Chicago Cubs

LIVE: Castro having big night, Cubs have big lead

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LIVE: Castro having big night, Cubs have big lead

Monday, Sept. 12, 2011
Posted: 10:08

Associated Press

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Dontrelle Willis missed an opportunity last week to beat the team that drafted him and end his lengthy winless drought.

The Cincinnati Reds left-hander will get another chance to face the Chicago Cubs in Monday night's opener of a four-game series at Great American Ball Park.

Wills (0-5, 4.21 ERA) has allowed three runs or fewer in nine of his 11 starts since being called up from the minors in July, but he's still seeking his first victory since June 5, 2010. In his 200th career start last Monday in Chicago, he gave up four runs over seven innings and struck out eight while taking the loss in a 4-3 defeat.

Willis hasn't received more than three runs of support in any outing this season.

"It's frustrating because I've pitched worse and won," he said. "I'm going to continue to battle and fight and hopefully I'll get a win and then they'll come in bunches."

Willis would probably love to earn that long-awaited win against the Cubs (64-82), who selected him in the eighth round in 2000. Chicago traded him to Florida in 2002 for Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca, who pitched for Chicago's division-winning club the following season.

Willis, meanwhile, was named NL Rookie of the Year in 2003, going on to help the Marlins defeat the Cubs in the league championship series and claim their second World Series title. Two years later, he led the majors with 22 wins.

After being dealt to Detroit in December 2007, Willis registered only two wins over parts of three seasons with the Tigers and endured anxiety issues.

The Reds (71-75) are the third organization for Willis since May 2010, and they could use his help as they strive for their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1999 and 2000.

Cincinnati appears less likely to accomplish that feat after dropping nine of its last 13. That stretch began with a four-game series sweep at the hands of Philadelphia from Aug. 29-Sept. 1 at home.

The Reds went 4-5 on their subsequent road trip, including losses in their final two games at Colorado over the weekend. Joey Votto drove in the lone Cincinnati run of Sunday's 4-1 defeat with a solo homer in the ninth inning.

"They looked like they were at the end of a 10-day road trip," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

Baker's former team, the Cubs, won two of three against the New York Mets to open a seven-game trip and are 5-2 in their last seven games overall. Chicago scored six times in the 11th inning of a 10-6 victory Sunday night.

"We don't do things the easy way, that's for sure," manager Mike Quade said. "They kept playing. They kept battling."

The Cubs may be in for a battle if they want to help Rodrigo Lopez (4-6, 4.82) snap a personal three-game skid. The right-hander gave up two runs over 5 2-3 innings to Cincinnati on Tuesday during a 4-2 loss in 13 innings.

Lopez is 2-0 with a 4.59 ERA in seven career starts against the Reds, earning both wins in Cincinnati, while Willis is 3-2 with a 3.47 ERA in his last five starts versus the Cubs.

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, the NL leader with 187 hits, went 1 for 3 against Willis as part of his current 12-game hitting streak. He's batting .407 in his last six games against Cincinnati.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Mike Montgomery will gladly aid Cubs as spot starter, but could this be a mini audition for 2018 rotation?

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USA TODAY

Mike Montgomery will gladly aid Cubs as spot starter, but could this be a mini audition for 2018 rotation?

Jon Lester isn’t expected to be on the disabled list for long, which of course is great news for the Cubs.

But while he’s there, it’s once again time for Mike Montgomery to audition for a spot in the team’s 2018 starting rotation.

The Cubs are facing the possibility of losing two members of that starting staff this offseason, when both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will be free agents. Montgomery seems like a logical replacement, but he’ll need to be better than he’s been as a starter this season. He’s put up a 5.13 ERA in eight starts.

He’ll get another opportunity to show his stuff over the next week or so, as he makes one or two spot starts with Lester on the shelf resting up his left lat tightness and general shoulder fatigue.

“I don’t want to see anybody get hurt, especially our ace. But it’s a challenge. I’m looking forward to going out there and helping the team win,” Montgomery said over the weekend. “I’m going to go out there and prepare and be ready to help this team get to the playoffs.”

