The professional: Bobby Scales fights for his place

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The professional: Bobby Scales fights for his place

Sunday, March 13, 2011Posted: 5:25 p.m. Updated: 8:20 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. If things had worked out differently, maybe Bobby Scales would have spent this weekend in Japan, trying to contact concerned friends and family to assure them that he was all right.

The haunting images flashed on a flat-screen TV almost directly above Scales locker on Friday in the Cubs clubhouse. Players, team personnel and reporters silently watched CNNs coverage of the earthquake and tsunami that could push the death toll past 10,000. That morning, Scales received confirmation from Micah Hoffpauir that he was safe.

I dont care who you are, where youre from, what language you speak thats awful, Scales said. What (else) can you say about it?

Every player has a small window to maximize his earning power and support his family. Hoffpauir who appeared in 162 games with the Cubs across the past three seasons is trying to capitalize with the Nippon Ham Fighters. At the age of 33, Scales cant ignore the possibility of playing abroad.

Absolutely, Scales said. If I was given the opportunity, I would love to have gone (to Japan). Their process is very intricate and they do a lot of homework on guys they bring over, so apparently I didnt pass the test.

But Scales isnt the type to wonder what could have been. The Cubs think so highly of him that they would like to hire him for their front office as soon as he retires. Hes not ready to play along with that idea just yet. A utility guy likes to be appreciated, but not taken for granted.

Its a flattering thing to say, Scales said. Its good that people think of you as a good baseball guy and an intelligent person and someone that they would like to work with in the future. (But) Im still a player and I still want to play and I still feel like I can help a team win games. Until that changes, thats my (mindset).

Scales went to the University of Michigan and cant wait to watch ESPNs Fab Five documentary. Its not hard to get him talking college basketball. But he doesnt want to be a Cinderella story.

It took Scales 11 seasons and more than 1,000 games in the minors before he made his big-league debut in 2009.

Hes hitting .438 this spring, and has put on a show for the players brought over from the minor-league complex for a split-squad weekend. In two games, he went 4-for-8 with two RBI and three runs scored. He helped turn five double plays on Sunday as a second baseman.

Its encouraging for the young guys, said Cubs bench coach Pat Listach, who once managed Scales at Triple-A Iowa. (They) see a guy who didnt get to the big leagues until he was over 30 and is still fighting and battling.

These guys have got to take notice of it and say, Hey, we need to work just like that. This guys in his 30s and still doing it.

Jay Jackson, a 23-year-old pitcher, credits Scales for showing him how to manage his time and demonstrating the way you should act in the clubhouse, essentially what it takes to be a professional.

Bobbys kind of taken me under his wing, Jackson said. I couldnt ask for any better teachers than I had last year, with him and Micah Hoffpauir at Triple-A. It was a blast, just picking up little things here and there. If when I do make it, Ill know the proper way to do things.

Cubs executives also notice those leadership traits. Again Scales is working on a minor-league deal. He gets why the media tries to find some deeper meaning to it all. But the way he sees it, he still has a great job and a supportive wife. Why wouldnt he be here?

I know how old I am everybody knows how old I am, Scales said. But Im very fortunate to stay away from injury. Im of the mind that youre as young as you tell yourself you are. Age is nothing but a number. Ive been smart enough to keep myself in shape.

If it doesnt work out here, then hopefully it will work out somewhere else.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs can't complete rally against Pirates in series finale

Cubs can't complete rally against Pirates in series finale

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Gift Ngoepe might not have had the weight of the world on his shoulders but he felt like a continent was counting on him.

Ngoepe, the first African to reach the major leagues, singled in his first plate appearance and Josh Harrison led off the bottom of the first with a home run Wednesday night to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 6-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

Ngoepe was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis and entered the game in fourth inning as part of a double switch and finished 1 for 2 with a walk. The 27-year-old South African, who signed with the Pirates in 2008 as an amateur free agent, led off the fourth with a hit off winless Cubs ace Jon Lester.

"To accomplish this only for me but for my country and my continent is something so special," Ngoepe said. "There are 1.62 billion people on our continent. To be the first person out of 1.62 billion to do this is amazing."

It was so special that Ngoepe nearly broke into tears when he trotted from the dugout to take his positon at second base.

"I told myself not to cry because I'm in the big leagues and I'm a big guy now," Ngoepe said with a smile. "(Catcher Francisco) Cervelli hugged me and I could feel my heart beat through my chest."

A year after winning 19 games in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title since 1908, Lester (0-1) is still looking for his first victory after five starts. The left-hander was tagged for six runs - five earned - and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.

"It's probably the best I threw the ball all year," Lester said. "That's baseball."

Wade LeBlanc (1-0), who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of rookie Tyler Glasnow, got the win.

The fifth leadoff home run of Harrison's career keyed a two-run first that included an RBI double by Cervelli. Andrew McCutchen and Phil Gosselin hit run-scoring doubles in a three-run third that pushed the Pirates' lead to 5-1.

After the Cubs got within two runs, Josh Bell gave the Pirates a 6-3 lead with a solo home run in the sixth inning off Lester. The rookie first baseman has reached base in 11 straight games.

Anthony Rizzo's two-run homer deep into the right-field stands in the eighth inning off Daniel Hudson drew the Cubs within 6-5. Tony Watson then got the last four outs for his seventh save in as many chances.

Glasnow remained winless in nine career starts, allowing three runs in 3 1/3 innings and requiring 89 pitches to get 10 outs.

Rizzo had four RBIs and Kris Bryant had three hits as the Cubs lost for just second time in eight games while stranding 13 runners. The Pirates won for the third time in nine games.

Cubs bullpen finding its form after early-season struggles

Cubs bullpen finding its form after early-season struggles

It was just over a week ago when Cubs fans were freaking out about the bullpen's struggles in a weekend series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It was understandable, given Cubs relievers allowed 11 runs in the course of blowing two late leads to end that three-game sweep at the hand of the Bucs.

But since then, the Cubs bullpen has been fantastic.

In eight games entering Wednesday night's series finale with the Pirates in Pittsburgh, the Cubs bullpen is working on a stretch where they've posted a 1.56 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over the last 28.2 innings.

In that span — in which the Cubs are 6-2 — relievers have allowed six runs (five earned) while striking out 33 batters and surrendering just one homer.

They've been especially stingy over the last three games, allowing just five baserunners in eight shutout innings, including three straight scoreless frames to close out a 1-0 victory Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Wade Davis has been the anchor at the back end of the bullpen the Cubs were hoping he'd be when they traded Jorge Soler for him over the winter. Davis is a perfect 5-for-5 in save opportunities and has not allowed a run in 9.1 innings, allowing just three hits and a pair of walks in the season's first month.

Setting up in front of Davis, Hector Rondon and Carl Edwards Jr. have combined to allow one run and three hits in 15.1 innings.

Brian Duensing — who started the year on the disabled list after a back issue sapped his spring training — is still searching for a rhythm and has surrendered six runs and 10 hits in 6.1 innings on the season. Over the last week-and-a-half, the 34-year-old southpaw has allowed more runs (three) than the rest of the Cubs bullpen combined.

Take Duensing's numbers away from that same eight-game stretch and the Cubs bullpen has been even more fantastic — 0.73 ERA and 0.81 WHIP.

Of course, it's still not even May yet, so this stellar stretch is just another small sample size. 

But just like that, the Cubs suddenly have a Top 10 bullpen, tied for the Colorado Rockies for ninth in Major League Baseball with a 3.07 relief ERA.