April 2013

4/30 Padres 13, Cubs 7

It’s been a tough month for Edwin Jackson. Nick Hundley smacked a three-run home run, Yonder Alonso belted a two-run shot, and Carlos Quentin drove in three runs to lift the Padres to a 13-7 victory Tuesday night over Jackson and the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The crowd of 31,303 at Wrigley Field wasn’t happy with Jackson’s abbreviated outing and let him know.

“It’s not the first time I’ve heard it,” Jackson said. “It’s the same crowd that if you go out and start pitching better, they’re cheering. The boos — I’d probably boo myself as well. I don’t blame them.”

Starting pitching has been the constant in the first month for the Cubs. They entered Monday’s game with a 3.21 ERA and 15 quality starts. However, Jackson has struggled with one bad inning in each of his starts. This time, he couldn’t locate his fastball.

“He didn’t make a lot of quality pitches when he had to,” Dale Sveum said of Jackson. “We have to keep plugging away with him and get this straightened out. It’s just a month into the season. Mechanical or whatever it is, we’re letting games slide by with one inning or one pitch here or there. He’s got it in him — the stuff and everything is there. We just have to get it out of him.”

Jackson can’t wait to turn the calendar.

“Overall, it’s been a pretty disappointing month from my standpoint for myself, for the team, for the organization and for the fans,” Jackson said. “It’s a test of character. It’s one of those times when you can either crumble and fold or fight and bounce back. I definitely haven’t been one to be known to fold. It’s just a matter of getting back on track and throwing the ball like I know how to throw the ball.”

How bad is it?

“This may be one of the worst starts I’ve had in my career,” Jackson said of his first season with the Cubs. “It’s a test of character. Clearly, it hasn’t been what I wanted to do. It’s a long season. I’ll definitely continue to work and get back to where I need to be to finish the season strong.”

Luis Valbuena and Starlin Castro each hit two-run home runs, David DeJesus added a solo shot — after replay — and Cody Ransom homered for the Cubs, who finished April with 35 home runs, the third-most in the first month of the season in the history of the franchise.

Jackson lasted 4 2/3 innings, his shortest outing in six starts. He served up 11 hits, the most off him since Aug. 3, 2011, when he gave up 14 to the Brewers over seven innings. The right-hander, who signed a four-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs this offseason, now has a 6.27 ERA.

“It’s just a matter of getting back to me,” Jackson said. “I have to get back to throwing the ball like I throw the ball and let everything else go out the window, whether it’s one thing or another. It’s just one of those things you have to get out there and do it. I haven’t lost any confidence, I don’t doubt myself. I’m just not getting it done. I just have to go out and get it done.”

He said the contract, his first long-term deal, isn’t the problem.

“I don’t feel like it’s pressure,” Jackson said. “I feel like I’m just not pitching like I know I can pitch, whether it’s execution of pitches, or making people hit the ball where there are fielders. It’s been one thing or another. It hasn’t been one particular thing.”

— Carrie Muskat

4/30 Extra bases

* The Cubs have had 12 players hit at least one home run so far this season, the most among National League teams and tied for second-most in the Major Leagues with the Indians and Rays. Alfonso Soriano is one of the dozen players, but the Cubs had hoped he’d have more than one home run at this point.

“Last year, he was a victim of the wind blowing in every single day at home,” manager Dale Sveum said. “This year, you can’t say that. He’s swung the bat really well off lefties. Hopefully last night, hitting off that tough righty [the Padres’ Brad Brach], that double, that was his best swing off a righty all year. Hopefully that can catapult him.”

Soriano last homered on April 18; in 2012, he didn’t connect until May 15. In April 2011, he set a club record with 10 homers in April. Sveum expects Soriano, 37, to deliver.

“That media guide doesn’t lie when you have 600 plate appearances at the end of the year,” Sveum said.

* Ian Stewart, on a Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa, was 4-for-40 in 12 games.

“He’s got to start swinging the bat better, have more consistent at-bats,” Sveum said of the third baseman. “We’ll wait and see.”

Major League players are limited to 20 days per rehab assignment. Stewart’s time expires on Friday.

“Right this second, I don’t think I’m ready,” Stewart told the Des Moines Register on Tuesday. “That’s just me being honest and knowing myself as a player.”

* The Cubs still don’t have a designated closer and Sveum said Tuesday they’ll probably stick to the closer by committee approach when Kyuji Fujikawa returns from the disabled list. Fujikawa, sidelined with a strained right forearm, was to throw a bullpen on Thursday, and if all goes well, he would make a rehab outing Sunday for Triple-A Iowa.

