Risk-reward: Cubs pin hopes on young pitching

Risk-reward: Cubs pin hopes on young pitching
September 24, 2010, 9:02 pm
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Friday, Sept. 24, 2010
5:47 PM

By Patrick Mooney

Mark DeRosa was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, but played like a blue-collar guy from New Jersey, and that style endeared him to the fans at Wrigley Field.

The disappointment when he was traded off that 97-win team almost made it seem as if the utility infielderoutfielder should one day get his own statue at Sheffield and Addison.

Chris Archer is aware of the love DeRosa received during his two seasons on the North Side, and wants to prove that the front office made a smart decision in dealing for three minor-league pitchers from the Cleveland Indians system on New Years Eve 2008.

Next year the Cubs will likely cut payroll from the approximately 145 million they started with on Opening Day, as chairman Tom Ricketts told Bloomberg this week. That means they will have to develop young arms from within.

Twenty-seven-year-old Tom Gorzelanny (7-9, 4.28) feels he has already done enough to belong in the 2011 rotation, and he may be right. But on Friday afternoon he looked like someone who hadnt pitched in more than three weeks after a line drive bruised his left hand and fractured his pinky finger.

Allen Craig the fifth batter Gorzelanny has faced since Sept. 1 drilled a 3-2 fastball into the left-field bleachers. That two-out, three-run homer in the first inning set the tone in a 7-1 victory for a St. Louis Cardinals team that could be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention by the end of the weekend.

I just wasnt in a groove and couldnt find it, said Gorzelanny, who reported no health issues after giving up seven runs in 3.1 innings. Im not going to worry about: If I have a good start, I hope I make the team. Because then Ill have a terrible start if I think (like) that.

All season long, you get questions about that. (Its) the last thing on my mind. Im worried about my next time on the mound. Thats it.

The fastest way for the Cubs to get back to the postseason will be through the accelerated development of their young pitchers.

Archer, who will turn 22 on Sunday, could be the next big thing. He started his fifth professional season by going 7-1 with a 2.86 ERA at Class-A Daytona. He earned a promotion and began his time at Double-A Tennessee by throwing 31 13 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.

Considering that this season the Cubs incorporated 18 rookies and 11 making a big-league debut Archer will be someone to watch at spring training next year in Mesa, Ariz.

It gives you hope, he said. You know that theyre willing to use the younger players. And it definitely gets you excited and makes you even want to work harder (to) try to get there.

In front of the Cubs staff, the right-hander threw a side session on Friday at Wrigley Field. He is nearing his innings limit and will not play in the Arizona Fall League, though hes available to pitch for USA Baseball at next months Pan American Games qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico.

A combined 15-3 record with a 2.34 ERA made Archer the organizations minor league pitcher of the year. In 2008 that award went to Mitch Atkins, who this week was designated for assignment and outrighted back to Triple-A Iowa. The next season it went to Casey Coleman, who will start Saturday against the Cardinals (79-74).

Thats not to say Atkins is finished or Coleman has a spot locked up. Its just difficult to make these projections.

The Atlanta Braves selected Adam Wainwright in the first round of the 2000 draft and traded him away as part of the J.D. Drew deal. Wainwright, 29, first pitched out of the St. Louis bullpen before developing into an elite starter.

Wainwright allowed one run across six innings Friday and won his 20th game of the season in front of 36,553 fans. The Cubs (69-84) have now scored three runs in their past four games. Up next theyll see Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook and a San Diego Padres team thats built on pitching and fighting for first place in the National League West.

This aint the Yellow Brick Road, manager Mike Quade said. Im telling you right now this is going to be a tough task these next few days. (The) veterans know it and the kids are going to find out. Were going to have to scratch and scrape and do everything we can to try and stay in games.

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