On Sunday, Andrew Cashner will get the start against his former team, the Cubs.
“I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a pitcher and a lot as a person,” Cashner said Saturday. “I was young [when he was with the Cubs], didn’t really know what was going on, and I feel like I have a lot better of an idea of what I want to do out there on the mound.
“I’ve got a lot of really good friends over there,” Cashner said. “I came up with a lot of those guys, and I’ve got a lot of good friends that you’ll never make again. It’s good seeing them, but I wouldn’t trade being in California for anything.”
Cashner has pitched well in two straight games, but has taken the loss in both. He’s 5-3 with a 2.38 ERA at PETCO Park compared to 3-5 with a 4.93 ERA on the road.
* 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
With the First-Year Player Draft coming up June 4, here’s a look at recent Cubs picks:
2007: 3B Josh Vitters
Vitters was batting .263 in 44 games with Triple-A Iowa. He has 11 doubles, four homers, 21 RBIs and one stolen base.
2008: RHP Andrew Cashner
Traded to the Padres in January for first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
2009: OF Brett Jackson
Jackson was batting .232 in 43 games at Triple-A Iowa with four homers, 10 doubles, five triples, 15 RBIs and seven stolen bases. He has a .325 on-base percentage, and has struck out 61 times in 168 at-bats. He has 22 walks. Jackson has played all three outfield positions, but primarily center field. He’s been hitting sixth in five games and was 6-for-18 (.333) compared to hitting .202 in the leadoff spot.
2010: RHP Hayden Simpson
The right-hander, whose career was slowed after a bout with mononucleosis, is at Class A Daytona and has been pitching in relief in the last six games after going 0-3 with a 7.94 ERA (15 earned runs in 17 innings) in his first four starts. So far, he’s given up 10 earned runs on 18 hits and 12 walks over 15 1/3 innings in six relief appearances.
2011: SS Javier Baez
Baez has been playing in Mesa at extended Spring Training with several other Draft picks from last year. He has yet to be assigned to a Minor League team.
— Carrie Muskat
The Cubs will have a new third baseman, first baseman, right fielder and most likely three new starting pitchers in 2012. Who knows what the bench will look like. You’ve followed the team all winter. What offseason move surprised you the most? Here are some suggestions to get the discussion started:
* Trading Carlos Zambrano to the Marlins. Big Z met with Theo Epstein and promised he would do whatever it takes to get back in the Cubs’ good graces but apparently the team wasn’t convinced. They will pay a huge chunk of Zambrano’s contract and received Chris Volstad in return.
* Naming Ian Stewart as the starting third baseman. Stewart is coming off a tough season in which he batted .156 with zero homers and six RBIs in 48 games with the Rockies. Aramis Ramirez has driven in seven runs in a game twice.
* Signing David DeJesus as the right fielder. DeJesus, who has a career OBP of .356, is projected as the Cubs’ leadoff man.
* Trading Sean Marshall to the Reds. Marshall was one of the most reliable lefty set-up pitchers in the game. James Russell, John Gaub and Scott Maine will compete for that spot.
* Dealing Tyler Colvin (to the Rockies) and Andrew Cashner (to the Padres). Both were first-round picks by the Cubs.
— Carrie Muskat
Maybe now people will believe the Cubs are not pursuing Prince Fielder. On Friday, the Cubs acquired first baseman Anthony Rizzo and right-handed pitcher Zach Cates from the Padres for right-handed pitcher Andrew Cashner and outfielder Kyung-Min Na. Cashner is the second first-round pick the new Cubs front office has traded. They sent Tyler Colvin, the No. 1 pick in 2006, to the Rockies last month.
Rizzo, 22, batted .331 with 34 doubles, 26 home runs and 101 RBIs in 93 games for Triple-A Tucson last season. A left-handed hitter, he posted a .404 on-base percentage and a .652 slugging percentage, and his 1.056 OPS was second-best mark in the Pacific Coast League.
Rizzo was originally selected by the Red Sox in the sixth round of the 2007 Draft out of high school, and then Boston scouting director Jason McLeod said the first baseman had the best makeup of any player he’d been around. McLeod now is in the Cubs front office.