On Monday, Kevin Gregg picked up his fourth save of the season. The Cubs have three pitchers with multiple saves so far, the first time that’s happened in the first month in franchise history since the save became an official stat in 1969. Besides Gregg (four), Fujikawa has two and Carlos Marmol has two. Sveum said he’ll base his decision in save situations on matchups.

“I got [a closer],” Sveum said. “I just don’t know who it’s going to be every night.”

* Looking ahead, Scott Feldman will face former Cub Andrew Cashner on Wednesday, and Travis Wood will close the series Thursday against the Padres’ Eric Stults.

— Carrie Muskat

4/30 Turn the calendar

Heading into Tuesday’s game, all 25 of the Cubs games this season have been decided by four runs or less, a franchise record, and second most all-time in the Major Leagues. The 1914 Tigers have the longest streak to start the season at 33 games. Some key hits, better defense, and the Cubs could be 15-10, not 10-15.

“We know what our starting pitching can be every night,” Dale Sveum said. “If we can go through a stretch in the next 25 games with our starting pitching be as good as they have been in the first 25 games, then you know you’ll be in games and if our offense heats up and we start getting more timely hitting and we start busting some games open, you win some of those [close] games.

“The biggest thing right now why we’re 10-15 and not 15-10 is just timely hitting,” Sveum said. “Twenty-five games in a row have been decided by four runs or less. You get a little more timely hitting and you hit .250 instead of .150, that’s a lot of runs in 25 games.”

The Cubs were batting .157 with runners in scoring position, lowest in the Majors.

— Carrie Muskat

4/30 Minor matters

Tuesday’s game

Brent Lillibridge hit a solo home run and Brad Nelson added a two-run shot to lift Iowa to a 7-2 victory Tuesday over Round Rock. Brian Bogusevic was 3-for-4, hitting two doubles. Ian Stewart was 0-for-4 in his 12th rehab game. Guillermo Moscoso, activated from the DL prior to the game, gave up three hits over five innings and struck out six for the win.

4/30 Minor matters

Monday’s games

Brett Jackson hit his second home run but it wasn’t enough as Iowa lost, 10-9, to Round Rock. Nick Struck took the loss, giving up five runs on four hits and four walks. Brian Bogusevic extended his hitting streak to 10 games, and is batting .444 in that stretch. Ian Stewart went 1-for-4 with a walk in the 11th game of his rehab assignment.

Eric Jokisch gave up three runs on six hits over five innings in Tennessee’s 3-0 loss to Pensacola in the first game of a doubleheader. Matt Szczur extended his hitting streak to 10 games. In the second game, Jae-Hoon Ha delivered a pinch-hit walk-off three-run homer to beat Pensacola, 3-0.

Daytona beat Palm Beach, 2-1, in a rain-shortened game. Dustin Geiger hit his third home run and John Andreoli drove in a run. Yeiper Castillo struck out eight over four innings.

Dan Vogelbach and Rock Shoulders each homered but it wasn’t enough as Kane County lost, 7-6, to Lake County in the first game of a doubleheader. Vogelbach connected again in the second game but Kane County lost again, 4-2. Vogelbach now has 12 RBIs for the season.

— Carrie Muskat

4/30 Cubs lineup

The Cubs close the month of April Tuesday against the Padres at Wrigley Field. Here’s the lineup vs. right-hander Edinson Volquez:

DeJesus CF
Castro SS
Rizzo 1B
Soriano LF
Schierholtz RF
Castillo C
Valbuena 3B
Barney 2B
Jackson P

4/29 Cubs 5, Padres 3

The Cubs may be a little unconventional these days as far as their closer is concerned, but it’s working. Kevin Gregg picked up his fourth save, Darwin Barney hit a pair of RBI doubles, and Scott Hairston and Cody Ransom smacked back-to-back home runs to lift the Cubs to a 5-3 victory Monday night over the Padres for their fourth win in the last five games.

Gregg, who signed after being released by the Dodgers April 15, now has converted a save in each of his last four outings. However, manager Dale Sveum refuses to name him or anyone else the closer.

“For whatever reason, guys are getting the job done and getting big outs when we have to get outs,” Sveum said of his collection of relievers. “That’s the key is making pitches when you need to.”

Michael Bowden picked up the win in relief of starter Jeff Samardzija, who struck out eight in five innings to raise his season total to 47, among the tops in the NL. It’s the second most K’s in Cubs history in the month of April, behind Matt Garza, who fanned 51 in 2011. Samardzija now is 0-4 with a no decision since his Opening Day victory over the Pirates. He had a tough time getting a grip on the ball, still bothered by right index finger that he cut trying to make a bare-handed grab in last start.

