February 2012

2/29 Cubs Wednesday notebook

Travis Wood and Randy Wells will start Friday in the Cubs’ intrasquad game at HoHoKam Park, and be followed by Andy Sonnanstine and Casey Coleman. On Saturday, Jay Jackson and Chris Rusin will start, and Trey McNutt and Alberto Cabrera will also pitch in a second intrasquad game. The Cubs shift from Fitch Park to the stadium after Thursday’s workout. The intrasquad games will begin at 1 p.m. MT, be open to the public and are expected to last five to six innings.

* The Cubs continue to sort out the backup catcher situation this spring. Does Cubs manager Dale Sveum have a preference for a left-handed hitter or a switch hitter?

“It matters, but it’s not the final piece of the puzzle,” Sveum said. “The guy who will work and be able to handle pitchers is the biggest thing when it comes down to it.”

* The Cubs have a team psychologist, Dr. Marc Strickland, in camp. Did Sveum have one when he played?

“We had one, probably one of the first, back in ’87,” he said of his days with the Brewers. “We used Jack Curtis and I thought it really helped our team at the time. When we saw him, we were two games under .500 and after we saw him for a couple hours, we finished the season winning 91 games so we were about 25 games over .500. I think it helped a lot. We were a very young team at the time and he helped a lot of us out.”

What was the message? Think positive.

* On Opening Day of the Cactus League season, all of the teams will take part in a tribute to Robert Brinton, who died in October. Brinton was a driving force in the Cactus League and in keeping the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz. A past Cactus League Association president, he also was executive director of the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau and past president of the Mesa HoHoKams.  Commemorative baseballs with a gold Cactus League logo will be used for the ceremonial first pitch at each of the home parks. The balls also are marked with Brinton’s name. A tribute will be read at each of the ballparks and there will be a moment of silence.

* Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Casey Coleman and Blake Parker were among the pitchers to throw live batting practice on Wednesday. For Maholm, it was his first session since coming back from the flu.

* Rusin, Coleman and catchers Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger advanced to the sweet 16 of the Cubs bunting tournament on Wednesday. Castillo and Clevenger join another catcher, Blake Lalli, who also advanced. It was a tough day for Bryan LaHair, who faced Clevenger. LaHair was hit by a pitch by bullpen catcher Andy Lane, who was throwing to the two hitters. Brett Jackson lost his match with Castillo but did score the first 100 of the tournament. There are two red dots on either side of the pitcher’s mound, and players must call the “100” before aiming for it.

— Carrie Muskat

2/29 Lopez, the Cubs’ baby-faced assasin

Rodrigo Lopez is happy to be reunited with Rick Sutcliffe. The two were together with the Padres when Lopez was pitching in rookie ball and Sutcliffe was the pitching coach.

“He’s been like a son to me,” Sutcliffe said Wednesday. “I call him a baby-faced assasin. I heard it said a long time ago, Walter Alston said, ‘I can win with that guy,’ and ‘Lopey’ is that guy. Whatever you need — he’ll start, he’ll relieve, he’ll close. He’s not afraid of anything.”

Sutcliffe did make some minor changes with Lopez’s grip.

“I put him back where he was when I saw him there [with the Padres],” Sutcliffe said.

Lopez is 36 but looks young. He looked even younger in rookie ball.

“I said, ‘People look at you and they’re not sure if you’re tough or not,'” Sutcliffe said, “so I told him I wanted him to hit somebody, and he hit three people in a row. He got two outs and he hit three of them, and I said, ‘Whoa, I got it.'”

— Carrie Muskat

2/29 Cubs early bunt update

There’s more second round action in the Cubs bunting tournament on Wednesday with some big matchups. Scott Maine will face Casey Coleman in the marquee matchup. Other action includes Brett Jackson vs. Welington Castillo, Steve Clevenger vs. Bryan LaHair and Dae-Eun Rhee vs. Chris Rusin. Clevenger upset Tony Campana in the first round.

— Carrie Muskat


2/28 Cubs Tuesday notebook

The Cubs will tune up for Cactus League play with two intrasquad games at HoHoKam Park Friday and Saturday. Cubs manager Dale Sveum will handle one of the teams and Triple-A Iowa manager Dave Bialas may be assigned the other squad. The games will last between five to six innings each.

