Up in the air: Cubs brace for Coors Field

Up in the air: Cubs brace for Coors Field
April 14, 2011, 11:26 pm
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Thursday, April 14, 2011Posted: 6:15 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Mark Riggins felt sick the night Andrew Cashner went for an MRI at Northwestern Memorial Hospital last week.

The pitching coach had consulted with Cashner from the time the Cubs made him a first-round pick in 2008. Riggins whos in his first year on the job after working as the organizations minor-league coordinator felt just as bad for Randy Wells.

But the 54-year-old Riggins has been doing this long enough to know that its inevitable. The human body simply isnt meant to unleash a baseball at 95 mph over and over and over again.

Pitchers can hurt themselves with one throw at any time, Riggins said. Thats the way the game is. And so its an unfortunate thing, but in the business, we know it will happen at some point with almost everybody.

Cashner (rotator cuff strain) and Wells (forearm strain) will be re-evaluated next week. They are traveling and working out with the team, but havent thrown a baseball on this trip. There are no concrete plans right now, only a sense around the Cubs that Wells will be ready to come off the disabled list sooner than Cashner.

One mile above sea level, it wont get any easier this weekend in Denvers thin mountain air.

When difficulty sets in, it always opens up an opportunity for somebody else, manager Mike Quade said. Now you just wait and see if they can take advantage of it. (Well) see how it plays out.

Matt Garza is out to show that hes not the type of pitcher who gives up 20 hits in two starts. Casey Coleman wants to prove that he belongs in a major-league rotation. Ryan Dempster returns to Coors Field, where the Cubs endured a wild weekend last season.

Dempster got knocked out after four innings on July 30 and couldnt believe what he saw. The Colorado Rockies set a major-league record with 11 consecutive hits in the eighth and put a 12-run inning on the board. All that happened with two outs.

Dempster guessed that if you had Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Marlon Byrd throw batting practice with eight fielders behind them, the Rockies couldnt string together 11 straight hits again.

Thats how crazy that is, Dempster said afterward.

That same day, the Cubs reinstated Carlos Zambrano from the restricted list and the enigmatic pitcher began to try to make amends with his teammates. Lou Piniella revealed that he would have to go back home to Tampa, Fla., for a few days to attend his uncles funeral.

So acting manager Alan Trammell was stuck as the spokesman across the next two games.

The Cubs traded Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the July 31 deadline. Hours later, Rockies slugger Carlos Gonzalez hit for the cycle. The next afternoon, Carlos Silva was rushed in an ambulance to a Denver hospital with an abnormally high heart rate.

The Cubs were beginning to bottom out with that three-game sweep and would lose 20 of 25 before Piniella retired and Quade took over as manager.

It would be impossible to top that head-spinning weekend in 2010. But this shouldnt be boring.

The 6-6 Cubs started the 2011 season with nine of their first 11 games decided by three runs or less. The first seven games unfolded that way, the first time thats happened to the Cubs since 1950. Already the fault lines are starting to show.

Were real happy with our bullpen, but weve gone to them pretty hard, Quade said. Weve had to because weve been in so many close ballgames. Every time someone else steps up and gives you an option, (it) takes the pressure off other people.

We dont want five guys in the bullpen with 90 appearances, running them out there the way were doing right now. So you manage that the best you can.

Thats a major concern, not simply replacing Cashner and Wells for a few turns through the rotation, but the accumulated stress on relievers when starters cant go more than five innings.

The Cubs have talked about finding out what theyre made of on this 10-day, three-city road trip. There will be nowhere to hide in Coors Field.

It takes more than 12 guys to get through a season, Riggins said. Every club has this problem at some point in the year our (turn) just happened to be now.

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