MESA, Ariz. -- The first batter Trey McNutt faced in his spring big league debut launched a 1-0 pitch over the fence in left for a home run.The Cubs right-hander didn't watch Zack Cozart's ball sail over the bullpen on Sunday, but looked at the umpire and asked for another ball. He struck out the next Reds batter, then walked a man, then fanned the next. After a double, a wild pitch and two more walks, McNutt was lifted. When the 21-year-old came into the dugout, Greg Maddux was waiting for him. "I asked him, 'How far did that ball go?' Because I didn't even look up," McNutt said of the home run. McNutt was able to laugh off the outing. Maddux, a four-time Cy Young winner who is a special assistant to the Cubs, has been able to help the highly touted right-hander. They first met this year at Class A Peoria. "Greg coming into Peoria last year was huge to my success," McNutt said Monday. "He taught me how to pitch. I was throwing 95, 97 [mph], and I just dropped down to 90 to 94. I can still run it up there, but I enjoy trying to hit my spots and setting up hitters. That's what I was trying to do [Sunday], but I couldn't find the strike zone." Maddux's advice? Slow the game down. Don't try to blow hitters away. At Peoria, McNutt was 6-0 with a 1.51 ERA. At Class A Daytona, he was 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA. He finished at Double-A Tennessee 0-1 with a 5.74 ERA in three starts. The emphasis was on location, location, location. "I've always heard that," McNutt said, "but to hear him say it and then go out there and actually do it, you could see the results. The coaches in Daytona were saying, 'You're only 90, 94 [mph] today -- and you only gave up one hit.'" By focusing on his command, McNutt said he can mix his other pitches in. "It makes it a lot more fun, too, to set up hitters than just go up there and try to throw it by people," McNutt said. "That's the way I used to be." A 32nd-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, McNutt's name was mentioned this offseason as a possible piece in the Cubs' dealings with the Rays for Matt Garza. Instead, Chicago sent another top prospect, Chris Archer, in the eight-player deal. "I thought I was going to be in Florida this year," McNutt said. "They had just put Archer on the 40-man and he had a real good year last year and I thought I was going to Tampa. We got on the Internet and I saw they traded Archer instead, and thought, I got lucky there. I'm glad I'm still here -- I wish Archer was still here, too. He's fun to watch." So is McNutt, who has a 13-2 record and 2.19 ERA in 38 Minor League games. Once he gets that first outing of the way, he's settled down. In his first start for Peoria last season, he gave up two hits, walked two and struck out seven over three innings. His last start for the Chiefs on June 16, he fanned 10 in five innings and gave up one hit. His first start at Daytona, he gave up three runs on four hits over three innings, striking out six. His last outing with the team, he served up one hit over six innings and struck out six. That's why he wasn't too bothered by Sunday's debut. "You don't know how much faster the game speeds up until you get out there on the mound," he said. "Then your heart's pumping, your adrenaline is going. It's really, really hard and takes a while to slow it down. That comes with experience and time and throwing. I'll be ready for it next time. I'll be prepared for next time."
Silva takes early struggles in stride
MESA, Ariz. -- After his first spring start, Carlos Silva was so upset, he couldn't talk to his son. On Monday, he was trying to find a reason to smile despite another rough outing.The Cubs right-hander gave up eight runs on 10 hits in 2 1/3 innings against the Angels at HoHoKam Park, and all of the runs came in a nightmare third inning. Silva said he felt good, even if the numbers tell a different story. "[Greg] Maddux was talking to me after I finished and said everything is good and the ball is coming out of my hand good, 'You're just missing a little bit,'" Silva said. "Every time I missed my location, it was a base hit." A special assistant to Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, Maddux was with Silva in his last side session and there on the bench to watch the outing. Silva knows he has to get results this spring and can't afford to just work on his pitches. He doesn't have a spot guaranteed. But in his last outing against the Brewers, he served up a pair of two-run homers in the first, the Cubs made three errors, and he got into a scuffle with Aramis Ramirez in the dugout.
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"To be honest with you guys, I have been worrying," Silva said. "The last time, I didn't talk to my own son. I'm sitting here for a long time today and trying to let it go. ... I'm trying to get better. I have to continue working."Mentally, for me, I'm going to be fine. I feel great. I was telling Maddux, I feel so good and was strong. That inning, look at what happened. When you have that kind of inning, it's like, 'Man, he pitched bad.' That's what people see. But I felt good." Silva also sought support from teammate Carlos Zambrano, sending him a text message after his outing. Big Z's response? "He told me in the text, 'You need to forget everything. Go out there and pitch and do your thing. You know how to do it, you did it before. Why can't you do it again?'" Silva said of the message. "It's true. This game, I didn't think too much and I felt very good going out there today. I'm going to be fine. I just have to keep working." There are two openings in the Cubs' rotation, and the candidates include Silva, Randy Wells, Braden Looper, Todd Wellemeyer, Andrew Cashner, James Russell and Casey Coleman. No decision is expected until the last week of Cactus League play. Last spring, Silva had a difficult first outing against the White Sox, giving up seven runs on seven hits in two innings. Yet, he bounced back and put together an 8-0 start to the regular season. Silva has a little more breathing room than he may think. "I tend to give a guy who has this kind of career and the longevity he's had some space to do that," Cubs manager Mike Quade said on Monday. "It's not his first rodeo. He was fine today, he went about his business great. He worked through a little trouble in the first couple innings and just couldn't make a pitch or two to get out of the third inning. I make nothing out of this other than it's a rough day. He'll be fine." He's trying not to lose sleep over the competition. "I can't think about it," Silva said. "If I think, 'This is going to affect me,' I'll put myself down. They'll make their decision and we'll see what happens. Like Maddux told me today, 'Next game, go out there and have a great game, and next game, great game.' I think that's what I have to put in my mind, and that's it."
Marlon Byrd was thrown out at home trying to score from first on Aramis Ramirez's double in the fourth. The ball went deep into the left corner, which Cubs manager Mike Quade said is known as "Satan's corner." Added Quade: "It's Spring Training for everyone. I think [third-base coach Ivan DeJesus] pulled the trigger a little soon." ... Tyler Colvin is expected to make his next start at first base Thursday. He was charged with his third error this spring in right field on Monday. ... Closer Carlos Marmol is trying to work on his fastball command. "If he gets really good fastball, command-wise, with [his slider], it's game, set, match," Quade said. "Any improvement 'Marm' can make on his fastball command is going to help him, and why don't we say this about everybody? We all talk about breaking stuff, but it boils down to fastball command. I don't care if it's a bunch of these kids trying to make the club or if it's [Ryan Dempster]. The better your fastball command, the better your game is." ... Here's some trivia: Greg Maddux faced 20,421 batters in his career. Just 310 of them saw a 3-0 count. That's roughly one every three starts. Thanks to MLB Trade Rumors for the research. ... Bench coach Pat Listach's dachshund, Henry, is now a regular in the clubhouse. ... The Cubs' wives raised $2,400 and collected 800 pounds of food during their annual food drive Sunday for Paz de Cristo in Mesa. ... The Cubs saluted the Mesa City Council prior to Monday's game for their support in keeping the team's Spring Training facility in Mesa.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.