Notes: Eyre rebounds from tough start
Reliever has contributed to improved bullpen performance
ST. LOUIS -- Scott Eyre isn't worried about trying to impress Lou Piniella any more, and he's picked up a little of that "Cubby swagger" that the Cubs manager has talked about.
In his last five games, Eyre has not allowed a run, and has given up just two hits in 4 2/3 innings. He got off to a rough start in April, giving up 10 runs on 14 hits over seven innings for a 12.86 ERA. Eyre isn't alone in changing his ways over the course of the season.
"I think early in the season, guys were trying a little too hard, knowing [Piniella 's] reputation," Eyre said. "I know I was personally. I was trying to do everything I could possibly do to get on his quote-unquote 'good side.' I think it just backfired.
"I was trying so dang hard to be perfect. Now I've pitched very sparingly and in non-pressure situations, and now he's starting to put me in games that are a little closer, and hopefully closer and closer. Well, hopefully, we won't have many close ones."
Piniella's message to Eyre was the same as to the other Cubs players.
"He told me, 'Have confidence in yourself and I'll have confidence in you,'" Eyre said.
The Cubs bullpen has a 2.25 ERA in the last five games since July 20, and has limited opponents to a .239 average. The relievers also have stranded 114-of-143 inherited runners this season, for a 79.7 percent rate. That's second-best in baseball behind the Boston Red Sox.
The 'pen's work has helped contribute to the Cubs' success since June 3. That, and other things. Eyre has his ideas.
"There's a lot of speculation as to when this team made the turn down the stretch," Eyre said. "You could say it was when [Piniella] had the tirade -- or maybe it was the fight [between Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett]. Maybe [Piniella] did the tirade on purpose. Nobody talked about the fight any more after that. He took it on himself, and that right there is a big lift.
"My personal belief is something happened right around the same time [Mike] Fontenot got here," Eyre said, complimenting the second baseman who was reunited with his LSU teammate, Ryan Theriot, in the Cubs middle infield. "They had an impact, and had a spark."
Aramis Ramirez hit the game-winning homer off Milwaukee's Chad Cordero on June 29, then the Cubs beat Colorado closer Brian Fuentes. Eyre doesn't believe there is one moment. Whatever it was, it's been fun.
"[Piniella] talked about that 'Cubby swagger,'" Eyre said. "I know I walk around, thinking I'm going to get everybody out. You can say what you want about him, but in limited words to me and a lot of guys, he gets his point across."
Phew: Yes, that was a huge sigh of relief you heard from Cliff Floyd on Wednesday when he hit a two-run, two-out double in the fifth inning of the Cubs' 7-1 win over St. Louis. Floyd entered the game 0-for-11. He's hitting .258 this month despite a lot of hard work.
"I was relieved because I finally squared off the ball," Floyd said. "After my first at-bat, I thought I was going to have a bad day."
Floyd struck out in his first at-bat leading off the second inning, and was mad at himself.
"I prepared for the game, and let two fastballs go by me," Floyd said. "I was like, 'Oh, it can't get any worse.'"
Floyd had been hitting the ball hard, but just at people.
"I don't care about what anybody says -- you can talk about hitting the ball hard," Floyd said. "If you don't get any hits, you feel horrible."
Keeping pace: Ted Lilly didn't want to come out of Wednesday's game after seven innings, and has talked to Piniella about pitching deeper in games. But the plan is to watch the starters' pitch counts to avoid over-extending them.
"We're not thinking of his future," Piniella said. "We're thinking about keeping him nice and strong. The weather will turn a little warmer in August. We want to keep these guys fresh. At the same time, we're not six or seven deep starting rotation-wise."
That means giving the starters an extra day when they can, or pulling them from a game if there's a comfortable lead. Plus, Piniella can work some of the relievers into the game if they need work.
"August is probably the toughest month to pitch," Piniella said. "In August, you need some reserve in your tank."
Is it tough to get players to work with him?
"I don't need to convince anybody," Piniella said. "All I need to do is get somebody else in the game."
Extra bases: Mark DeRosa did not start for the second straight game Thursday but was available to pinch-hit. ... The Cubs could stand pat at the trading deadline. "I don't think we're going to make a trade just to make a trade," Piniella said. The Cubs are monitoring players, like Matt Murton, who has been picking up the pace at Triple-A Iowa. ... Piniella saw Alex Rodriguez's first home run, and was his former manager in Seattle. Rodriguez now is closing in on 500 career homers. "A-Rod is a special player," Piniella said. "I saw him grow up from a young pup to the superstar he is today. He's a strong young man. He'll hit a lot more than 500." ... Including this season, the Cubs have played in St. Louis for 120 years. With Wednesday's win, the Cubs have gone 4-0 in St. Louis for the fifth time, and first since 1978. That year, the Cubs began 7-0 at Busch Stadium, and finished the year 8-1 in St. Louis. ... Lilly now has 11 wins. The last Cub left-hander to win at least 11 games was Greg Hibbard, who won 15 in 1993. Jamie Moyer won 12 games in 1987. ... Zambrano has 13 wins, and the last time the Cubs had two pitchers with 11 wins before the team's 100th game was in 1970 when Bill Hands picked up win No. 11 in Houston July 18 in Game 88. Fergie Jenkins won his 11th on July 21 that year in Atlanta in the Cubs' 92nd game. ... Lilly is the first Cubs lefty to win 11 games before the team's 100th game since Ken Holtzman did so in 1969. Since 1957, the only other Cubs southpaw to win 11 games before the 100th game was Dick Ellsworth, who did so in 1963, '64 and '65.
Minor matters: Murton went 4-for-6, including a grand slam, and drove in six runs Wednesday to help Iowa win its fourth straight, beating Colorado Springs, 18-8. Murton is batting .425 in his last 10 games with three homers and 10 RBIs. Geovany Soto was a double short of hitting for the cycle. John Nelson and Felix Pie each had four hits. Neal Cotts pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. ... Wade Miller pitched in relief Wednesday for Double-A Tennessee in the completion of a rain-shortened game and took the loss. Miller gave up seven earned runs and struck out six in three innings as the Smokes lost, 12-5. ... Class A Daytona swept a doubleheader against Palm Beach on Wednesday, winning 5-2 in the first game and 6-3 in the second. Jesse Estrada gave up two runs on six hits over seven innings for the win in the first game. Yusuf Carter hit a two-run homer in the second game to help Mitch Atkins get the win. ... Dylan Johnston hit a walkoff homer Wednesday to help Class A Boise beat Vancouver, 4-3.
On deck: Rich Hill will open the Cubs' weekend series at Cincinnati on Friday night. The left-hander beat the Reds back on April 14, throwing seven shutout innings and giving up three hits. However, Hill has one win in his last seven starts. He ranks fifth in the National League in batting average allowed, holding teams to a .224 average. Teammates Zambrano, Lilly and Jason Marquis rank sixth, seventh and eighth in the NL. First pitch is scheduled for 6:10 p.m. CT, and the game will be broadcast on Comcast Sports Net Plus.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.