Cubs searching for answers on pitching staff

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Cubs searching for answers on pitching staff

Monday, April 18, 2011Posted: 8:50 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs havent felt the aftershocks yet. Theyve managed to get by with 40 percent of their rotation on the disabled list, but who knows how long that will last.

Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner are said to be making progress. They were scheduled to see Dr. Stephen Gryzlo, the teams orthopaedist, on Monday night for re-evaluations that could be the first step toward outlining throwing programs.

Wells (forearm strain) played catch on Monday and is viewed as likely to return to the rotation ahead of Cashner (rotator cuff strain).

The state of the pitching staff is such that Wells was the last Cub to submit a quality start on April 4 until Carlos Zambrano stepped up on Monday night. The Cubs began the day with a 5.26 ERA that ranked tied for 14th in the National League, and opponents were hitting .280 against them.

The most surprising development has been the struggles of Ryan Dempster (1-2, 6.84) and Matt Garza (0-2, 6.27), who were perceived to be the teams two most reliable starters.

We all believe we should have a few more wins, general manager Jim Hendry said. We all feel that Demp and Garza are going to throw better than they have. (You) get the other guys back and then all of a sudden youve got a pretty interesting club.

In the meantime, James Russell will make a second spot start on Tuesday night against the San Diego Padres. If the predicted rain and thunder doesnt wash out the game, Russell will stretch out to around 70 pitches.

The 25-year-old left-hander got five outs last week in his first career big-league start, which ended as an 11-2 loss to the Houston Astros.

You can only hope itll go better, Russell said. I feel great my bodys well enough to handle (it).

Russell does not project as a starter and will be moved back into the bullpen. The Cubs are monitoring things on all fronts.

Doug Davis, who agreed to a minor-league deal last week, is in Mesa, Ariz., for extended spring training and could be at an affiliate by months end.

Todd Wellemeyer has only really just begun throwing to live hitters after dealing with a nagging hip injury. The hope is that hes about a week away from a simulated game.

Brian Schlitter, the Maine South High School graduate, has been returned to the Cubs organization and added to the 40-man roster, which stands at 39. During the offseason, the Cubs outrighted Schlitter, who was claimed by the New York Yankees before the Philadelphia Phillies grabbed him off waivers in February. Major League Baseball ruled that Schlitters elbow issues were a preexisting condition, and the 25-year-old right-hander will report to Mesa later in the week.

Ramon Ortiz, another veteran recently added to the inventory, threw three innings Sunday for Triple-A Iowa and gave up three runs on seven hits. The 38-year-old right-hander has almost 1,400 innings on his resume.

Hes a guy thats got a lot of big-league time, Hendry said. Well just keep him working and see how it goes. But were not disappointed in the guys that are here.

No matter what happens, the Cubs will need more from their frontline starters. Dempster prides himself on giving his team a chance to win and by his count, hes only done that once in four starts. The frustration is mounting.

I know theyre professional hitters on the other side, Dempster said. You have to tip your cap to them sometimes. But when you throw the ball over the middle of the plate too much, you dont tip your cap to anybody. You look in the mirror and do a better job.

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

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist is focused on a personal three-peat, not worrying about a changing of the guard or any awkward moments with Javier Baez. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has repeatedly said that Zobrist will be the primary second baseman and another "Javy Being Javy" highlight reel from the World Baseball Classic won't change that thinking right now.

Zobrist sees the big picture better than almost anyone else in the clubhouse after going undrafted out of Eureka High School in downstate Illinois, perfecting the super-utility role Maddon envisioned with the Tampa Bay Rays and helping transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into World Series champions.

While Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base last year, bursting onto the scene as the National League Championship co-MVP, Zobrist became the World Series MVP with his clutch hitting and still has three seasons left on his $56 million contract.

Maddon didn't spare anyone's feelings during the playoffs, turning $184 million outfielder Jason Heyward into a part-time player, giving a quick hook to major-league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and shunning relievers not named Aroldis Chapman.

"We haven't had an extended conversation about it," Zobrist said. "But at the beginning of spring, we talked about it. I think his words were: ‘I really think rest is the next improvement in player performance.' Learning what rest means, what good rest is for players and what kind of rest certain players need versus others.

"That doesn't necessarily mean just because you're 35. It could mean you're 25 and you still got to take care of yourself and make sure you're getting the proper rest. Because we have such a deep team, he's able to do that at any given point in time and still feel confident about the team we have on the field.

"It's a good problem to have when you have really good players not playing and sitting on the bench. We had that all last year and we had guys accept their role and just buy into the team concept.

"The makeup of this team is the same, basically. We've got a few new guys and they've got the same mindset, so I anticipate more of the same."

Injuries are one variable that prevents Maddon from getting too stressed out about dividing the playing time over 162 games while the NCAA tournament is still going. Zobrist's stiff neck felt good enough to hit leadoff and play right field in Tuesday afternoon's 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants, seeing his first Cactus League action since March 19.

Zobrist plans to play again on Wednesday in Mesa and catch up with more at-bats on the minor-league side of the complex. Assuming Zobrist and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) are ready for Opening Night, Baez will be an NLCS MVP, all-WBC talent waiting for the right matchup or break in the schedule or to sub in as a defensive replacement.

"It's pretty impressive, looking around at the young talent in this clubhouse," Zobrist said. "All throughout spring training, we've seen there's definitely other talent coming, so this team is poised to have a good, long run of success. If everybody stays healthy and we stay together, this is a very good team.

"The biggest thing that I go into the season with this year is we have to be healthy and we have to make sure that we don't relax too much. That's the temptation for teams that just won, to go: OK, well, we're tired, because we had a long season last year and you kind of just assume things are going to go as well as they did.

"You can't assume anything. No matter how good this team is, we have to still go out and execute and perform – and that's going to determine where we are in the standings."

In real time, as the Cubs experienced their lowest moments during last year's regular season, Zobrist correctly pointed out the exhaustion factor while the team played 24 days in a row, losing 15 of their last 21 games before the All-Star break.

What looks like overwhelming depth on paper should help the 2017 Cubs survive and advance into October.

"It's huge," Zobrist said. "It's up and down the lineup on offense. It's all throughout the pitching staff and on the defensive side. It's so deep that you can absorb a little bit of injury here and there.

"With that being said, there are certain guys that you just don't want to lose. So we got to protect everybody. We got to protect our horses – both on the mound and in the lineup – and just make sure that we have our key cogs in there. And if we do, we're as good, if not better, than anybody out there."

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

MESA, Ariz. - Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella - and a combination of right/left, outfield/infield and contractual considerations - appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

The Cubs returned Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to the New York Yankees on Tuesday and assigned injured non-roster players Jemile Weeks and Chris Dominguez to minor-league camp. That left 27 players still technically in the mix, though depth catcher Carlos Corporan isn't really part of that conversation.

The projected eight-man bullpen would look like this: Wade Davis; Koji Uehara; Pedro Strop; Hector Rondon; Carl Edwards Jr.; Justin Grimm; and lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing.

Szczur, who is out of minor-league options, could be a good fourth outfielder on a team that didn't have so much depth and World Series expectations, making him a potential trade chip for pitching. La Stella offers infield insurance and a left-handed bat off the bench.