Quade shows faith in Castro, Pena

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Quade shows faith in Castro, Pena

Tuesday, April 26, 2011Posted: 8:35 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Mike Quade sat in the United Center watching the Blackhawks on Sunday night and wondered about the decision to bench Roberto Luongo.

The Cubs manager thought about the goalies history, what he means to the franchise and how the Vancouver Canucks would respond in a Game 7. Quade gets second-guessed all the time, and welcomes the arguments, so hes earned the right.

The next night, Quade trudged into the interview room at Wrigley Field after his 59th game as Cubs manager. The consensus was that he had never been that angry or frustrated during a postgame media session.

Quade didnt even bother to try to put a positive spin on that 5-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies and went straight to adjectives like awful and bad.

By Tuesday afternoon, Quade was back to being upbeat, admitting that its only one game, less than one percent of the entire season. He is going to take the same long view with Starlin Castro and Carlos Pena.

Its like being the closer, Quade said. You better have a short memory.

On a cold, wet Monday night, Castro became the first Cub in almost 15 years to commit three errors in one inning. Quade didnt say much to his 21-year-old shortstop, other than offer a few words of encouragement.

The message will be the same as it ever was since Castro made his big-league debut 11-plus months ago: Slow the game down for a moment. Dont rush everything.

Im not an excuse-maker, but it wasnt the greatest of nights to play, Quade said. Every throw I watched from everybody on the field (was) made with caution (and) thats the one thing I hope he learned you might have to take a little extra time in those circumstances.

We may not be able to turn the double play. We may not be able to play this thing like its a dry day in June."

Castro doesnt lack for confidence. He doesnt care if he bats leadoff (23-for-46 entering Tuesday) or third (2-for-17). Quade says he hasnt noticed a change in approach, and thats all that matters.

I have no concerns about his psyche, no matter where he hits, Quade said. If he showed up here tomorrow and was hitting fourth, I dont think hed blink.

You just dont wake up one day and go: Hmmmlets try him third. Thats not what I do. Hes talented, hes capable and going through the first month of the season hes our best hitter. Thats whos supposed to be your third guy. Well see how it plays out.

So Quade will continue to mix-and-match, figuring that Kosuke Fukudome (.571 on-base percentage) is the best leadoff option against right-handers and believing that Marlon Byrd will start producing in the clutch (.185 average with runners in scoring position).

Quade also recognizes that Jeff Baker (.990 OPS) deserves more playing time. But the managers not prepared to automatically sit Pena against left-handed pitchers.

Pena woke up Tuesday with zero homers, one extra-base hit, a .169 average and 22 strikeouts in his first 59 at-bats. The first baseman who averaged 36 homers and 102 RBI across the past four seasons has also been dealing with a thumb injury. He got the vote of confidence.

We need to get Carlos going. Period, Quade said. It cant be a platoon system for me because I still would like the left-handed power in the middle of that lineup that I know Carlos has and Im not willing to bail on that three weeks into the season in April in Chicago.

Hopefully thats a conversation for never. Its not for now.

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

As Cubs search for answers, Scott Boras doesn’t believe Jake Arrieta is feeling the pressure of free agency

As Cubs search for answers, Scott Boras doesn’t believe Jake Arrieta is feeling the pressure of free agency

LOS ANGELES – It’s harder to find perspective when the lights are flashing all around Dodger Stadium and the techno music is thumping and Adrian Gonzalez just launched a two-run homer 429 feet to straightaway center. 

But that’s why Jake Arrieta pays Scott Boras. The super-agent sat in a front-row seat behind home plate on Friday night, watching his client go through another up-and-down start for a Cubs team that needs Arrieta to pitch more like an ace.

It’s easy to lose sight of this during a 4-0 loss where the Dodgers looked more like the team on a mission after getting eliminated from last year’s National League Championship Series.

But Arrieta is someone who has already experienced the low points that made him think about quitting baseball as he shuttled back and forth between the Orioles and Triple-A – and the intoxicating high from ending the 108-year drought and creating so much joy for generations of Cubs fans.

So Boras isn’t buying the idea that Arrieta might be feeling the weight of his upcoming free agency.

“Coming from Baltimore to here and establishing himself in the big leagues was the major arc of his career,” Boras said, “the most difficult moment of illustrating that he is an everyday major-leaguer. The fact that he has the skills, and what he has up here (in his head), the dynamic of winning two World Series games and things like that, I’d say he’s (been) measured. When you win World Series games, that’s the most important thing.

“If you want me to measure pressure, I’d say that’s World Series cojones.”

To get back into October, the Cubs will need more consistency from Arrieta (5-4, 4.92 ERA), who’s still fine-tuning his delivery and not always getting that extra burst of velocity that made him a Cy Young Award winner and unhittable one night at Dodger Stadium.

