Hendry confident Cubs can turn it around
Chicago GM feels players are too talented not to score runs
CHICAGO -- The Cubs have four players ranked in the top 10 in batting average in the National League. They lead the Majors with a .289 team average since April 21.
Yet in the last seven losses prior to Wednesday, the team has scored 14 runs -- an average of two runs per game. In the Cubs' one win in the last eight games, they scored 14 runs.
What's going on?
"I don't think any of us thought this was the kind of team that would average two runs a game," general manager Jim Hendry said Wednesday. "Offensively, we're certainly better than two, three runs a game. We're in a funk, and there's nothing you can do about it except fight your way out of it."
The Nos. 3-4 hitters, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, have been the most perplexing. Hendry said he was encouraged by Ramirez's at-bat in the eighth on Tuesday, even though the third baseman struck out. The Cubs lost, 3-2, to the Florida Marlins. Ramirez, who was hitting .159, was not in Wednesday's lineup. A year ago, Lee got on track in mid-May. On Tuesday, he hit two doubles and was batting .220 overall.
"When you're struggling, it gets contagious," Hendry said. "Everybody's trying to be the guy who gets you back on track and gets you over the hump."
"As good as those two guys are," Hendry said of Ramirez and Lee, "they're also human beings and they could be internally pressing and trying so hard to get it going for the team, that sometimes it's hard to get out of."
What's been encouraging is seeing Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto and Kosuke Fukudome all performing much better than a year ago.
"A lot of the guys who we worried about coming into the season, who are coming off down years are swinging the bats really well," Hendry said. "Aramis and Derrek are off to tough starts. You'd like to think they'll get back to their old selves."
There are no deals pending, no scouts scouring other rosters to find help.
"There really isn't anywhere to look," Hendry said. "I would think our position players are not a weakness at all. We're just in one of these funks where we can't get over the hump and get runs in. It's not for lack of talent or lack of these guys working."
The Cubs began play Wednesday 6 1/2 games back in the National League Central. They're six games under .500 for the first time since June 22, 2007. That year, the team rallied to win the NL Central. There's time.
"We certainly don't have any desire or notion to start pointing fingers or hang our heads and throw in the towel that we're not going to get out of it," Hendry said.
Fontenot handling reduced playing time
CHICAGO -- It's been a roller-coaster ride for Cubs infielder Mike Fontenot this season.
He began the year as the starting second baseman, projected to platoon with Jeff Baker at the position. Fontenot struggled to hit .236 last season, so winning the starting job was a positive step. He got off to a good start, too, and was batting .306 last Friday when everything changed.
That's when the Cubs called up highly touted shortstop Starlin Castro and decided to move Ryan Theriot from short to second base to make room.
Fontenot suddenly lost his starting job and was now on the bench.
On Wednesday, he smacked a two-run double in the second inning to help the Cubs beat the Marlins, 4-3, and end a four-game losing streak. It was his fourth at-bat in five games since Castro was called up.
"I just do whatever I can whenever I get a chance to get in there -- try to help the team in any way," Fontenot said. "That's what I've always tried to do."
He did play last Friday, notching his first career grand slam in a pinch-hit at-bat in the Cubs' 14-7 win over the Reds. But when he arrived at Wrigley Field on Wednesday, Fontenot didn't know if he would be playing. He started at second because Theriot took a day to rest a tight right hamstring.
"I wasn't sure," Fontenot said about starting. "Like I always say, just try to come to the field ready. You never know."
He's hitting .308, but knows his playing time will be limited.
"I guess that's baseball," Fontenot said. "There's nothing I can do. Just try to make the most of it and do things that help the team. That's what we're all here to do is win ballgames in any way or form."
He's talked to Theriot, who was Fontenot's infield mate at LSU. Castro has made five errors in his first six big league games, but he played better in the field on Wednesday and went 2-for-4. He's now batting .364 (8-for-22).
"It's one of those things," Fontenot said of his reduced playing time. "We're all in this together and trying to help each other out, whoever is out there."
Theriot gets day off to rest tight hamstring
CHICAGO -- Cubs second baseman Ryan Theriot did not start Wednesday to give him an extra day to nurse a tight right hamstring.
The Cubs wrapped up a three-game series against the Marlins on Wednesday before Thursday's off-day. By resting Theriot on Wednesday, he'll get two days.
The hamstring injury is not serious, team officials said. Theriot was batting .329 and has hit safely in 19 of his last 20 games, dating to April 21. He shifted from shortstop to second base last Friday to make room for rookie shortstop Starlin Castro.
Cubs confident in Castro's defense
CHICAGO -- The Cubs know Starlin Castro will make mistakes in his crash course on big league baseball.
"He's a real good defensive player," Chicago general manager Jim Hendry said Wednesday of the 20-year-old shortstop, who has made five errors in five games. "I expected a few rough days early."
Castro and the Cubs have experienced extreme highs and lows. He drove in a Major League-record six runs in his debut last Friday in Cincinnati, but committed three errors on Monday in his first game at Wrigley Field. He made another miscue Tuesday.
"A lot of great players, infielders, made a lot of errors as young players," Hendry said. "I think he'll settle in fine."
One thing Castro has to get used to is the pace of the game. Everything seems faster. And his defensive ability is well above anyone on the roster, Hendry said, adding that Castro can make plays nobody has done with the Cubs for quite some time.
"That's not a criticism of Ryan [Theriot]," Hendry said of the infielder who moved from shortstop to second base to make room for the highly touted Castro. "I think [Theriot] is going to be a better player at second. The kid's going to make a few errors now and then. There's nobody in the game who wouldn't tell you he's not a plus-defender with outstanding range and an above-average arm."
There will be growing pains along the way.
"He's 20 years old," Hendry said. "I remember Derek Jeter made a ton of errors in the Minor Leagues. You grow into it. [Castro] is going to find his niche. We're not worried about his defense at all."
Kasper, Brenly to broadcast from bleachers
CHICAGO -- Cubs television broadcasters Len Kasper and Bob Brenly will take their show to the fans on Sunday.
Kasper and Brenly will do the WGN TV broadcast of Sunday's Cubs game against the Pirates from the Wrigley Field bleachers. They'll set up in left-center, next to the batter's eye. And they're hoping for warmer weather than Wednesday's 45 degrees.
This won't be the first time they've broadcast from the bleachers, but it is the first since the seating area was expanded after the 2005 season.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.