Chicago opens Cactus League play Sunday against the Athletics. Do wins and losses in the Cactus League count?

“I don’t care where you’re playing,” Sveum said, “winning is winning and you want to win all the time. At the end of the Cactus League, will the record matter? Of course not. I think the bottom line is to stress to beat the other team every time you step on the field. It’s not always what the final score dictates. Can you go home at night and say you kicked the other team’s butt besides the final score of the game? You can win a lot of games and a guy can hit a walkoff, two-run homer on a great pitch and you lost the game but you really won 8 2/3 innings, too. There’s a difference between winning and losing sometimes and how you get it.”

* Paul Maholm, who had been slowed by the flu, beat Rodrigo Lopez to complete the first round action Tuesday in the Cubs bunting tournament. Maholm was able to handle a 40-pitch bullpen session on Monday but felt a little weak. He wasn’t able to eat for two days but said the problem was “nothing major.”

* Casey Coleman could fill a spot as a starter or as a long man in the Cubs bullpen.

“He’ll be built up as a starter and compete,” Sveum said of the right-hander, who was 3-9 with a 6.40 ERA with the Cubs and 5-2 with a 3.65 ERA at Triple-A Iowa.

“The long man [spot] is open in the bullpen,” Sveum said. “[Coleman] brings a lot of depth to the rotation. He’ll be built up to compete for a job, any job that might come up.”

* Geovany Soto, sidelined with a strained groin, is improving but wasn’t expected to be ready by the Cactus League opener on Sunday.

“[The athletic trainers] said he came in and was feeling better,” Sveum said. “It’s still one of those things where he’s a week away from being on the field all day long.”

The Cubs do have to decide on a backup catcher for Soto this season. Koyie Hill held that job for the last five seasons, but is now in the Cardinals camp. The candidates include Welington Castillo, who has played just 11 big league games over two seasons; Jason Jaramillo, who has played for the Pirates the last three years; Steve Clevenger, a former shortstop who was called up last season for the first time. Other catchers in camp include Minor Leaguers Blake Lalli and Michael Brenly.

“It’s probably the first time in camp I’ve had so many quality catchers,” Sveum said. “You have to keep your eye on them to make that decision when we break camp.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/28 Bunt tourney update

Paul Maholm beat Rodrigo Lopez on Tuesday to complete the first round action of the Cubs bunt tourney. In second round play, Adrian Cardenas, Blake Lalli, Jeff Beliveau and Trey McNutt advanced to the sweet 16.

— Carrie Muskat

2/28 Lopez eager to start

Rodrigo Lopez was “flattered” to be told he’ll be starting the Cubs first Cactus League game Sunday against the Athletics.

“It’s nice knowing they have plans for me and want me to start a few games,” Lopez said Tuesday. “Everybody’s excited to go out there and play and everybody wants to play in the first one. I was lucky, probably to start, the first one. It makes me feel good and I’ll go out there and do my best.”

Last season, Lopez was 6-6 in 26 games with a 4.42 ERA, including a 6-5 mark and 4.50 ERA in 16 starts. He’s gotten a huge assist this spring from former Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe who was Lopez’s coach in rookie ball. Sutcliffe, who is in Cubs camp until March 10, suggested some changes in Lopez’s grip and thinking more about finishing his pitches.

“I feel good about it and can’t wait to use it in the game,” Lopez said of the changes.

The Cubs are still sorting out the rotation. So far, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Paul Maholm are set with Lopez, Randy Wells, Travis Wood, Chris Volstad, and Jeff Samardzija competing for the other spots. Lopez, 36, a non-roster invitee, could’ve easily been inserted into a game in the sixth inning but instead will start Sunday.

“I’m flattered,” Lopez said. “I’m here for a reason. They put me in the first game. That tells me they want to see me and they want to give me a good look.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/28 Maholm’s back; bunting tourney continues

Paul Maholm was back in the Cubs clubhouse, feeling much better after a nasty bout with the flu. The pitcher couldn’t eat for two days but said the problem was “nothing major.” He did throw a 40-pitch bullpen on Monday and then went home so he didn’t infect the rest of the team. On Tuesday, Maholm will face Rodrigo Lopez in his first round bunting tourney match.

