Archive | March, 2009

Koyie Hill & Micah Hoffpauir Make Cubs Roster

Posted on 31 March 2009 by Lou

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Micah Hoffpauir and Koyie Hill have made the Cubs opening day roster.  The Cubs released both Paul Bako and Mike Stanton as the Cubs roster now stands at 28 players.  The position players are now set for the 2009 MLB schedule, while 4 relievers are still battling for the final 2 spots in the Cubs bullpen.

Hill outplayed Bako to earn the Cubs backup catcher job.  Hill hit .391 this spring and showed tremendous resolve returning from a horrific table saw accident in which he severed three of his fingers.  He played most of the 2008 at Triple-A Iowa and batted .275 with 17 home runs and 64 RBI’s.  Bako played well this spring – .364 batting average – but it wasn’t enough.

Cubs Manager Lou Pinella had this to say about Hill:  “Koyie’s worked hard, it’s a good story, he’s been here before.  When he had a chance to catch here, he caught well and helped us win some ballgames.  He had to come in here and compete, and compete he did.  He’s had one of the better springs.

Hoffpauir had a tremendous spring for the Cubs.  He batted .286 and led the team with 5 home runs.  Hoffpauir was also among Cactus-league leaders in RBI’s with 24.  Hoffpauir was excited to make the team right out of the gates:  “It’s a great feeling.  It’s a dream come true.  To make the Opening Day roster is special.  It’s the first time for me.  Hopefully, I can stick around and help the team out a little bit.”

Congrats to Hill and Hoffpauir.  Let’s hope they can help Soto and Lee get some extra rest during the course of the long MLB season and be productive members of the Cubs at the major league level in 2009.

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Pinella Tabs Gregg Over Marmol as Cubs Closer

Posted on 30 March 2009 by Lou

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And your closer is…  Kevin Gregg!!!

Cubs Manager Lou Pinella finally named his closer over the weekend, announcing that Kevin Gregg would serve as the Cubs closer during the 2009 MLB schedule.  Carlos Marmol, in the running with Gregg, will once again serve as the Cubs primary set-up man.

Pinella had this to say about the competition:  “I couldn’t go wrong either way.  I’ve thought about this a whole lot.  It’s tough bringing in a young man [Marmol] who has played such a big role for us the last couple years, but he’s young and he’ll get plenty of opportunities to close in his career.  Right now, we felt the other way would be more beneficial to the team.  We’re fortunate to have this guy [Gregg].  He’s all business, he goes about it the right way, he works hard and he’s got that mentality.”

All in all, it’s probably the right move.  Carlos Marmol is the most reliable pitcher to come into a dicey situation and be able to get out of the jam without giving up any runs.  Marmol can also go more than an inning of work – coming in in a tough situation in the 7th inning to record an out or 2, pitching the 8th inning and then turning it over to Gregg to record the final 3 outs for a Cubs win.  No one else on the Cubs staff is capable of doing that, so it is wise to take advantage of Marmol’s assets in that regard.  It’s unfortunate that Marmol won’t be able to rack up the “personal save numbers”, but in some respects, getting to that 9th inning with the lead is just as important.

All this also depends on Gregg’s health.  Gregg battled a knee injury during the 2008 MLB season and struggled for most of the season.  Gregg did pitch in 72 games, recording 29 saves, but he did blow a major-league leading 9 saves.  In 2007, Gregg saved 32 games in 74 appearances with a 3.54 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP.  Gregg had 87 strikeouts in 2007, but only 58 strikeouts in 2008.  His knee is supposedly fully healthy now, and his stellar spring seems to prove that – 8 1/3 innings pitched in 9 games without giving up a single run.  Gregg had this to say:  “It’s where I’m comfortable, it’s what I’ve done the last couple years.  I’m excited about a new year and especially being on a healthy leg.  That’s a big thing for me this year is wanting to be healthy…  That vital role he [Marmol] had last year, we’ll need him to do the same thing this year.  He’s a big part of the success of the bullpen.  Any time you have a good closer, you have to have a good setup guy.”

As for Marmol, he was clearly diappointed with the decision.  After hinting that he didn’t really think there was a fair competition between he and Gregg during spring training, he said the right thing – “I think it’s good for the team.”  Marmol has been one of the most dependable relief pitchers for the Cubs the last 2 seasons.  In 2007, Marmol pitched 69+ innings in 59 appearances – 5-1 record, 1 save, 16 holds, 96 strikeouts, 1.43 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.  In 2008, Marmol pitched 87+ innings in 82 appearances – 2-4 record, 7 saves, 30 holds, 114 strikeouts, 2.68 ERA and 0.93 WHIP.  They will need similar numbers, although maybe not so many appearances from Marmol again in 2009.