In 2008, he was limited to 21 Minor League games after being diagnosed with Limited Stage Classical Hodgkins Lymphoma in late April. He returned in ’09 to lead all Red Sox Minor Leaguers with a .368 on-base percentage and ranked third in the system with a .297 batting average between Class A Greenville and Class A Salem.
Jed Hoyer acquired Rizzo in San Diego in December 2010 as part of the five-player deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox.
Cates, 22, was selected by the Padres in the third round of the 2010 Draft and made his professional debut last season, going 4-10 with a 4.73 ERA in 25 starts for Class A Fort Wayne.
Cashner, 25, won a spot on the Cubs rotation in 2011 but had to be shutdown after one start because of a strained right rotator cuff. It wasn’t certain as to whether Cashner would compete for a spot in the rotation this season or be delegated to the bullpen.
Na, 20, combined to bat .268 with 10 doubles and 22 RBIs in 83 games between four different teams in the club’s Minor League system last year. The Seoul, South Korea native was originally signed by the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent on Aug. 12, 2009.
— Carrie Muskat
Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, touched base on a variety of topics prior to the Winter Meetings, which begin next week in Dallas.
* As far as the new rules stated in the collective bargaining agreement regarding the Draft, Epstein said the Cubs will simply have to make sure they get the evaluations right as far as scouting players. “You have to answer the ultimate question: which player is going to have the best career?” he said.
He said the adjustments — and potential limits on what teams can spend without incurring a penalty — will not affect how they spend money on free agents. The goal is to still develop the team through scouting and player development. He said, “We just have to be better” in terms of scouting.
* What about rumors the Cubs are reportedly pursuing free agents Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder?
“I don’t think we pay too much attention to rumors,” Epstein said.
The priorities haven’t changed. Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer want to build the Cubs the right way for the long haul, mainly through scouting and player development and with the acquisition of young players. The second aspect is taking advantage of every opportunity they can.
“We’re not going to do anything to serve the second priority that disrupts the first,” he said. “If there’s a move that makes us much better in the short term but it’s at the expense of doing things the right way and building it for the long haul through a core of young players, we’re not going to make that move.”
So, keep that in mind when you hear the next rumor regarding the Cubs.
* Top priority heading into the Meetings? It’s starting pitching.
“We need starting pitching,” Epstein said. “You can’t take your chances very seriously as a club if you go into a season with not just five guys you can point to but six, seven, eight guys. You better know who your ninth starter is going to be because you’re going to need him. The numbers show you’re going to need your ninth starter through the course of the year.”
* Epstein said he enjoyed meeting the Cubs staff in the Dominican during a recent scouting trip. He would not comment on the players he saw, which included Cuban outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler.
* With the addition of David DeJesus, where does that leave Brett Jackson? Epstein said he hadn’t talked to the young outfielder yet but did say Jackson is “the type of guy we want here and he’s got a bright future here.” Jackson will have to show he’s ready for the big leagues. Epstein said there has been a trend to promote players quickly from Double-A. He says Triple-A is a finishing school, and some players need to take the time there.
* Carlos Zambrano is healing after taking a line drive off his face during a start in Venezuela. There is no timetable for Zambrano’s return to pitch there, but he is expected to make another start for Caribes. Big Z needed 16 stitches to repair a cut after he was hit.
* Where does Epstein see Jeff Samardzija and Andrew Cashner — in the rotation or the bullpen? Right now, Epstein said they’ve had discussions on the two right-handers.
“I do see both guys being really valuable pieces to the picture,” said Epstein, encouraged by Cashner’s performance in the Arizona Fall League. He also noted Samardzija looked much better in the second half of the season, and added “next year is a big year to build on that.”
Don’t expect Sean Marshall to be in the rotation mix.
“If you have the best left-handed reliever in baseball, it’s hard to think about taking him out of that role,” Epstein said.
* New manager Dale Sveum’s coaching staff could be announced next week.
* Don’t expect to see Epstein in the lobby of the Hilton Anatole during the Winter Meetings.
