Cubs' Top Pick Simpson Has Big Debut; Birmingham Wins Southern League Opener

Cubs' Top Pick Simpson Has Big Debut; Birmingham Wins Southern League Opener

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted: 10:30 p.m.
CUBSPeoria A
Hayden Simpsons long-awaited professional debut was quite a success Thursday evening even if Mother Nature had the final say in Peorias season-opener against Cedar Rapids. The game was suspended heading into the ninth inning with the score tied 2-2 because of rain. It will be completed prior to Friday evenings game at OBrien Field.

Simpson, the 16th overall pick in last years draft, went 3 23 innings, striking out seven and walking one. He fanned the side in the third inning on 11 pitches with the only blemish on his evening coming in the fourth inning when he surrendered a solo homer to Brandon Decker. The former Division-II star didnt pitch last summer while recovering from mononucleosis.

Greg Rohan had a pair of hits and an RBI while Matt Szczur led off and had a double in four at-bats.

Iowa AAA
The I-Cubs used a healthy approach at the plate Thursday night to offset a shaky effort on the mound, pounding out 15 hits in a wild 12-9 victory over Round Rock in the season opener at The Dell Diamond.

Ty Wright homer, three RBIs, Bobby Scales and Lou Montanez three RBIs each had three hits while Bryan LaHair added a homer and three RBIs. Despite allowing five runs in three innings, Esmailin Caridad earned the victory in relief of Thomas Diamond, who allowed two runs on three hits and three walks in four innings.

Tennessee AA
The Smokies erupted for 17 hits, including a pair of homers, Thursday night to crush host Chattanooga, 12-4, in the season-opener for both teams.

Josh Vitters and Matthew Spencer solo homer each had three hits to lead the assault while Brett Jackson two RBIs, Ryan Flaherty two RBIs, Rebel Ridling homer, two RBIs and Steve Clevenger each added a pair of hits. Vitters missed much of the second half of last season with a broken hand after hitting .223 in 206 at-bats for Tennessee.

Chris Rusin, a fourth-round pick in 2009, earned the win after allowing three runs on four hits in five innings.
Daytona A
Matt Cerdas two-run, seventh-inning double proved to be the difference Thursday night as Daytona edged Brevard County, 3-2, at Space Coast Stadium in the season-opener for both teams.

Efrain Nieves had come on in relief for the Manatees and Cerda greeted him with a line drive to left. It was one of his team-leading three hits. Mike Burgess added a solo homer in the fifth as the Cubs began to claw their way out of a 2-0 hole.

Jeff Lorick earned the win with a pair of scoreless innings after starter Robert Whiteknack allowed two runs in five innings.

WHITE SOXBirmingham AA
The Barons didnt have many reasons to celebrate in 2010 but got some early partying in on Thursday as they squeaked out a 1-0 victory at Montgomery in the season-opener for both teams.

Dylan Axelrod earned the win, allowing two hits over five innings. He fanned eight and walked only one before the bullpen Nate Jones and Greg Infante combined to strike out four over four no-hit innings.

Birmingham only managed three hits but one of them was an Ozzie Lewis RBI single in the second inning. Brandon Short and Seth Loman were hit by pitches ahead of Lewis, who singled to left to bring in the games lone run.

Charlotte AAA
Stefan Gartrells RBI double in the bottom of the eighth inning lifted Charlotte to a 4-3 victory over Norfolk Thursday night in the season-opener for both clubs.

Dallas McPherson got the winning rally started with a one-out double before Gartrell stroked a liner to right field to bring in the winning run. Gookie Dawkins solo homer in the bottom of the seventh tied the score at 3-3, setting the stage for Gartrells heroics.

Jhonny Nunez took advantage of the rally to earn the victory after pitching a scoreless eighth while Brian Bruney turned the trick in the ninth, striking out a pair to earn the save. Lucas Harrell had started and allowed two runs on six hits over five innings. He fanned five and left after pitching to one batter in the sixth inning.

Alejandro De Aza, who hit .302 for Charlotte last season, had three hits and an RBI for the Knights.
Kannapolis A
Ryan Buch allowed only one hit in his six innings of work Thursday night but it proved to be just one hit too many. The big right-hander allowed a solo homer to Jim Murphy in the second inning and wound up on the losing end of the decision as a result after Lakewood topped Kannapolis, 2-0, in the season-opener at FirstEnergy Park.

Buch, who played his collegiate ball not far from Lakewood at Monmouth College, struck out four and didnt walk a batter. But the Intimidators managed only five hits, all coming off Lakewood starter Mario Hollands. The lack of offense proved to be too much to overcome as the Claws bullpen tossed four perfect innings.

Trayce Thompson had a double for the Intimidators.

Kevin Czerwinski can be reached at ktczerwinski@gmail.com.

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

The Cubs are preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson, hoping the talented, frequently injured pitcher can stay healthy and provide insurance for their rotation.

Anderson posted a telling message on his Twitter account on Monday night, hinting at what would be another offseason check mark for the defending World Series champs.

The physical for the agreement — first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and MLB Network — won't just be a formality as Anderson underwent back surgery last March and appeared in only four games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

But Anderson fits on paper as a left-hander who will turn only 29 on Feb. 1 and won't have to carry front-of-the-rotation responsibilities or feel Opening Day urgency on a team with five projected starters.