I like tag team combo for the Cubs at the back end of games.  If the Cubs can build an early lead often enough, the Cubs should be able to rack up wins with the quality bullpen finishing up with Marmol and Gregg.  Let’s root for pitching health again in 2009 for the north-siders.

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Kosuke Fukodome Makes 1st Spring Start Against White Sox

Posted on 29 March 2009 by Lou

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In the Cubs 9-4 win over the White Sox on Friday, Kosuke Fukodome made his 1st spring start for the Cubs.  Fukodome played center field and batted 2nd in the lineup behind Alfonso Soriano.  Fukodome had 1 hit in 4 at-batsand scored a run in the Cubs 7-run 1st inning.

A nice start for Fukodome, but the Cubs are going to need to see more if Fukodome expects to get consistent playing time in 2009.  Cubs Manager Lou Pinella had this to say about Fukodome:  “We have to get him some at-bats.  He has to catch up here.”

As for Fukodome, he says he feels more “normal” being back in the states with his Cubs teammates.  “It’s a lot easier than what I felt last year, so it will be better this year for sure.  As long as it’s not icy and snowy, it’ll be fine.”

Sounds good to us Kosuke.  As we have said before, Fukodome is a kind of “X Factor” for the Cubs in 2009.  Fukodome will split time with right-handed hitting Reed Johnson in center field.  If Fukodome can hit consistently at the major league level this season, that will give the Cubs an added weapon for the post-season.  Having 2 quality left-handed bats for the post-season (Fukodome and newly-acquired Milton Bradley) will give other playoff teams a new obstacle to deal with in October.  Let’s hope we can see a more patient, more consistent Fukodome for the whole 2009 season and not just for stretches.  Good luck, Kosuke!!!

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Cubs Pound Sox 9-4 With 7-run 1st Inning

Posted on 28 March 2009 by Lou

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The Chicago Cubs defeated the cross-town rival Chicago White Sox 9-4 in Cactus League play on Friday.  The Cubs scored 7 earned runs off of White Sox pitcher Clayton Richard in the 1st inning to set  the tone for the game.  Cubs 2nd baseman Aaron Miles went 3 for 4 with an RBI and 2 runs scored.  Alfonson Soriano and Derrek Lee each had 2 hits, 1 RBI and 1 run scored.

On the hill, Carlos Zambrano did more than enough to earn the victory.  Big Z pitched 6 innings, allowing 2 earned runs on 5 hits and 2 walks.  Zambrano also had 3 strikeouts.  Luis Vizcaino pitched a scoreless inning of relief work.  Zambrano had this to say about his outing and the Cubs 2009 season:  “I don’t have to prove anything.   I’ve been in the big leagues for eight years.  They know what I’m capable of doing.  Speaking of last year, it’s already in the past.  The numbers were there; they stay in the past.  This is a new year and I have to put up good numbers.  I have to help this team.   I’m just waiting for the season to rock and roll.”  The Cubs are encouraged by Zambrano’s control this spring – he has given up only 5 walks in 18+ innings of work.

In relief for the White Sox, Bobby Jenks and Octavio Dotel each pitched scoreless innings.

Both Chicago clubs continue to tune up for the regular season. The Cubs are now 17-13 this spring, while the White Sox are 12-16-1.

For the Cubs, the big decisions will be who starts at 2nd base and who makes the team as the Cubs back-up catcher behind Geovany Soto.

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Kosuke Fukodome Back With Cubs in Mesa

Posted on 27 March 2009 by Lou

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Kosuke Fukodome is back with the Chicago Cubs in Mesa, Arizona.  He is expected to play in his 1st spring training game on Friday against the Chicago White Sox.

Fukodome had been playing with Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic prior to joining the Cubs this week.  He had only 4 hits in 20 at-bats during the WBC, but did draw 7 walks for a .407 on-base percentage.

After having a great start to his rookie MLB season in 2008 (.300+ batting average during the first 40 games of the season), Fukodome struggled in the 2nd half – hitting only .217 after the All-Star Break.

For the 2009 MLB season, Manager Lou Pinella has indicated that Fukodome will likely split time in center field with Reed Johnson and bat 2nd in the lineup against right-handed pitching.

Fukodome is the big “X Factor” for the Cubs this year.  If he can show that he consistently hit major league pitching during the course of the year, the Cubs lineup with be vastly improved.  If he continues to struggle, we might start seeing Fukodome play in late-inning situations only where his defensive abilities could help preserve some Cubs wins.

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Rich Harden Looks Good In Start Against A’s Minor Leaguers

Posted on 26 March 2009 by Lou

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I’m still not sure why Rich Harden is pitching against another team’s minor league affiliate, but I guess it is what it is.  That being said, at least he had a good outing.  Harden, in his first action since recovering from food poisoning, threw 63 pitches in 4 innings of work.  He struck out 4 batters.

Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild had this to say:  “I thought he threw the ball well.  It came out of his hand the way he wanted. ”

Harden has taken a new approach to pitching given his past injury issues.  “In the last couple years, I’ve learned to pace myself a little more.  Velocity isn’t the most important thing.  It’s location and change of speeds.  It’s nice to be able to put up the big number every once in a while and keep it in the back of hitters’ minds.  It’ll be there.  I’m really happy with how I felt…  I’m well ahead of where I normally am at this point in spring as far as how I feel, how strong I am, how I’m throwing the ball, where I’m throwing it with my command.”

Harden has been working on mixing up his pitched and changes speeds.  He’s trying to pitch smarter and not try to overwhelm hitters at the plate.  And although he was facing minor league players the other day, many batters were fooled by the movement on his pitches.  Good news Cubs fans, but we’ll see how he fares in his last 2 starts before the season starts on April 6th.  He is set to start the Saturday, April 4th game against the Yankees in the New Yankee Stadium, so that should be fun to watch.  We’ll keep you posted with any update…

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Sam Fuld and Jake Fox Cut From Cubs Roster

Posted on 25 March 2009 by Lou

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The Chicago Cubs cut outfielders Jake Fox and Sam Fuld and right-handed pitcher Jose Ascansio on Tuesday to drop the Cubs spring roster to 37 players.  All 3 players were optioned to the Cubs Triple-A affiliate in Iowa.  During the spring session, Fox hit .350 with 4 home runs and 16 RBI’s, while Fuld hit .260 with 2 home runs and 3 RBI’s.  Manager Lou Pinella said that both players are very close to becoming major league players and that Fuld was the most improved player form one camp to the next.  We should see both players at one point or another during the course of the 2009 MLB season.

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Cubs, Bradley Pound Rockies 9-8

Posted on 24 March 2009 by Lou

Milton Bradley went 3 for 4 and hit his 2nd home run of the spring in the Cubs 9-8 win over the Colorado Rockies.

Chad Gaudin struggled for the Cubs giving up 2 earned runs on 2 hits and a walk in 2 innings.  Jeff Samardzija (1 inning, 2 earned runs, 3 hits, 1 walk) and Mike Stanton  (1 inning, 3 earned runs, 3 hits) also struggled in relief.  Kevin Gregg pitched a 1/3 of an inning – the first time he pitched in back-to-back games this spring.

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Cubs Welcome Geovany Soto Back From WBC

Posted on 22 March 2009 by Lou

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Geovany Soto is back from his stint with Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.  Soto was happy to be back with his Cubs team in Mesa, and so was Manager Lou Pinella who inserted him back in the Cubs lineup for their game against the San Diego Padres on Friday.  In fact, Pinella plans on playing him every other day for the last 2 weeks of the spring – “It’s nice to have him back because, first of all, he wasn’t catching all that much with the Puerto Rico team.  He needs at-bats.  We’ll have four or five different pitchers on our staff, and he needs to get familiar with them.”

Soto had this to say about his first taste of the World Baseball Classic:  “It was a great experience to go home and play in front of the home crowd.  It was pretty special to be on the same field with all those guys.”  Soto’s Team Venezuela included Carlos Beltran, Bernie Williams, Carlos Delgado, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and Yadier Molina.

It’s great to have the Cubs Rookie of the Year Catcher back for the rest of spring training.  It’s a catch-22 that Soto did not play that much in the WBC.  At least it reduced the risk of him getting injured, but it put him a step behind getting used to some of the new pitchers on the Cubs staff like Kevin Gregg, Aaron Heilman, Luis Vizcaino and Mike Stanton.  Soto should be able to make up for the lost time quickly and we’ll monitor his progress over the next week or so.

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Derrek Lee Battling Sore Quad – Won’t Play In WBC

Posted on 21 March 2009 by Lou

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Derrek Lee declined an invitation to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic after injuries significantly depleted the Team USA roster.  It didn’t take long for Lee to make the decision:  “I’m not going.  I’m not even playing here.”  Lee has not played in game action since Monday – he has been battling a sore right quad muscle.  If his condition continues to improve this week, he was expected to be in the lineup on Friday as his injury is not considered serious.  Lee also went on to say that if this was the regular season, he would be in the Cubs lineup.  We’ll keep you posted with the latest injury news on Derrek Lee.

Several players have suffered injuries for Team USA – Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Chipper Jones and Matt Lindstrom.  The only replacements to play 1st base for Kevin Youkilis are outfielder Adam Dunn and utility infielder/outfielder Mark DeRosa.

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