Out of nowhere, Silva stays in the picture

Out of nowhere, Silva stays in the picture
March 24, 2011, 1:10 am
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Posted: 7:48 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney

MESA, Ariz. Carlos Silva viewed this as a last chance. He had no idea what was going to happen and still doesnt but he needed it for his state of mind.

Silva pulled his blue socks up to his knees on Wednesday, a different look for a pitcher who desperately hoped to change his luck. He normally wears his pants baggy, long around the cleats, which causes rips. He says hes not superstitious the only other available pair ran short.

A month from his 32nd birthday, Silva can be insecure, sensitive and emotional. The pressure to compete for a spot in the rotation has weighed on him heavily. And as the Cubs finished off a 3-1 victory over the Oakland As, a religious man stood in front of his locker and said: Thank God for this game. I know I can pitch.

The 9,061 fans at HoHoKam Park saw Silva make his case for the rotation. He stretched out to six innings and allowed only one run on three hits. He retired the final 10 batters he faced, and 17 of the final 18.

When I cross that line with high confidence, Silva said, when I feel strong, powerful in my mind, its like (a) whole different pitcher out there.

All of a sudden Silva looked nothing like the guy who allowed 26 runs 20 earned on 29 hits through his first 11.1 innings. After Wednesdays game, Silva had lowered his ERA from 15.88 to 10.90.

At times Silva blamed his defenders, which led to a dugout altercation with Aramis Ramirez, and rationalized it as balls just finding holes. But really opponents made it look like batting practice this spring.

On a sunny, 67-degree afternoon, Silva did what manager Mike Quade dared him to do: Make it tough on me.

Quade said a decision on the fifth starter wasnt set in stone. He mentioned that ideally it would be finalized before Saturday, when Andrew Cashner starts again and tries to extend beyond four innings for the first time this spring.

But if it took watching another Cashner audition, Quade said he was good with that. Two data points released Wednesday indirectly showed you where the Cubs are at with Silva and Cashner.

Forbes assessed the Cubs as baseballs fourth-most valuable franchise at 773 million, which represents a six percent increase from the year before. They are a big-market team with resources that must figure out what to do with the 13.5 million Silvas guaranteed.

Baseball America also unveiled its minor-league system rankings and slotted the Cubs at No. 16, a drop from the top tier because of the prospects it took to import Matt Garza from Tampa Bay. They are invested in the idea of the homegrown Cashner, a 2008 first-round pick and a billboard for how the organization wants to run.

Even Silva knew his time could be running out with the Cubs.

This is a business, Silva said. If Ive been pitching good and got traded, Im going to be ok, but I dont want to walk out the door the way I was pitching.

(If they said) we need to trade you because were not going to use you, we dont need you here (thats) tough. One of the greatest places to pitch is Chicago and I would love to be there.

Silva said hed be fine if the Cubs asked him to come out of the bullpen. But hes too proud to ignore the chance to make the rotation.

When you say something to me like: Youre in the competition for the fifth-starter (spot) Im going to kill people for (it).

Quade is not an old-school manager like Lou Piniella or Yogi Berra. But he sounded like one before Wednesdays game, when a reporter asked if Braden Looper was still in the mix.

Looper will relieve Garza on Thursday against the White Sox, his second straight appearance out of the bullpen, which shows the Cubs could be looking at him as a long man. It could be either Looper or Silva for a final bullpen spot.

Until youre gone, youre here, Quade said.

Everyone assumed Silva was a goner. But after this performance the manager had to admit: The plot thickens.

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