Chicago Cubs

Cubs bullpen steps up for Dempster

442925.jpg

Cubs bullpen steps up for Dempster

Monday, April 11, 2011Posted: 10:50 PM Updated: 12:15 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

HOUSTON Ryan Dempster might be the last player on the roster Cubs staffers worry about. They figure that all the numbers 30-plus starts, 200 innings will be there by the end of September.

That confidence doesnt erase Dempsters line from his first two starts 0-2 with a 6.59 ERA. But with 40 percent of their rotation on the disabled list, the Cubs need their Opening Day starter to perform like one.

Dempster did up to a point on Monday night at Minute Maid Park. Then the Cubs bullpen hung on for a 5-4 victory over the Houston Astros in front of 20,175 fans.

Dempster estimated that he felt good through 95 percent of this start. It was the other five percent that caused the Cubs anxiety in another close game that was in doubt until the final out.

The games entire complexion changed in the seventh inning, in a span of three consecutive batters and eight pitches. Dempster had just rung up his ninth strikeout and appeared to be cruising.

Until pinch-hitter Bill Hall drilled a 91 mph fastball off the foul pole in right field to make it a 5-2 game. Michael Bourn then drove a slider that bounced off the top of the right-field wall and a replay review kept it as a double.

Angel Sanchez next launched a two-run homer into the left-field seats and there went a night off for the bullpen. The Cubs desperately needed Dempster to go deep into this game.
Watch: Quade praises his bullpen
James Russell will leave the bullpen on Tuesday to make the first big-league start of his career in front of his family and friends. The 25-year-old Texan will let it rip for three or four innings and the Cubs will patch it together from there.

Russells father, Jeff, made a nice career and two All-Star games out of swinging between starter and a reliever. The son predicted that his dad will be nervously pacing the concourse at Minute Maid Park.

Russell said he has no clue if this is a one-shot deal. The Cubs arent in a rush to announce what theyll do when the fifth starters turn comes up again April 18 at Wrigley Field against the San Diego Padres.

Well see, manager Mike Quade said. This is an ongoing evaluative process, both how Russ throws and what other options might be available, whether theyre here with us now or whether theres somebody somewhere else.

That made Dempster who gave up four runs on six hits in 6.1 innings working into the seventh so important. John Grabow got the ball to Sean Marshall, who handed it to Carlos Marmol. The bullpen isnt completely burned out for Tuesday night.

The Cubs (5-5) kept talking about getting some breaks and instead the eighth inning saw two hard-hit singles that bounced off infielders gloves Darwin Barney leaping through the air and Aramis Ramirez diving into the dirt.

But with runners on first and third, Marshall fooled Bourn, who whiffed on a 75 mph curveball. Marmol then came in for the four-out save and struck out Sanchez with a 79 mph slider.

It was typical Marmol in the ninth inning a single and a walk in between two strikeouts to finish off the Astros (2-8). At the end of his high-wire act, Marmol screamed and pumped his fist.
Watch: Dempster feeling good 95 of the time

Ive seen him do too many crazy things to ever really panic, Dempster said. I dont really get that nervous when hes pitching. He just seems to have a knack for striking guys out and getting out of big innings.

The Cubs feel the same way about Dempster, who earned the first of what they expect will be double-digit wins. They have no other choice.

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

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

joe_maddon_cubs.jpg
USA TODAY

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Joe Maddon looked back on the perfect baseball storm that hit the Tampa Bay Rays and played all the greatest hits for local reporters, waxing poetic about the banners hanging inside Tropicana Field, stumping for a new stadium on the other side of the Gandy Bridge, telling Don Zimmer stories, namedropping Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and riffing on sabermetrics and information buckets.

But the moment of clarity came in the middle of a media session that lasted 20-plus minutes, Maddon sitting up on stage in what felt like the locker room at an old CYO gym: “We only got really good because the players got really good.”

There’s no doubt the Cubs have the talent to go along with all the other big-market advantages the Rays could only dream about as the have-nots in the American League East. Now it looks like the defending champs have finally got rid of the World Series hangover, playing with the urgency and pitch-to-pitch focus that had been lacking at times and will be needed again in October.    

Maddon essentially admitted it after Tuesday’s 2-1 victory, watching his team beat Chris Archer and work together on a one-hitter that extended the winning streak to seven games and kept the Milwaukee Brewers 3.5 games back in the National League Central.

