Posted on 10 March 2009 by Lou
Stop the presses. Stop the presses!!!
Rich Harden made his first start of the spring, and it was as good as it could get for him, the Cubs and Cubs fans all across the nation. Harden needed just 25 pitches to get through 2 scoreless innings. 17 of the pitches were strikes and he gave up only 2 hits. Harden had this to say about the start: “It’s nice to get that first one out of the way. I feel normal now, like I’m part of the team. I’ve had some injuries in my past, and that the way it is. Even if I’m healthy four years in a row, I’ll still get those questions and people will think about it. I just accept it and deal with it.”
Any which way you look at it, this is a great sign for the Cubs. Harden was the wild card of this rotation. The Cubs have taken it slow with Harden all spring, and hope to get 5 more starts for Harden before the start of the regular season. We’ve said all along that if Harden can make 25 starts for the Cubs this season, they will be in great shape pitching-wise and should be atop the NL Central. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that he feels no shoulder discomfort tomorrow or later this week. We’ll keep you posted.
Posted on 09 March 2009 by Lou
The Chicago Cubs lost to the Texas Rangers 7-2 on Sunday, losing their 6th game in a row. After starting the spring with a 5-2 record, the Cubs now sit at 5-8.
Sean Marshall shined again in his 3rd start of the spring. Marshall pitched 4 scoreless innings, giving up 2 hits and striking out 3. Marshall has given up only 1 earned run in 9 spring innings thus far, and seems to be getting stronger and stronger each start. If Aaron Heilman wasn’t pitching so well, we’d likely be talking about how Marshall already has the 5th spot in the starting rotation locked up.
Milton Bradley singled and scored a run and played right field – a good sign that he is able to log innings in the field. Aramis Ramirez and Koyie Hill each had 2 hits for the Cubs in the loss.
On the mound, Neal Cotts struck out 3 and gave up 1 hit in a scoreless inning. But Luis Vizcaino (2/3 of an inning – 2 earned runs on 1 hit and 3 walks) and Kevin Hart (1 inning – 4 earned runs on 2 hits and 2 walks) both struggled. Neither outing helps their chances of making the opening day roster.
Posted on 08 March 2009 by Lou
So far so good for Rich Harden. The Cubs have been taking it slow with Harden so far this spring. Harden threw 43 pitches in a simulated game on Friday and came away unscathed. Harden will follow up with a side session on Sunday, and if all continues to go well, Harden will make his 1st spring start against the Seattle Mariners in Mesa on Tuesday, March 10th. Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild had this to say about Harden: “Each time out, he’s made strides and there’s been no setbacks so far – - knock on wood. He’s progressing really well.”
The Cubs would like to get Harden 6 starts before the start of the 2009 MLB season – he is slated to be the Cubs 4th starter this year. The Cubs could also skip Harden’s start every once in a while like they did in 2008 to keep Harden fresh. In 12 starts with the Cubs during the 2nd half of the 2008 MLB season, Harden went 5-1 with a nasty 1.77 ERA.
If the Cubs could get 25 starts from Harden and double digit wins, that would be a big accomplishment. While we love the optimism, let’s see how Harden does after he’s made a few appearances in a row this spring. The test has always been to see how well Harden can sustain the normal wear and tear on his shoulder during the course of the season, so consistent outings with no soreness will make us feel a lot better about his health status. It’s also nice to know that Sean Marshall and Aaron Heilman (the 2 pitchers battling for the 5th starting pitching spot) have both looked great this spring, so even if Harden has a hiccup before or during the season, it’s nice to know that one of those guys should be able to step right in and be a reliable and productive addition to the starting rotation.
Posted on 07 March 2009 by Lou
The Cubs expected Aaron Heilman to make a strong case for the 5th spot in the Cubs starting rotation. And so far this spring, Heilman has not disappointed. Heilman started the 2nd Cubs-Sox game in Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon and he pitched just about as well as you can do. Heilman pitched 3 scoreless innings, striking out 3 batters along the way. He gave up only 1 hit, but also walked 2 batters. That was Heilman’s 2nd scoreless outing against the White Sox this spring, and he is pushing Sean Marshall who many believe is the front runner to land the coveted 5th spot in the rotation.
