Role reversal: Pirates double up Dempster, Cubs

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Role reversal: Pirates double up Dempster, Cubs

Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2010
11:52 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

For Mike Quade, the biggest difference hes found managing in the majors has been the volume of information. Quade was the Oakland As first-base coach while the best-selling book Moneyball was being reported, so he understands the value of statistics.

But at the Triple-A level you never get these sample sizes or numbers for specific situations. The game is too transient there. Now Quade can analyze Alfonso Sorianos performance across 40 at-bats against a particular pitcher.

The Cubs manager is no longer working off handwritten notes either. But computer printouts dont give easy answers for this.

The Cubs had their most reliable starter (Ryan Dempster) on the mound Tuesday night against the worst team in baseball (Pittsburgh Pirates). They fell behind by nine runs and lost 14-7 in front of 31,369 fans, though the Wrigley Field crowd seemed smaller than that.

Six days earlier, Dempster had no-hitter type stuff until Quade pulled him after 79 pitches in the eighth inning of a scoreless game. It was a bold move that paid off for the rookie manager when the pinch-hitter scored the go-ahead run and the Cubs beat the Washington Nationals.

Until Tuesday night, Dempster had been so good in August 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA that you wondered if something was wrong. Seventy pitches got him through three innings and he gave up seven runs. It marked his shortest start since June 27, 2008 at U.S. Cellular Field.

Physically, hes fine, Quade said. He just gets furious with himself.

The Pirates (44-88) havent had a winning season since 1992. Their internal financial documents were recently leaked to the website Deadspin for the whole world to see. It has become a place for players like Aramis Ramirez to go for awhile before getting rich somewhere else.

Tuesdays edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wondered: Is this their worst team ever? Yet the Pirates are now 10-4 against the Cubs this year.

I got no explanation why, Ramirez said. Weve played well against them before. This year for some reason we just havent been winning.

During this line of questioning, Lou Piniella would invariably point out that the Cubs (56-77) have had trouble winning against all types of teams this season. It is why theyve never been above .500 in 2010 and will be playing in front of empty seats throughout September.

The jobs still the same coming to work, Dempster said. It doesnt say in your contract: Ill try as hard as I can as long as were in it.

Dempster is one of the few people in the clubhouse who knows what hell be doing next year, probably pitching on Opening Day. For everyone else, there will be auditions, from Quade to the pitching staff to the September call-ups, most likely six or seven players once Iowa completes its season.

I look back when I first came up, I was a young guy who (definitely knew he) didnt belong in the big leagues, Dempster said. Were in this together. Whoever else is here a day from now, or a week from now or two weeks from now whenever it is (will) get a great experience that you cant get anywhere else.

For the fifth-place Cubs, the good news is that by late Wednesday afternoon they should be done with the Pirates this season. Consider it another weird data point in an unpredictable season.

Weve talked so much about starting pitching and Demps going to pitch well, Quade said. You dont play games on paper. And the last thing in the world I expected was to be making a change for Demp in the third inning. But thats the nature of the beast.

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

Kyle Schwarber catching again is a good step for a banged-up Cubs team

Kyle Schwarber catching again is a good step for a banged-up Cubs team

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs are so strong up the middle that Javier Baez can star for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic and return to camp as a super-utility guy/late-game defensive replacement. 

But that projection in late March is based on across-the-board health, which never happens in a 162-game season. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (stiff neck) hasn't played in a Cactus League game in almost a week. All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) became a late scratch to Friday's lineup at Sloan Park.

After trying to make a diving catch in center field, Albert Almora Jr. exited in the third inning of a 4-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians with what the Cubs called "left neck tightness," though he still plans to play in Las Vegas this weekend.  

On the other side of the spring-training complex in Mesa – away from the crowd of 15,473 in a minor-league game against a Colorado Rockies squad – the Cubs did get a positive piece of news on the health front: Kyle Schwarber went four innings behind the plate, going Tony Pena style and trying to reduce the stress on his body.

"I love catching," Schwarber said. "Whenever I played baseball, I was always a catcher. For me to be able to do that today – and feel pretty good about myself walking away from the day – it was a good step."

This is clearly important to Schwarber, an intensely driven personality who doesn't want to hear "no." Otherwise, the Cubs probably would have shut this down already, not wanting to risk it with a franchise player, someone who might blast 35 homers at the top of their lineup.

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But the medical staff cleared Schwarber when pitchers and catchers reported to Arizona – 10 months after he underwent surgery on his left knee to reconstruct his ACL and repair his LCL – and it could become a valuable skill again. 

"The most difficult part I would probably say was setup-wise," Schwarber said, "trying to find that timing of your moves and everything like that. Sometimes I felt like I was a little late getting my setup. But that all came. It's been a year since I got behind there, so overall everything went really well."

The Cubs already have one of the best young catchers in the game (Willson Contreras) and a two-time All-Star making $14 million this season backing him up (Miguel Montero). Schwarber doesn't want to put a number on how many starts he might make behind the plate, though the Cubs have framed it as in case of emergency, an extra late-inning option for manager Joe Maddon or maybe something that makes sense with a particular matchup. 

"As of right now, it's still the third-catcher role," Schwarber said. "I'm down for whatever, but I know the majority of the time is going to be out there in left."

Joe Maddon offers up Cubs strength coach to be Madonna's trainer

Joe Maddon offers up Cubs strength coach to be Madonna's trainer

MESA, Ariz. — Think the stir-crazy Cubs have been in Arizona long enough? Near the end of a camp that has been relatively tame — at least compared to last year's parade of mimes, zoo animals and karaoke jams — manager Joe Maddon heard about Madonna's contest to find a new dance trainer and immediately thought of the man behind those gonzo stunts.

Because that's what a three-time Manager of the Year does. So the organization's content arm put together a one-minute clip nominating strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss, releasing it to 1.7 million followers on Friday through the @Cubs Twitter account.

"We're hoping that Madonna has an opportunity to check that out," Maddon said at the Sloan Park complex. "We're willing to send even more information — whatever she possibly needs — to see that our guy's the best."

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Set to synthesized 1980s-style music, the aerobics video is rated more PG than the actual "Bussy" experience. The Cubs didn't show Buss leading the team stretch in a Speedo and a Lucha Libre mask. A slow-motion part of the montage does feature Buss standing alone in the clubhouse, dousing himself in beer during a clinching celebration.

"We could have made it more edgy," Maddon said. "There were so many more ways to go with it. I was kind of pleased with it. I thought it presented his abilities very well. His physique was presented in a manner that she could be duly impressed with the fact that our strength and conditioning coach fashions that form."

What if Madonna steals Buss from the Cubs?

"We could share somehow," Maddon said. "She'll fire him after a couple weeks anyway."