“You’re really seeing them try to execute in moments,” Maddon said. “When they come back and they don’t get it done, it’s not like they’re angry. But you can just see they’re disappointed in themselves.

“Their mental energy is probably at an all-season-high right now.”

Six days after the Cubs moved him to the bullpen, lefty swingman Mike Montgomery took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, when Tampa Bay’s No. 9 hitter (Brad Miller) drove a ball over the center-field wall. Maddon then went to the relievers he will trust in October – Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Wade Davis – with the All-Star closer striking out the side in the ninth inning and remaining perfect in save opportunities (32-for-32) as a Cub.       

“We want to go out there and prove every day that we’re the best team in baseball,” said Kyle Schwarber, the designated hitter who launched Archer’s 96-mph fastball into the right-center field seats for his 28th home run in the second inning. “The way our guys are just going out there and competing, it’s really good to see, especially this time of year. It’s getting to crunch time, and we just got to keep this same pace that we’re going at.

“Don’t worry about things around us. Just keep our heads down, keep worrying about the game and go from there.”     

In what’s been a season-long victory lap, Maddon couldn’t help looking back when the sound system started playing The Beach Boys and “Good Vibrations” echoed throughout the domed stadium, a tribute running on the video board and a crowd of 25,046 giving him a standing ovation.

“It was cool,” Maddon said. “I forgot about the bird, the cockatoo, I can’t remember the name. Really a cool bird. I told (my wife) Jaye I wanted one of those for a while. But then again, she gets stuck taking care of them.

“I was just thinking about all the things we did. You forget sometimes that snake. I think her name was Francine, like a 19-year-old, 20-footer. And then the penguin on my chair. You forget all the goofy stuff you did. But you can see how much fun everybody had.

“I appreciated it. They showed all my pertinent highlights. There’s none actually as a player. It’s primarily as a zookeeper.”

But within the last week, you can see the Cubs getting more serious, concentrating on their at-bats and nailing their pitches. There is internal competition for roster spots and playing time in the postseason, when Maddon becomes ruthless and doesn’t care at all about making friends. This just might be another perfect storm.

Montgomery – who notched the final out in the 10th inning of last year’s World Series Game 7 – put it this way: “I feel ready for anything after how this year’s gone.” 

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Are the Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 against the Washington Nationals?

“I’m not even anywhere near that,” manager Joe Maddon said during Tuesday’s pregame media session with the Chicago media, immediately shifting his focus back to the decisions he would have to make that night – how hard to push catcher Willson Contreras coming off the disabled list, what the Cubs would get out of lefty Mike Montgomery, how the bullpen sets up – against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Players can do that kind of stuff. I don’t think managers can. Honestly, I don’t want to say I don’t care about that. I just don’t worry about that, because there’s nothing to worry about yet. Because first of all, he’s got to be well when he pitches, too.”

Arrieta had just completed a throwing session at Tropicana Field and declared himself ready to face the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday at Miller Park. That would be the Cy Young Award winner’s first start since suffering a Grade 1 right hamstring strain on Labor Day. It would set him up to face the St. Louis Cardinals next week at Busch Stadium and start Game 162 against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.

“The plan is to be out there Thursday,” said Arrieta, who would be limited to 75-80 pitches against the Brewers and build from there, trying to recapture what made him the National League pitcher of the month for August. “The good thing is the arm strength is there – it’s remained there – and I actually feel better for maybe having a little bit of time off.

“The idea is to be able to be out there the last game against Cincinnati – pretty much at full pitch count – and to be ready for the playoffs.”

Five days after that would be the beginning of the NL divisional round and what could be a classic playoff series between the defending champs and Dusty Baker’s Nationals. The Cubs started Jon Lester in Game 1 for all three playoff rounds during last year’s World Series run and their $155 million ace could open a Washington series with an extra day of rest.

“It’s inappropriate to talk about that now,” team president Theo Epstein said. “We have a lot of work to do, and those would be the guys that would help get us there in the first place. If you’re lucky enough to get into that situation, you’d just use all the factors. You guys all know – who’s going the best, who matches up the best, the most experienced – and we figure it out and go from there. But we’re still a good ways away from figuring that one out.”