Wherever Heilman ends up, he seems to be a great fit for the Cubs. Plus he has the right attitude: “My mind-set coming in was that I was going to get an opportunity to start and show them what I could do. How I fit into this team is ultimately the decision of Lou and Larry [Manager Lou Pinella and Pitching Coach Larry Rothschild]. I don’t know how that’s going to play out in Spring Training. My focus right now is getting back to throwing the way I’m capable.”
In addition, knowing that Rich Harden is still dealing with some right shoulder soreness, it’s comforting to know that Heilman and Marshall are both pitching well this spring. In the event that Harden needs some extra time at the start of the season, the Cubs can start Harden on the disabled list and work with both Heilman and Marshall in the starting rotation. As we always say, it’s great to have reliable pitching depth.
Other good news – Kevin Gregg and Neal Cotts both pitched scoreless innings in the game. Neither pitcher gave up a hit, and Gregg had 2 strikeouts and 1 walk.
Posted on 06 March 2009 by Lou
Reed Johnson is ready to prove that he still has what it takes to be the Chicago Cubs’ everyday starting center fielder. Johnson exceeded expectations with the Cubs during the 2008 MLB season. He played in 109 games after being picked up right before the season started when the Toronto Blue Jays released him at the end of spring training. In 333 at-bats, Johnson hit .303 with a .358 on-base percentage. He scored 52 runs and drove in 50 more runs, and played great defense wherever Cubs Manager Lou Pinella decided to put him in the outfield.
For the 2009 MLB season, Johnson is looking to take hold of that starting job in center field instead of platooning with left-handed hitting Kosuke Fukodome. Johnson recently stated: “I want to prove not only to this organization but let people know I’m not finished as an everyday guy yet. That’s kind of been my mentality throughout the whole offseason to gear me toward being in shape for this.” Johnson dropped some weight in the offseason to get in better shape and hopes to avoid any back issues that have sometimes developed during the course of a long MLB season. Johnson has also spent extra time with hitting coach Gerald Perry to work on hitting better against right-handed batters. Johnson was an everyday starter for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2003, 2004 and 2006, so he knows he has what it takes to get the job done day in and day out.
And while he knows that Pinella likes to give his players extra days off during the season, he has already let Pinella know that he wants, and is ready for, more at-bats in 2009. We’ll see how this spring develops. If Fukodome cannot demonstrate early on that he is ready to handle major league pitching on a regular basis, Johnson could get his wish for more playing time.
Posted on 05 March 2009 by Lou
Sean Marshall is stepping up his effort in trying to land the Cubs’ 5th spot in the rotation. He made a bold statement in the Cubs 6-4 win over the Oakland A’s on Tuesday. Marshall pitched 3 innings – the longest outing by any Cubs pitcher this spring – facing the minimum 9 batters. He had 1 strikeout. Manager Lou Pinella had this to say about Marshall: “He’s gotten stronger. He throws the ball with a little more velocity. He’s got as good a curve ball as I’ve seen so far in Spring Training.”
Marshall took the advice of Cubs starter Ryan Dempster and worked out in the Phoenix area this off-season. Marshall also credited former Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux with being a big influence on his major league development. “I still remember a lot of the things he was telling me – - the importance of first-pitch strikes, getting my fastball down and away early and often. “ So far all the hard work has seemed to pay off for Marshall this spring. We’ll keep you posted as the competition for the 5th starting pitching spot continues among Marshall, Aaron Heilman, Chad Gaudin and Jeff Samardzija.
Posted on 04 March 2009 by Lou
Mike Fontenot is looking forward to a prominent role in the Cubs infield for the upcoming 2009 MLB season. Fontenot and Aaron Miles will likely split time as the starting 2nd baseman in the upcoming 2009 season. Manager Lou Pinella has indicated that he will make the decision depending on the match-up. Fontenot is also projected to be the primary back-up to Aramis Ramirez at 3rd base, so he is playing most of his spring innings there to get used to the different reaction time of fielding ground balls so close to the plate. So far so good for Fontenot in the early spring – plus he has a great attitude about moving around in the infield – - “I feel comfortable now. When I went over there, it was just, whatever. Being in the big leagues the last couple of years, I don’t feel I’m nervous to go anywhere on the field. Now, I just go out there and play.”