“It’s one of the few times that all 30 clubs are actively engaged in talking trade, which is nice,” Epstein said. “There’s a perception out there that the job of a GM or club president is always on the phone with the 29 other clubs talking about trades and it really doesn’t happen that often. You have to seize those opportunities at the GM meetings, at the Winter Meetings.”
So, he can pick up the phone and walk down the hall to talk to another team.
“I’ll be honest, you’re not going to see me down there [in the lobby] much,” he said. “I tend to stay in the room. I don’t like that scene in the lobby. We’ll try to get in the same room with our scouts and management team and gauge agents and scouts.”
— Carrie Muskat
Josh Vitters was 3-for-5 with one RBIs but it wasn’t enough as Mesa lost 11-9 to Peoria in Arizona Fall League play on Tuesday. Vitters is batting .355 in the AFL. DJ LeMahieu was 2-for-4 with one RBIs. Andrew Cashner was roughed up, giving up five runs on four hits and one walk over two-thirds of an inning. He served up a double, a triple and a single then walked the fourth batter he faced before getting an out in the sixth. Cashner struck out one of the seven batters he faced, throwing 32 pitches, 19 for strikes. Chris Carpenter gave up one run on three hits in one inning in relief.
Marwin Gonzalez was 2-for-4, scored a run and drove in a run for Caracas in a 7-3 loss to La Guarra in Venezuelan Winter League play on Tuesday. Gonzalez was batting .357.
— Carrie Muskat
Theo Epstein and Boston GM Ben Cherington have had a few conversations regarding compensation to the Red Sox. Epstein left Boston with one year remaining on his contract, and the Cubs and Red Sox have been trying to settle on compensation. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig may need to arbitrate. The Cubs and Padres also have to determine compensation for GM Jed Hoyer. “It won’t potentially involve the commissioner,” Hoyer said, smiling.
* Hoyer and Epstein will meet shortstop Starlin Castro this weekend for the first time. Castro was scheduled to come to Chicago for an autograph signing event. “When we played against the Cubs this year, he’s a very dangerous at-bat, and you’re thinking, ‘Wow, this guy is 21 years old,'” Hoyer said. “He’s got work to be done on parts of his game but this guy is a special talent. Hopefully, he can work to become an elite talent.”
* A decision has not been made on whether Andrew Cashner will be a starter or reliever. “I think he’s a rare guy who could do both,” Hoyer said.
* Epstein and Hoyer are meeting with agents re: free agents, and talking to teams about possible trades at the General Managers Meetings in Milwaukee. “We’re still very much in the information gathering mode on all of that stuff [re: free agents],” Hoyer said. “We’re not really in a position to rule out much at this point. We’re going to listen on a lot of things and think about a lot of things. I’d be misleading if I started to dice up the free agent pool too much.”
— Carrie Muskat
Carlos Zambrano gave up three runs on five hits, including two home runs, over six innings Saturday night in his second start in Venezuela. Zambrano, who was pitching for Caribes against Zulia, struck out five of the 23 batters he faced. The homers included a two-run shot by Ernesto Mejia with two out in the first, and a solo homer by Colin Curtis with one out in the sixth.
* In Arizona Fall League play, DJ LeMahieu had two hits and Josh Vitters had one RBI in Mesa’s 8-2 loss to Phoenix on Saturday. Junior Lake was 1-for-4, scored a run and stole his 18th base. He’s now 18-for-18 in steals. Only Eric Young Jr. had more stolen bases in the AFL (20). Jeff Beliveau took the loss, giving up three runs on three hits in one inning. He struck out three but also served up a two-run homer in the fourth. Andrew Cashner also pitched one inning in relief, retiring all three batters he faced. After a day off Sunday, the Mesa Solar Sox play host to Peoria on Monday at HoHoKam Park.
— Carrie Muskat
Josh Vitters went 3-for-4, including a solo homer, to help Mesa beat Salt River, 8-4, on Wednesday in the Arizona Fall League. Vitters, who also stole a base, is batting .358 in the AFL with 14 RBIs. DJ LeMahieu was 1-for-5. Andrew Cashner struck out two in one inning of relief and picked up the win, and Chris Carpenter fanned one and gave up one hit in one inning. On Thursday, Mesa plays host to Phoenix at HoHoKam Park.
— Carrie Muskat