Chicago Cubs

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.

Fuming over ninth-inning call, Joe Maddon is done with playing nice in MLB sandbox: ‘That’s asinine’

Fuming over ninth-inning call, Joe Maddon is done with playing nice in MLB sandbox: ‘That’s asinine’

A walk-off win in the middle of a pennant race didn’t dull the edge in Joe Maddon’s voice, the Cubs manager blasting Major League Baseball and expecting to be fined for his rant in the Wrigley Field interview room.    

“That’s asinine,” Maddon said after Wednesday night’s 7-6 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, fuming over the ninth-inning at-bat where Ben Zobrist showed bunt and got drilled by Wandy Peralta’s 96-mph fastball. Home plate umpire Ryan Blakney signaled for Zobrist to jog to first base, only to have first base umpire Chris Conroy call strike two.

“Listen, I don’t even know what to say about that call,” said Maddon, who stormed onto the field and got ejected for the second time this season. “We’ve had different things happen, and I’ve been playing really good in the sandbox. Really good. And I’m not right now. That call cannot be made under those circumstances.

“I can understand if the guy’s actually swinging, and all of a sudden you get like a check swing. But he’s bunting – and then trying to get out of the way – and you’re going to call a bunt?

“There’s no way any hitter under those circumstances – with the ball coming at his thigh – is going to bunt through it and then get hit in the thigh.

“That really almost did cost us the game. Fortunately, we came back, they made their wild pitch. But I’ve been playing good in the sandbox. That was wrong.”

Zobrist – who called for an electronic strike zone after watching a controversial strike three end Saturday’s loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field – still managed to put the ball in play, move up Javier Baez and Jon Jay and keep the pressure on the last-place Reds.  

“I tried to pull the bat back, but there was nowhere for me to go,” Zobrist said. “It started right at me, and was going down towards my ankle, and I could not physically pull it back and still pull my ankle up at the same time. I tried to pull my ankle up and (Conroy) thought I was offering at it, apparently.”

Imagine the reaction if the Cubs hadn’t regrouped and maintained a 1.5-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central.

“I know that instant replay is not perfect,” Maddon said. “But all this little minutia needs to be looked at as we move this along, because that impacted the game. That’s bases loaded, nobody out. It’s a different at-bat for (Albert) Almora. It’s a different thought for their pitcher. Everything’s different. The world rotates differently at that point.

“To influence a game like that is wrong. And, listen, the guy’s a good guy. I think he’s a good umpire. But I’m not going to concede consistently to these guys. You can’t make that mistake.”

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

Kris Bryant already has a bromance with Anthony Rizzo, their Bryzzo Souvenir Co. brand and a joint appearance at a downtown Chicago hotel this weekend where Cubs fans can pay $699 for their autographs.

Bryant also has a friendly rivalry with Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals superstar who loves trolling on social media and teasing where he might land as a free agent after the 2018 season. Even their wives had fun with it on Instagram earlier this month when the Nationals came to Wrigley Field for a potential playoff preview.

But the player Bryant patterns himself after now – the one who lives up to “The Science of Hitting” and the principles his father absorbed from Ted Williams and passed down in the family’s batting cage in Las Vegas – is Joey Votto.

“He’s the best player ever,” Bryant said before Wednesday night’s 7-6 walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds. “He’s my favorite player. I love watching him. I love talking to him, just picking his brain.

“He gets a lot of (heat) about his walks and working at-bats and some people want him to swing at more pitches. But, gosh, I mean, he does an unbelievable job. You know that he’s going to give you a great at-bat every time he goes up there. It’s definitely a guy that I look up to and I can learn from.”

Favorite player? Really?

“Besides, you know, people on my team,” Bryant said with a laugh.

The Cubs contained Votto on a night where their bullpen nearly imploded, holding him to a 1-for-4 that stopped him from tying the major-league record Williams set in 1948 by getting on base at least twice in 21 straight games with the Boston Red Sox.

Through Votto, Bryant sees where he can grow after becoming a National League Rookie of the Year and MVP and World Series champion before his 25th birthday.    

“He’s not just doing it this year – he’s doing it his whole career,” Bryant said. “He’s a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

Bryant – who has reached base safely in his last 13 games and put up a 1.035 OPS in August – is heating up at a time when the Cubs are trying to fend off the Milwaukee Brewers (1.5 games back) and St. Louis Cardinals (2.5 games back) in a tight division race.

Where Votto famously dismissed old questions about whether or not he was being too selective, Bryant blocks out any talk about an All-Star snub, his batting average with runners in scoring position (.227) or RBI total (54). Bryant is getting on base more than 40 percent of the time and also leads the team in doubles (25), runs scored (78) and OPS (.936).  

“Sometimes it’s almost like you can kind of go up there and force the pitcher to throw the pitch that you want, just by taking pitches,” Bryant said. “My first year, I was kind of just up there swinging at everything. I still felt the approach was good and it could work in the big leagues. And it did. But I think there’s ways to have a better approach up there.

“(Votto’s) a different guy with that. I feel like he’s aggressive, but he’s not going to swing at a pitch until he wants it. And he mentioned that to me, too, when I got to first (on Monday night). He said: ‘Your approach looks a lot better this year.’”

Bryant sincerely thanked Votto, but the reigning MVP isn’t trying to put together a package deal with Harper and turn the Cubs into Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.  

“I already told him before: ‘We already have a pretty good first baseman. He’s not going anywhere,’” Bryant said. “Joey can switch positions if he wants to play for the Cubs.”