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.

Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

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Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

CSN will also carry the live audio call of Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasting legend Vin Scully during Sunday's game as the SportsNet LA audio feed will be featured during the third inning.

Sunday’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester vs. Kenta Maeda

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Despite early hook again, Cubs may need Jason Hammel in October

Despite early hook again, Cubs may need Jason Hammel in October

LOS ANGELES – Even from the upper levels of Dodger Stadium, inside the Vin Scully Press Box, you didn’t need binoculars or a lip reader to tell that Jason Hammel wanted nothing to do with Joe Maddon.

Not this early on Saturday afternoon, not when the veteran Cubs pitcher came into a possible playoff preview with a 13-6 record and a 3.07 ERA. An animated Hammel gestured toward home plate and walked off the mound in the middle of the third inning, continuing a sometimes awkward/usually productive relationship with the star manager that dates back to their time together as Tampa Bay Rays.   

No, Hammel doesn’t get much latitude, even during his 11th year in the big leagues and a strong individual season that has so far answered the questions about a second-half fade.

But Maddon walked out from the dugout with two runners on, one out and Adrian Gonzalez up next, trying to extend a 3-1 lead with one big swing. Maddon summoned Rob Zastryzny from the bullpen and watched the rookie lefty get two groundball outs.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]  

The move worked, even during a 3-2 loss, as Zastryzny looked extremely impressive, retiring 11 of the 12 batters he faced, eight days after getting called up from Triple-A Iowa and making his big-league debut, showing that he could become an X-factor for October.

No, Hammel didn’t look all that sharp against a tough Los Angeles lineup, giving up five hits to the 12 batters he faced, including a first-inning homer to Corey Seager and three consecutive hits to begin the third. 

But Hammel is also a respected teammate who helped the Cubs transform into a playoff team last year and build baseball’s top-performing rotation this season.

Who cares? The Cubs are still 36 games over .500 and began the day with huge leads over the St. Louis Cardinals (14) and Pittsburgh Pirates (16.5) in a watered-down division.

Well, Hammel in particular is a guy who feeds off confidence and positive reinforcement. The Cubs might need him in October, especially if John Lackey (shoulder) experiences a setback before coming off the disabled list or another starter gets hurt down the stretch. 

Cubs can't climb out of early hole in loss to Dodgers

Cubs can't climb out of early hole in loss to Dodgers

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs had Julio Urias and the Los Angeles Dodgers on the ropes, but couldn’t knock out the young lefty from Mexico who’s drawn comparisons to franchise icon Fernando Valenzuela. 

Saturday afternoon began with Dexter Fowler drawing a leadoff walk at Dodger Stadium and MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hitting back-to-back singles into right field.

Instead of going for the jugular, cleanup hitter Ben Zobrist dropped a sacrifice bunt back to Urias, who then struck out Addison Russell and Jorge Soler looking to keep it a 1-0 game.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!] 

Urias – who pitched at four different minor-league levels last season and only turned 20 this month – settled down against the best team in baseball to earn the win in a 3-2 victory in front of 49,522.

Urias lasted through the sixth inning, allowing no more runs and finishing with eight strikeouts, helping rescue a first-place team that’s used 14 different starting pitchers and put a major-league record-tying 27 players on the disabled list.