rizzo and Castro are both really good players that I think have a big future here. The point Dale was trying to make – and I support him 100 percent – is that at some point there has to be accountability.
“If that means benching a guy, reducing his playing time, disciplining him in some way, at some point he’s got to be able to pull the strings he needs to pull to manage the team successfully. Obviously, he’s got our total support to do that.”
Before the game, Hoyer pulled out an eye-opening stat that showed how the Cubs have failed the fundamentals so far this season: Eight of the 28 guys on third base with less than two outs have scored.
“That’s a stunning number,” Hoyer said. “The major-league average is like 52 percent and we’re not even close to that.”
The Cubs are trying to create an identity, and they believe Sveum has the right personality to lead a young group of players and push the organization to the next level. The manager didn’t get blamed for a 101-loss season, and the front office will have his back during what promises to be another difficult year.
“We’re in this together,” Hoyer said more than once. “We have to figure out how to play smarter baseball, whether that means making personnel changes or tightening up some of the players we have here. It goes without saying we have to do things better.”