Up in the air: Cubs brace for Coors Field


Up in the air: Cubs brace for Coors Field

Thursday, April 14, 2011Posted: 6:15 PM

By Patrick Mooney

Mark Riggins felt sick the night Andrew Cashner went for an MRI at Northwestern Memorial Hospital last week.

The pitching coach had consulted with Cashner from the time the Cubs made him a first-round pick in 2008. Riggins whos in his first year on the job after working as the organizations minor-league coordinator felt just as bad for Randy Wells.

But the 54-year-old Riggins has been doing this long enough to know that its inevitable. The human body simply isnt meant to unleash a baseball at 95 mph over and over and over again.

Pitchers can hurt themselves with one throw at any time, Riggins said. Thats the way the game is. And so its an unfortunate thing, but in the business, we know it will happen at some point with almost everybody.

Cashner (rotator cuff strain) and Wells (forearm strain) will be re-evaluated next week. They are traveling and working out with the team, but havent thrown a baseball on this trip. There are no concrete plans right now, only a sense around the Cubs that Wells will be ready to come off the disabled list sooner than Cashner.

One mile above sea level, it wont get any easier this weekend in Denvers thin mountain air.

When difficulty sets in, it always opens up an opportunity for somebody else, manager Mike Quade said. Now you just wait and see if they can take advantage of it. (Well) see how it plays out.

Matt Garza is out to show that hes not the type of pitcher who gives up 20 hits in two starts. Casey Coleman wants to prove that he belongs in a major-league rotation. Ryan Dempster returns to Coors Field, where the Cubs endured a wild weekend last season.

Dempster got knocked out after four innings on July 30 and couldnt believe what he saw. The Colorado Rockies set a major-league record with 11 consecutive hits in the eighth and put a 12-run inning on the board. All that happened with two outs.

Dempster guessed that if you had Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Marlon Byrd throw batting practice with eight fielders behind them, the Rockies couldnt string together 11 straight hits again.

Thats how crazy that is, Dempster said afterward.

That same day, the Cubs reinstated Carlos Zambrano from the restricted list and the enigmatic pitcher began to try to make amends with his teammates. Lou Piniella revealed that he would have to go back home to Tampa, Fla., for a few days to attend his uncles funeral.

So acting manager Alan Trammell was stuck as the spokesman across the next two games.

The Cubs traded Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the July 31 deadline. Hours later, Rockies slugger Carlos Gonzalez hit for the cycle. The next afternoon, Carlos Silva was rushed in an ambulance to a Denver hospital with an abnormally high heart rate.

The Cubs were beginning to bottom out with that three-game sweep and would lose 20 of 25 before Piniella retired and Quade took over as manager.

It would be impossible to top that head-spinning weekend in 2010. But this shouldnt be boring.

The 6-6 Cubs started the 2011 season with nine of their first 11 games decided by three runs or less. The first seven games unfolded that way, the first time thats happened to the Cubs since 1950. Already the fault lines are starting to show.

Were real happy with our bullpen, but weve gone to them pretty hard, Quade said. Weve had to because weve been in so many close ballgames. Every time someone else steps up and gives you an option, (it) takes the pressure off other people.

We dont want five guys in the bullpen with 90 appearances, running them out there the way were doing right now. So you manage that the best you can.

Thats a major concern, not simply replacing Cashner and Wells for a few turns through the rotation, but the accumulated stress on relievers when starters cant go more than five innings.

The Cubs have talked about finding out what theyre made of on this 10-day, three-city road trip. There will be nowhere to hide in Coors Field.

It takes more than 12 guys to get through a season, Riggins said. Every club has this problem at some point in the year our (turn) just happened to be now.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Morning Update: Cubs open World Series tonight; Hawks lose in shootout

Morning Update: Cubs open World Series tonight; Hawks lose in shootout

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Why Cubs wouldn't pay the price for Andrew Miller and got Aroldis Chapman from Yankees

Why Cubs wouldn't pay the price for Andrew Miller and got Aroldis Chapman from Yankees

CLEVELAND — As the New York Yankees marketed Andrew Miller this summer and prepared for their first sell-off in a generation, their demands started at either Kyle Schwarber or Javier Baez — and the Cubs still would have been forced to throw in more talent to get the All-Star reliever.

This could be the fascinating what-if for this World Series. The Cleveland Indians paid the price, giving up a four-player package headlined by outfielder Clint Frazier (the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft) and left-hander Justus Sheffield (the No. 31 pick in the 2014 draft) to get what turned out to be the American League Championship Series MVP.

The Cubs didn’t make Schwarber untouchable because they thought he would be ready in time for the World Series, but he’s preparing to be their Game 1 designated hitter on Tuesday night at Progressive Field after a remarkable recovery from major surgery on his left knee.

“It was impossible to avoid some of the names — particularly the Cubs — (with) the year they were having,” Miller said. “Whether I wanted to avoid it or not I heard it. Guys in the clubhouse, our media was certainly bringing it to us.”

Even in other possible deals for pitching, the Cubs never came close to selling low on Baez, who broke out as the National League Championship Series co-MVP for his offensive production and defensive wizardry. 

Instead of getting Miller’s late-game dominance for three pennant races — and giving up five potential 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons with Schwarber — the Cubs closed a different blockbuster deal with the Yankees for a left-handed power arm.

The Cubs wanted Aroldis Chapman’s 100-mph fastball to get the last out of the World Series and would rationalize his 30-game suspension to begin this season under Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy. Already holding an age-22 All-Star shortstop in Addison Russell, the Cubs surrendered elite prospect Gleyber Torres.

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“Gleyber’s a good baseball player,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That kid’s going to be really good. So you have to give up something to get something. But also our guys felt if we got Aroldis this year, we’d have a chance to be sitting here and answering this question. And they were right.

“It’s an entirely different thing when you get a guy out there throwing 100 miles an hour. You feel pretty good about it, regardless of who is hitting. So he’s really a big part of why we’re doing this right now.”

Chapman has saved five playoff games — and become that reassuring ninth-inning presence at Wrigley Field — but he clearly responds better to a scripted role.

Miller has been untouchable during the postseason, throwing 11 2/3 scoreless innings and striking out 21 of the 41 batters he’s faced, giving Terry Francona even more freedom to manage a lights-out Cleveland bullpen.

“To be utilized like Miller,” Maddon said, “not everybody is cut from the same cloth mentally, either, or the ability to get loose and prepare. Andrew Miller — having done a variety of different things in the big leagues as a pitcher — is probably more suited to be able to be this guy that can get up in the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth and warm up in a manner that gets him in the game both mentally and physically.

“Whereas Aroldis — if he wanted to do that — I think that would have had to be done from spring training. He’d have to differentiate his mindset. He’d have to have a different way to get ready. I do notice he throws a heavy baseball before he actually throws a regular baseball. That’s his routine.

“Whether you agree with it or not, that’s just the way it is. So with a guy like Aroldis — to ask him to attempt to dump his routine right now (and) do something else — I think you’re looking for failure right there.

“We stretched him to five outs the other night, which is a good thing, I thought. So now going forward he knows he can do that. But to just haphazardly throw him in the sixth, seventh or ninth, I think would be very difficult to do.”

Even in a World Series featuring historic droughts, Cy Young Award winners, MVP candidates and star managers, this October could come down to the bullpens shaped by deals with the Yankees.

“Both teams made aggressive trades,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Both teams are still standing. There’s something to that.”