Two aging Dodgers crushed Arrieta fastballs. Chase Utley – who began the game hitting .204 – drove one over the center-field wall in the third inning. Gonzalez had gone 131 plate appearances this season before notching his first home run with two outs in the sixth inning.

“I understand how difficult this game is,” Arrieta said. “It’s a work in progress. I’m still not exactly where I would like to be. But it’s close. It really is.”

Even as Arrieta worked through command/mechanical issues last season, he still wound up winning 18 games and limiting opponents to a .583 OPS that ranked second in the majors. It took until the middle of last August before he gave up his 10th home run, or where he’s already at through 10 starts this season. 

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“The one that Utley hit out was on the corner – that’s a good piece of hitting,” Arrieta said. “The one to Gonzalez was too much plate in a 3-1 count. It was elevated. Willson (Contreras) called a changeup. I shook to the fastball. I expected to locate a little bit better than I did. But I feel like if I continue on this progression, I think I’ll be OK.

“I don’t intend to continue to give up as much hard contact, especially balls over the fence. It’s been a little bit of tough luck, but they just flat out beat us.”

There’s some truth to that – Arrieta continued to pile up the strikeouts (nine) and limit the walks (one) – while Dodger lefty Alex Wood extended his scoreless streak to 25.1 innings before handing the game over to a dominant bullpen. But whether it’s an underperforming offense, a defense not playing at the same historic level or those velocity questions, Arrieta doesn’t appear to have the same margin for error anymore.

All those elements could come roaring back, but the Cubs are now a 25-22 team that could be looking to replace 60 percent of the rotation by Opening Day 2018.

“You don’t really think about (it),” Boras said. “When the Cubs come to town, I look at the standings: OK, where are they at? They’re trying to win again. This club’s a good club and you think about what moves they’re going to make to make it better.

“Jake’s total focus has always been about putting himself in a position that few players get to be in – and that is being on a club where you can win more.”

Whatever happens over the next several months, this will be the reservoir of confidence Arrieta draws from, and ultimately his legacy as a Cub.

“When the postseason hits, it’s Jake’s greatest measurement,” Boras said. “I don’t know, I heard winning a World Series in Chicago was difficult.”

Cubs: Is Joe Maddon turning Kyle Schwarber into a platoon player?

Cubs: Is Joe Maddon turning Kyle Schwarber into a platoon player?

LOS ANGELES – Joe Maddon doesn’t want to put the platoon label on a young hitter who became a World Series legend before his 24th birthday. But the Cubs manager also isn’t planning to start Kyle Schwarber against left-handers anytime soon. 

“If people want to say that, I can’t avoid it,” Maddon said Friday at Dodger Stadium, where Schwarber sat against lefty Alex Wood, who took a 20.1-inning scoreless streak into this National League Championship Series rematch. “I’m going to do that until I feel good about him, because I don’t want to lay too many at-bats on him in a negative situation.

“If he’s not swinging the bat well against righties, it’s a bad assumption that I’m going to think he’s going to swing it well against lefties. Then I’m just putting him in a deeper hole by throwing him out there, just based on really bad logic.

“I’m just trying to pick his spots right now to get him going. Once he goes, he can play against anybody.”

[MORE CUBS: The 'friendly rivalry' between Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman]

Schwarber – who’s hitting .181 with a .656 OPS and 55 strikeouts in less than 200 plate appearances this season – will start Saturday against Dodger right-hander Brandon McCarthy. But even with Clayton Kershaw looming on Sunday, Maddon didn’t want to give Schwarber the entire weekend off, the way Jason Heyward mentally reset last August at Coors Field.

“I don’t think it’s there yet,” Maddon said. “I’ve had good conversations with him. I think it’s a different set of circumstances.”

For the Cubs, this doesn’t really change their overall evaluation of Schwarber as a core player and potentially one of the most dangerous left-handed sluggers in the game. But Maddon has been backing away from the idea of Schwarber as a leadoff hitter, trying to reboot the player who had been such an intimidating postseason presence.

“My concern when the guy is struggling a little bit is you don’t want him to get him too many at-bats,” Maddon said. “It’s really hard to get yourself out of that mental, physical and numerical hole. By not getting him as many at-bats, it will be easy to get back to a number he’s more comfortable with.

“I don’t care about that – I really don’t. I’m looking at his past, process, what he’s doing for the team in regards to on-base, everything else. But for the guy himself, he looks up at the scoreboard and he sees numbers everywhere and they evaluate themselves based on numbers.

“I don’t want him to do that. I just want him to get back into the process of having good at-bats.”