PITTSBURGH -- Eleven years ago, Blake Lalli was a senior pitcher for Pine-Richland High School in Gibsonia, Pa., and current Pirates second baseman Neil Walker was his freshman catcher. They were playing Indiana in the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League playoffs, and rallied for an 11-7 win.
Lalli pitched the whole game -- and says not all of the seven runs he gave up were earned -- and remembers Walker being a very good catcher.
On Saturday, Lalli was behind the plate for the Cubs, making his second big league start and first in his home state. He expects lots of friends and family on hand, even if he only had to leave 16 tickets.
"It's cool," Lalli said about starting at PNC Park. "[Friday] night was neat, too. Once the [public address] announcer started talking, it was cool hearing the same voice that you heard as a kid."
Walker was drafted out of high school in 2004 as a catcher.
"He was real good -- good enough to go in the first round as a catcher," Lalli said. "He was always good, had always been good. I only saw him catch and never saw him do anything else."
Lalli was never drafted. He played some college ball at Gardner-Webb University, and signed with the Cubs in May 2006 as a non-drafted free agent.
"I always wanted to play, and I thought I was talented enough," Lalli said. "I always said I was going to keep going until somebody took the uniform away from me."
He has kept his pitching arm loose in the Minor Leagues, making 17 appearances when the team has run out of pitchers.
"It's not really pitching any more," Lalli said, laughing. "It's just trying to put it in an area and hope they get themselves out."
Cubs players hoping to bust out of slump
PITTSBURGH -- Bryan LaHair got a haircut Saturday and threw away at least two pairs of socks. David DeJesus shaved his mustache and also got a new pair of socks. Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has been known to change shoes.
The Cubs were trying to find some magic to help end a 10-game losing streak and also end an extended lack of clutch hitting.
Chicago entered Saturday's game against the Pirates 0-for-25 with runners in scoring position over its last three games, including 0-for-12 on Friday.
"Any time you're in a stretch like this, you're always worried about guys pressing and 'I have to do it,' and you see that a little bit," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Saturday. "We're having good at-bats and then swinging out of the strike zone on 3-2 [counts] instead of letting the next guy do it sometimes. Sometimes you get snake bit a little bit, too. All you have to do is hit the outfield grass and we're not able to do that.
"As long as guys are having quality at-bats -- the job isn't getting done at the end, but the at-bats are getting better," he said.
LaHair said he will try something different every day.
"He's getting to the point now where he's starting to guess along with the pitchers," Sveum said. "You can't do that. You have to get up there and hit. The guessing gets to be a little too much sometimes -- guessing and worrying about what the pitcher is going to do and how many good pitches to hit and all that.
"The thing is, he's not taking his walks," Sveum said of LaHair, who was batting .230 this month compared to .390 in April. "He's not taking his walks now and swinging out of the strike zone and trying to do too much and put all the weight on his shoulders."
It's been tough for the players.
"It's one of those things right now where we haven't been able to get the key hit when we need it," DeJesus said. "We're getting 10 hits a game and we're not able to get anybody in. It's frustrating as a team, but we have to keep working and keep putting our time in the cage and keep trying to get it done out there. We can't press. We have to stay relaxed at the plate and keep focused on our plans."
Cubs look to Castro to take more walks
PITTSBURGH -- Since Starlin Castro made his debut in May 2010, he has the most hits in the National League. The Cubs would like to see him walk more.
Castro entered Saturday's game against the Pirates with four walks in 45 games, and only one in 22 games in May. He has more stolen bases (13) than walks. Can the 22-year-old shortstop learn to be patient?
"A lot of people do," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "Some guys, it takes time, some guys are built to do it. Sometimes it takes 2,000 or 3,000 Major League at-bats. A lot of time, you just get tired of rolling over [with the bat] and tired of swinging at bad pitches. A lot of times that's the maturity level that comes with Major League at-bats, too."
Not drawing more walks is not why Sveum moved Castro from the third spot to second in the order.
"It was more change more than anything," Sveum said of the reasoning. "He's down to .300 now with men in scoring position, and a week ago, he was up in the .350, .360 [range]."
At 22, Castro is one of the youngest players in the game, too. He's not just learning how to walk.
"Sometimes it's a gradual learning process," Sveum said. "He's getting his hits, but the last couple weeks, he's not hitting the ball hard. He knows he has to make adjustments."
• Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol, on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring, was scheduled to pitch one inning on Sunday for Triple-A Iowa, his second rehab appearance.
On Friday, Marmol gave up one hit, walked a batter and struck out one in one inning, his first game action since May 11. If all goes well, he could join the Cubs on their next homestand, which starts Monday.
• Ryan Dempster's third annual Casino Night on May 9 raised more than $350,000 for his foundation. About 600 celebrities and guests attended the event, held at Chicago's Palmer House Hilton hotel. A 2012 World Series trip sold for $40,000, and an authentic Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig autographed baseball sold for $21,000. Proceeds from the baseball will benefit the new Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago.
• Infielder Blake DeWitt, playing for Triple-A Iowa, was placed on the disabled list with a sprained left wrist which he injured while diving for the ball in the outfield. He has played in four games for the Minor League team since he was designated for assignment by the Cubs. DeWitt was examined by Cubs team doctors in Chicago.
Left-handed pitcher Jeff Beliveau, who had pitched in 16 games in relief for Iowa, was also placed on the DL with a strained shoulder.
The Cubs also have signed free agent infielder Diory Hernandez, 28, who was hitting .159 for Triple-A Oklahoma City and released May 23, and assigned him to Iowa.
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.