Notes: Iowa instrumental in success
Triple-A produces key players for current Cubs club
CHICAGO -- Every summer, Iowans invade Chicago from places like Dubuque and Des Moines, ready to take in the summer baseball carnival that is Wrigley Field. This season, the Cubs clubhouse is having its own cornfield invasion, but these are no idle visitors. The erstwhile Iowa Cubs are playing like they're going to stay awhile.
Of the eight current Cubs who began the season in the Minors, Mike Fontenot, Koyie Hill, Felix Pie and pitchers Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall have added a much-needed spark to Chicago recently. The team has won seven out of 10 coming in to Saturday's game against San Diego, four of the wins coming by one run. All of the former I-Cubs seem entrenched in the C-Cubs' plans for now. Ryan Theriot, who parlayed his callup from Triple-A last season into a steady role with the club, isn't surprised.
"It's not like they didn't know what they were getting," Theriot said. "I think everybody was watching the way we were playing in the Minor Leagues a few years ago, when we were playing together. ... I think [general manager] Jim [Hendry] and [manager] Lou [Piniella] have done a really good job of putting guys in position to succeed."
One such player is Fontenot, who came into Saturday's game hitting .407 in nine games since getting called up for the second time last Saturday. He has played solid defense at second base, as well, and started his seventh game there Saturday. Fontenot's home run and three RBIs were key in the Cubs' 4-1 win Friday. Even when third baseman Aramis Ramirez returns from the disabled list, and Mark DeRosa returns to second, Fontenot should stick with the club for the time being.
"I don't know where's he's going," Piniella said. "But with the way he's playing, I don't think he has too much concern. He shouldn't have too much concern."
Hill, who caught Zambrano on Saturday, was only hitting only .182, but the important number is the 1.86 ERA Cubs pitchers have with him behind the plate. Marshall is 3-2 with a 2.12 ERA, Marmol is 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA in 13 appearances, and Angel Pagan is hitting .304 as a reserve outfielder.
"The spark, the intensity level, the energy is at an all-time high," Theriot said. "That's really good in the close ballgames, when your team is energetic and when your team has energy like that. In the one-run games, the extra-inning games, normally it comes down to what team wants to be out there more than the other team."
Dempster gunning: Ryan Dempster hit 97 mph on the radar gun Friday, picking up his 15th save. Is that as fast as he threw before Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery?
"I threw 100," he said. "But the wind was blowing in, in Florida. It was actually one of those borderline Category 3 storms."
Dempster has been on the mound almost all week, pitching in five of the last six games. Piniella said if Dempster pitched Saturday, he would get two days off. If he sat, the closer would pitch Sunday if needed, then get a day off Monday at Texas.
Dempster, who took his customary jog along the lakeshore before the early afternoon game Saturday, said he doesn't watch the radar readings to judge his outings.
"My velocity's good," he said. "But I don't really pay attention to it. I don't have to look at the radar to see if a hitter's late on a fastball. It's not how hard you throw, it's where you locate."
News and notes: Henry Blanco showed up in the Cubs' clubhouse with a wrapped shoulder. Pinella said there's no timetable for Blanco's return from a cervical herniated disc. "Not good," Piniella said of Blanco's progress. "He's got some pain. It's very uncomfortable. We're going to have to be patient with him." ... Cliff Floyd was still a little miffed about the fan who interfered with his potential catch in right field in the sixth inning Friday, giving Adrian Gonzalez a triple on the botched fly ball. Piniella agreed with Floyd that fans still need to pay better attention to the game. "The problem is, like I said yesterday, you're out there, you've possibly had a beer or two, you've got a glove in your hand, and all of a sudden everybody's a Major League outfielder. But you don't want interference, whether it's against your team or the other team." ... WGN scored an interview with the ponytailed fan that interfered with a possible Derrek Lee home run Friday. The contrite fan was billed as "Rambo," and his profession was noted as "ballhawk." ... The Cubs faithful turned out in droves for Saturday's game. A line for available seats and standing room only tickets snaked around Clark Street, onto Addison at 8:30 a.m. CT. The first two fans in line had sleeping bags.
Coming up: Lefty Rich Hill (5-4, 2.81 ERA) takes on righty San Diego's Greg Maddux (5-3, 3.86) in the series finale at 1:20 p.m. on Sunday. Maddux got a no-decision in his last start at Wrigley this season, but he is 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA in his last four outings. Hill is 0-2 with a 6.35 ERA lifetime against San Diego.
Jon Greenberg is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.