“I guess we’ll be the marquee matchup,” Maholm said.

Second bunting round action on Tuesday includes:

Matt Szczur vs. Adrian Cardenas

Jeff Beliveau vs. Lendy Castillo

Jonathan Mota vs. Blake Lalli

Trey McNutt vs. Rafael Dolis

— Carrie Muskat

2/27 Cubs bunt tourney: 2nd round matchups

There is still one first round match to be played between Rodrigo Lopez and Paul Maholm, who was ill, but here are the second round pairings for the Cubs bunt tourney so you can update your bracket at home:

Second round pairings:

Pitchers bracket

Beliveau vs. L. Castillo

McNutt vs. Dolis

Rhee vs. Rusin

Maine vs. Coleman

T. Wood vs. Samardzija

Wells vs. Sonnanstine

Marmol vs. TBD

Dempster vs. Sveum

Position players bracket:

Szczur vs. Cardenas

Mota vs. Lalli

B. Jackson vs. W. Castillo

Clevenger vs. LaHair

Mather vs. Barney

Castro vs. Stewart

Soto vs. Baker

Byrd vs. DeJesus

— Carrie Muskat

2/27 Cubs bunting tourney update

Dale Sveum edged Kerry Wood to advance in the first round of the Cubs bunting tournament on Monday although the manager got a little help from the turf as he advanced when Wood’s last bunt swerved into the 30-point box rather than the 40 points that he needed.

“That was about as equal as you can get,” Sveum said. “I was lucky the grass was growing the other way.”

Sveum vs. Wood was the last match of the day Monday, and the manager called on pitching coach and former teammate Chris Bosio to be the “pitcher” rather than coach Pat Listach, who had thrown to the players in the six previous matches. Wood needed to get three bunts into the 40-point box to beat the skipper and just came up short.

“I got lucky by the way the grass was growing to the east,” Sveum said. “The ball kind of fell off the white line. I thought I was done and I was going to shake his hand, and the ball just trickled off the white line at the end.”

Others to advance on Monday include pitchers Carlos Marmol and Ryan Dempster. Position players to advance include Marlon Byrd, Geovany Soto, David DeJesus and Jeff Baker.

“It’s a fun thing but also a lot of people want to get better and care about it,” Sveum said. “This tournament shows you guys who like to compete as well. Coming into a camp, you get a feeling of guys who are bearing down and competing and some guys who aren’t competing as well. You get to know somebody a little bit through this tournament.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/27 Cubs Monday notebook

Paul Maholm was able to throw a side session on Monday but was sent home after that as he is still recovering from the flu.

“I think he got a little light headed and is still a little dehydrated from being sick,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.

Maholm was to participate in the team bunting tournament on Monday but his match with Rodrigo Lopez was postponed. The lefty won’t have to forfeit.

“That’s a legitimate excuse,” Sveum said. “I didn’t want to keep him around and get anybody else sick. We’ll make that match up probably [Tuesday] or the next day when he’s better.”

* Lopez will start the Cubs’ Cactus League opener on Sunday against the Athletics and be followed in the rotation by Ryan Dempster on March 5 against the A’s, and and Matt Garza the next day against the Rockies. Sveum said not to read too much into the order. Dempster was the Cubs’ Opening Day starter in 2011.

“We’ll make that decision in the middle [of spring],” Sveum said. “It’s set up to where we’re good with whatever we decide.”

* How different is Spring Training for Sveum, who was the Brewers hitting coach for six years before taking over the Cubs job as manager?

“I’d say [it’s different],” Sveum said. “You’re running the whole thing now. You’re accountable for everything, you’re staff’s accountable. You have to hold them accountable for what’s going on during the course of the day to make sure everything is running properly and everybody’s doing things the way you want them done. A lot of times you have two fields working fundamentals so you can’t be on the same field all the time.

“Yeah, it’s completely different, especially the last few years after being the hitting coach and all I had to do was be in the cage and watch people hit all the time.”

— Carrie Muskat