The Cubs had been willing to gamble around $6 million on Tyson Ross, who recently signed a similarly structured one-year deal with the Texas Rangers as he recovers from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

The calculus would essentially be the same with Anderson. The Cubs have to factor in last year's grueling playoff run into early November, this season's sky-high expectations, the organization's lack of high-end, upper-level pitching prospects and the uncertainty surrounding the 2018 rotation.

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Anderson finished sixth in the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year voting with the Oakland A's, but he's reached the 30-start mark only one other time and never accounted for 200 innings in a single season.

Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season, and the injuries piled up from there, dealing with a strained right oblique, a stress fracture in his right foot and a broken left index finger.

Anderson had such a fragile reputation that he accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers after a strong platform year in 2015 (10-9, 3.69 ERA). The Dodgers only got 11 1/3 innings out of Anderson, who didn't pitch during a playoff run that ended at Wrigley Field in the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs stayed exceptionally healthy while winning 200 games across the last two seasons and need to be prepared in case John Lackey sharply declines at the age of 38 or Mike Montgomery experiences growing pains while transitioning from the bullpen.

Whether or not Anderson is ultimately the answer, the Cubs will be looking to place a sixth starter into their plans.

"I don't know if a six-man rotation on a permanent basis is the wave of the future," team president Theo Epstein said earlier this winter. "But we certainly endorse it on a temporary basis as a nice way to pace guys for the whole season.

"We can get them some rest, whether you do it in April to preserve depth and ease guys into the season, especially after a deep October and November run. Or after the All-Star break in the summer to kind of get through the dog days and give guys a little bit of a breather as you ramp up for the stretch run.

"I think it would be tough to pull off all season long. But it's something that (could certainly work) in the right spot."

The start of preseason brings the return of hope for the Fire

The start of preseason brings the return of hope for the Fire

A year ago there was hope surrounding the Fire. Hope that general manager Nelson Rodriguez, entering his first offseason with the club, and new coach Veljko Paunovic could spark a turnaround at the club. Those new faces, coupled with an overhauled roster, meant there was hope that things could be better.

Rodriguez and Paunovic had not yet failed with the Fire so there was still that hope that they had a magic touch.

That eroded as the season unfolded and the team’s shortcomings were quickly apparent. The reworked defense seemed to be improved, but the midfield was typically overwhelmed.

Now, after the Fire finished last in Major League Soccer for the second consecutive year, that innocent hope that a new coach and general manager bring is gone. Fans have seen Rodriguez and Paunovic fail and, even though they inherited a team that was not an easy one to turn around, there will be more skepticism.

This year there is hope again, but instead of coming in the form of new management, it comes in the form of accomplished players. Juninho (a three-time MLS All-Star and three-time MLS Cup winner), Dax McCarty (an MLS Best XI selection in 2015) and Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goalscorer in the Polish Ekstraklasa in 2015-16) on paper make the Fire a better team. Can they mesh into a cohesive team that will actually perform better in matches?

“You’d like to think so,” Rodriguez said on Monday at the team’s media day at the PrivateBank Fire Pitch on the North Side. “It’s an inexact science, or at least for me it is. I know others will be more brash and saying it’s all there and all the pieces are together. Until they’re on the field, until they’re in the hotel rooms, until they’re off the field at team meals you never really know.”

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Rodriguez did say that this group is “very different” than last year’s.

“You can talk about all these clever ways to change culture, but the best way to have a winning team is to have winners as part of your team,” he said. “With those four guys (including goalkeeper Jorge Bava) at least we’ve added certified winners.”

So with two former MLS All-Stars arriving in central midfield, arguably the team’s biggest weakness last season, and a proven goalscorer, the pieces are there for the Fire to be better. Now it’s up to Paunovic to put the pieces together in a winning way.

“Obviously we have high expectations because we believe we did this job so far in offseason by the acquisitions that we had and the guys that are still to come,” Paunovic said. “It’s going to be a better team, more competitive.”

Even with the additions, the roster isn’t finished yet. Two trialists are in camp with the Fire, right backs Drew Beckie and Boyd Okwuonu. Beckie is a 26-year-old Canadian who played the 2016 season with the Carolina Railhawks in the North American Soccer League. Importantly, Beckie has a green card and would not count against the Fire’s international roster spots.

Okwuonu, 23, was drafted by Real Salt Lake in the second round of last year’s draft but was not retained. He has represented the U.S. at youth levels, including as a part of the Olympic qualifying team last year.

Right back has been an opening on the roster since Rodrigo Ramos’ loan was not renewed and no player has been added to fill that spot yet so those two could be fighting for a contract. Rodriguez said further additions to defense and midfield are still possible.

“Preseason is going to tell us where we have to improve,” Paunovic said. “Of course, theoretically we all know that there are a couple of spots still to reinforce and a couple of spots that we have to improve. For us now during all this time we are open to all the possibilities.”

The roster appears to be better, but even Rodriguez admitted he had hope last year.

“I was confident last year and the results of last year were bitterly disappointing and utterly unexpected by me," he said. "I have to believe our roster is better, whether that roster comes together the way we imagine, time will tell.”