The Kane County Cougars roster has a definite Cubs flavor to it right now, and not just because a future major-leaguer might be on the team.
Three Cubs players -- outfielder Ryan Sweeney, infielder Luis Valbuena and pitcher Rafael Dolis -- joined the Cougars for rehabilitation work in their game against Peoria at Fifth Third Ballpark in Geneva.
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Of the three, it’s likely only Sweeney will join the Cubs when rosters expand tomorrow, manager Dale Sveum said prior to this afternoon’s game with Philadelphia.
Sweeney, who was in the Cubs clubhouse this morning, has been on the 60-day disabled list (retroactive to June 30) with a left rib fracture. The veteran outfielder was hitting .295 with four home runs and 15 RBI in 44 games with Chicago this season.
Sveum said Valbuena needs a little more time with the Cougars to recover from the right oblique strain that put him on the 15-day DL (retroactive to Aug. 3). Valbuena hit .225 with nine homers and 31 RBI in 89 games with the Cubs this year.
Experience helping Cubs young battery find success
Today’s starting battery -- pitcher Chris Rusin and catcher Welington Castillo -- are two of the bright spots for the Cubs this season. Both youngsters have made positive strides the more they’ve played this season.
Rusin enters his matchup against former Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee with a 2-3 record and 2.64 earned-run average in eight appearances. He’s allowed 13 earned runs with 26 strikeouts and 16 walks over 44⅓ innings.
That’s a big improvement from his Cubs debut in 2012 when he carried a 6.37 ERA and allowed 21 runs in 29⅔ innings.
“He’s starting to understand, ‘this is what I’ve got to do to get big-league hitters out,’” Sveum said. “The biggest thing for him maturity-wise is making the pitches when he has to make them. He’s been able to calm down.”
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It’s the same for Castillo, who made his major-league debut for the Cubs in 2010 but is in his first full season with the squad. Sveum said Castillo “is as good as anybody in the league” when it comes to throwing runners out and blocking the plate.
Castillo’s defensive improvement has come in the way he prepares for and manages games, according to Sveum.
Castillo enters today’s game hitting .266 with four homers and 22 RBI. He’s struck out 87 times, the third most on the club. Sveum said Castillo needs to work on staying consistent in the thought process.
“It’s being the same guy, every plate appearance, every pitch.,” Sveum said.
Cubs still suffering from Wrigley woes
Friday’s heartbreaking loss to the Phillies is only the latest in a season-long problem when it comes to winning at home.
Chicago built a 5-0 lead in the series opener with the Phillies Friday, only to see the lead fall apart late in the 6-5 loss. That dropped them to 25-42 at Wrigley Field, while they are 31-36 on the road.
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Pitching has been a major factor in the discrepancy. The staff has a 4.20 ERA and .724 OPS at home, compared to 3.76/.707 on the road.
Sveum said he’s at a loss to explain why the Cubs have struggled so much at home. The troubles come one year after the Cubs were 38-43 at home and won only 23 road games.
“For whatever reasons, they are hard to put a finger on,” Sveum said of the switch. “Those are things that you just don’t understand sometimes. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.”