Montgomery doesn’t have to worry about instilling confidence in his bosses. Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein both lauded Montgomery’s efforts since he was acquired about a year ago, in the middle of the 2016 team’s march to that curse-smashing World Series win. It was Montgomery who earned the save in Game 7.

And again this season Montgomery has given plenty of reason for those guys to have confidence in him. He’s turned in a strong 2.57 ERA in 27 relief appearances, one of the more reliable arms out of what is becoming an increasingly shaky bullpen. This past Thursday, he relieved the early-to-depart Lester, pitching 4.1 shutout innings and allowing just three hits and a walk against the Cincinnati Reds.

Throw in the versatility of being able to effectively switch between starting and relieving, and that’s a recipe for sticking on a big league roster.

“He’s good about bouncing back and forth,” Maddon said. “He’s been invaluable to us the last couple years. He’s still learning his craft. Every time I talk to him it’s kind of like the little lightbulb constantly goes off for him regarding his stuff and how to utilize it. That’s what I’ve been talking about with him the last couple years. This guy’s got all kinds of tools in the toolbox but he doesn’t really know how to utilize them all, and I think he’s finally understanding the cutter, the curve, the changeup to go with the fastball. He’s one of those guys that he should never get wild with his fastball because his pitches are so good and he can throw them for a strike.”

Montgomery’s reliability has been enough that Epstein said there’s no plan for the Cubs to add another starting pitcher before this month’s waiver trade deadline. Of course, the fact that Lester’s injury isn’t as bad as initially feared and the July acquisition of Jose Quintana factors into that, as well.

“We’ve expended a lot of prospect capital trying to make this team better. We think it’s just a start or two (that Lester will miss), and Mike Montgomery is more than capable of filling in,” Epstein said. “He’s thrown the ball really well, like what we saw from him (Thursday). So we’re going to fill that vacancy internally with Mike and go from there.”

While every start made by any pitcher this season seems important — the Cubs entered Monday’s day off with just a two-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central standings, with a playoff spot hardly guaranteed — Montgomery’s efforts could have just as great an effect on next season. If Arrieta and Lackey both end up departing via free agency, the Cubs will need some replacements. Montgomery figures to be among the first options, especially if this midseason audition goes well.

Of course, Montgomery is happy to do whatever he needs to to help his team. He’s not complaining about a bullpen role or one that has him shuttling between the relief corps and the rotation. But he admitted that starting is his goal, meaning the importance of this moment likely hasn't been lost on him.

“Yeah, absolutely, I wanted to start. But also I wanted to be a guy who could fill another role and hopes that makes our team better,” he said. “If me starting makes us better in their mind, then that’s what I want ideally. But I’ve realized I can’t always control that, I can go out there and pitch well. If I pitch well, they’re probably going to give me more opportunities, which is probably going to lead to starting.

“I think it’s because I spent five years in Triple-A from the time I was 21 and I had a bigger ego. And then you realize that you just want to be in the big leagues and that Triple-A kind of stinks. I think it’s just how I’ve gotten to this point. And coming here last year from a team that was trying to get in the playoffs to a team that was clearly going to win the division, you realize that your role isn’t to come here and start making demands, it’s to come here and just do your job.”

Right now, the Cubs need Montgomery to fill the void while Lester rests up. And if he can make his starts look a little more like his bullpen outings, he’ll do just that. And if that’s what happens, maybe they’ll call on him next season to do a whole lot more.

That Anthony Rizzo is so hot right now: Cubs' first baseman named NL Player of the Week

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USA TODAY

That Anthony Rizzo is so hot right now: Cubs' first baseman named NL Player of the Week

That Anthony Rizzo is so hot right now.

And Major League Baseball noticed.

Rizzo was announced as the National League Player of the Week on Monday after a terrific performance last week.

The Cubs' first baseman collected 12 hits, drove in 13 runs and slashed a ridiculous .429/.484/.750.

The Cubs had a pretty good week as a team, too, winning five of their seven games against the visiting Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays.

They take their three-game winning streak to Ohio to start a three-game set with the Reds on Tuesday.