Mike Fontenot played in 119 games for the Chicago Cubs in 2008, mostly at 2nd base. With the departure of Mark DeRosa who could play all 4 infield positions and 2 outfield positions, Fontenot becomes the man the Cubs look to when they need a back-up option at 3rd base for Aramis Ramirez or shortstop for Ryan Theriot. Fontenot hit .305 for the Cubs in 2008 with a .395 on-base percentage. Fontenot scored 42 runs and had 9 home runs and 40 RBI’s in only 243 at-bats. He is a patient hitter who can work the count – he had 34 walks against 51 strikeouts in 2008.
Fontenot is a true team player. He will split time with newly acquired infielder Aaron Miles at 2nd base on a starting base, and also give Ryan Theriot and Aramis Ramirez the occasional day off during the long MLB season. Fontenot is a huge asset for the Cubs.
Posted on 03 March 2009 by Lou
We know it’s early, but we’re getting a little concerned about the health of Milton Bradley. Bradley has only played in 1 of the Cubs spring games thus far, but he was removed from the game earlier than expected because of tightness in his left thigh. Bradley took batting practice with the team on Monday and is expected to play DH for the Cubs in today’s game against the Oakland A’s. If all goes well, Bradley should be back in right field for Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cubs are saying all the right things – it’s way too early during the spring to push Bradley too hard and the Cubs want to take their time and make sure he is healthy for the start of the regular season. Cubs Manager Lou Pinella summed it up like this: “Let’s judge this thing April 6. Let’s not judge it in Spring Training. Let’s give this young man every opportunity to get 100 percent and get him strong and that’s what we’ll use Spring Training for. We don’t want him healthy right now – - we’d like to have him healthy now – - but our goal is to have him healthy April 6 and ready to go.”
Great – the Cubs one big splash in an otherwise peculiar off-season is already battling a leg injury. Bradley has only played 100 games in 3 of his 9 MLB seasons. In 2003 and 2004, Bradley played most of his games in the outfield, but last year (a year in which he played in 126 games), Bradley largely served as the DH for the Texas Rangers, playing only 20 games in the field. This does not bode well for the Cubs. Let’s hope Bradley and the Cubs are preparing Bradley properly this spring. The off-season goal was for the Cubs to get “more left-handed” on offense, so if Bradley isn’t in the lineup, and the Cubs have to rely more heavily on Reed Johnson and Kosuke Fukodome on a daily basis, it could put a lot of pressure on the Cubs offense early in the season.
Posted on 02 March 2009 by Lou
Good news and bad news out of Mesa.
First the good news: Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Marmol both looked good in spring action. Zambrano faced the minimum in his 2 innings pitched. He struck out 3 of the 6 batters he faced and did not allow a hit or walk. Carlso Marmol also pitched a perfect inning – striking out 2 of 3 batters in the process.
The bad news: The D’backs tagged the Cubs for 5 runs in the 4th inning to break the game open, en route to an easy 9-1 win. More importantly, Milton Bradley, the Cubs big free agent signee still isn’t ready for game action. He is dealing with a sore thigh muscle and the Cubs are being patient with Bradley.
Great – the one big splash the Cubs make this off-season is already dealing with injury issues. Bradley has always had injury problems and let’s hope this isn’t an omen of bad things to come.
Posted on 01 March 2009 by Lou
Carlos Marmol continues to confuse himself and his team, the Chicago Cubs. Marmol has gone back and forth on whether he will pitch for the Dominican Republic in the upcoming World Baseball Classic later this month. After announcing that he would skip the WBC to stay with the Cubs 2 weeks ago, Marmol has changed his mind again, and will leave Cubs camp on Tuesday to join his country’s team to continue his spring training.
Marmol is in a spring battle with newly acquired Kevin Gregg for the Cubs’ closer position. Manager Lou Pinella has assured Marmol that if chose to play in the WBC, that would not adversely affect his ability to land the closer role. That made Marmol feel comfortable skipping the rest of spring training with the Cubs and to go play for coaches Felipe Alou and Stan Javier who were instrumental in convincing Marmol that it would be an honor to compete for his country on an international level.
Not good news for Cubs fans, but at least he has gotten a good 3 weeks of work in with the Cubs so far. Hopefully he won’t be over-used in the WBC.