“Too many walks,” Samardzija said. “You can’t put that many guys on for free. Just pitching in a lot of situations where you have to battle and make bigger pitches makes it harder on yourself.”

The Cubs’ 6-7-8 hitters provided the offense. Ransom and Barney also made solid defensive plays, including a running bare-handed grab by Ransom on Jedd Gyorko’s grounder with the bases loaded in the seventh. Ransom was able to get the Padres’ second baseman by a half step.

“You take a million ground balls and hope to have the opportunity to catch it and throw it,” Ransom said. “Checked swing, and it was a little strange off the bat and it came off a little harder than I thought it would and made it to me and luckily for us, Gyorko didn’t run that well.”

“That bare-hand play saved the game for us,” Barney said.

All 25 of the Cubs’ games this season have been decided by four runs or fewer, a franchise record, and second most to start a season all-time in the Major Leagues. The 1914 Tigers have the longest streak at 33 games.

The Cubs are ready to turn the calendar. It’s been a tough April.

“Let’s be honest — we’ve played some really good teams in the first month,” Samardzija said. “You’ve got the defending World Champs [the Giants], you’ve got the defending [American League West champs, the Rangers], you’ve got the Brew Crew at their place, and Cincinnati. We knew we’d have to come out and be on top of our game in April.

“It could easily be flipped around and we could be 15-10 instead of 10-15,” he said. “They say you don’t win or lose the season in April. I feel we’re good where we are. … Let’s get a little momentum going and see what happens from there.”

— Carrie Muskat

4/29 Extra bases

* Dale Sveum doesn’t give the Cubs relievers a heads up before the game to let them know who the designated closer is that day. He’s sticking with the best matchup.

“It’s been working,” Sveum said Monday. “I’m not going to say it’s a fix-all and that you don’t want to name a closer. You definitely don’t want to rock the boat when things are going good in the back of the bullpen when everybody is healthy and ready to go that night. It could be one of four guys. It depends on the matchups.”

The four include Carlos Marmol, Kevin Gregg, Shawn Camp and James Russell.

“After the fifth inning, everybody in that bullpen is on call at any time, depending on how we want to use it in the matchups,” Sveum said.

How does Gregg feel about that?

“There’s pros and cons to both ways,” Gregg said about picking one pitcher and using a closer by committee approach. “You name a closer and you definitely allow guys to slide into a position where they’re comfortable and know what they’re preparing for. Sometimes that backfires on some guys. That knowing [they’re the one], the anxiety gets to them a little bit.”

Even if Sveum tells the pitchers that they’ll be called on late in the game, some prefer more specific instructions.

“Late in the game in the seventh inning and late in the game in the ninth inning are two different animals,” Gregg said. “You have to know what guys are comfortable with, what situations they’ll be successful in.”

* Cubs pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa threw 32 pitches in a bullpen session Monday, his first since going on the disabled list April 13, and will do so again before he makes a Minor League rehab outing. Fujikawa, sidelined with a strained right forearm, was expected to join Triple-A Iowa on Sunday if all goes well.

“Things didn’t go real crisp today,” Sveum said of the session. “Everything was fine and he felt great and everything, but the location wasn’t where we wanted it to be.”

* Scott Baker, coming back from Tommy John surgery one year ago, resumed his throwing program on Monday in Mesa, Ariz. Baker threw from about 45 feet.

* Matt Garza, on the disabled list with a strained left lat, was to start Wednesday for Double-A Tennessee, which would be his second Minor League rehab outing. He will make at least three such starts.

* Catcher Steve Clevenger, on the DL with a strained left oblique, was able to catch two bullpen sessions on Monday and is throwing from 120-130 feet. He expected to start swinging a bat early next week.

— Carrie Muskat

4/29 Sing along

Looking ahead to the Cubs homestand, which begins Monday night, here are the seventh inning stretch singers (and some ceremonial first pitch):

Monday: John Egan, Rich Rochelle and Chuck Wood from the 1963 Loyola men’s basketball championship team, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary

Tuesday: Corey Wootton, Chicago Bears

Wednesday: Jeff Mauro, “The Sandwich King”/Chicago Food Network Star

Thursday: Emmylou Harris will throw out the first pitch; Steve Trout will sing the stretch

Friday: Shea McClellin of the Chicago Bears will throw out first pitch. Stretch singer TBD

Saturday: Tim Jennings, Chicago Bears

Sunday: Gary Sinise, actor/musician

4/29 Cubs lineup

The Cubs open a four-game series against the Padres on Monday night. Here’s the lineup:

Sappelt CF
Castro SS
Rizzo 1B
Soriano LF
Castillo C
Hairston RF
Ransom 3B
Barney 2B
Samardzija P