09/23/08 7:40 PM ET
Cubs to go with hot hand for playoff 'pen
Several relievers vying for what appears to be one opening
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Lou Piniella will likely carry 11 pitchers when the National League Division Series opens next week, and the final week of regular-season games will determine who will fill the final opening.
Cubs fans have probably jotted down possible combinations. If Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden are the starters, that leaves seven openings in the bullpen. Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol and Neal Cotts are set. Rookie Jeff Samardzija has looked better his past two outings, and Sean Marshall and Jason Marquis could be the long men.
That leaves Bob Howry, Chad Gaudin, Michael Wuertz, Kevin Hart, Randy Wells and Angel Guzman contending for one spot.
"We've got to look at a few of these guys," Piniella said Tuesday. "You all can do the numbers. There aren't that many spots available. There might be one spot pitching-wise and one spot player position-wise, and that's about it. We have an idea of what we want to do, but we'll take a look here over the next four, five days."
Sticking with the bullpen, will Piniella go with what pitchers have done over the season or who has had the hot hand lately?
"I think we'll have to go with people who are throwing the ball well now," Piniella said. "I think we'll lean more in that direction."
"All you can do is pitch," Wuertz said. "You can't control what they're thinking. I think what you do is go out there, and the results speak for itself. That's the way it is, especially going into the playoffs. Obviously, you want your experienced guys, but you go out there the last six games and you don't put it on the backburner."
Wuertz, who did pitch in two games last season in the NLDS, has appeared in five since he was called up from Triple-A Iowa, posting a 6.23 ERA over 4 1/3 innings. He knows Piniella will likely pick the hot hand.
"There are guys who've been here, who've gotten the job done," Wuertz said. "Then there are other guys who have come up recently. You saw that last year with Hart. That's the way it is, especially in this game. You don't know what's going to happen. You just have to be ready each and every day. You have to be mentally ready and prepared, because you never know when that phone is going to ring.
"You have to have a game plan every time you go out there. That's one thing Greg Maddux helped me with when he was here. That was my first full season in '05, and [Maddux] said, 'Take it one pitch at a time and slow the game down.' When you're a young player, you pick up speed as the game goes along, and you have to relax and take a deep breath and let the game calm down and focus on one hitter at a time and one pitch at a time."
Wuertz has sought advice from other veterans. For example, lefty Mike Remlinger helped because he has done well against righties.
Hart was called up last season and found himself on the postseason roster. He appeared in one game in the 2007 NLDS. In three games this month, he's given up two runs on six hits over four innings.
"The way I look at it is, they know what I'm capable of, and whatever happens from here, I'll do my best," Hart said. "Do I look at it as an audition? I think they know what I'm capable of. I think it's more who's throwing the ball the best into the playoffs. If I go in with a hot hand, who knows? Whatever happens, happens."
Hart is better prepared this season compared to last.
"For me, it wasn't a big deal," Hart said of the rush last year. "That was so much fun. I was like, 'Wow, I got called up. Sweet, I'm in the big leagues.' A couple days later, people were saying I might make the playoff roster, and a couple weeks later, I'm pitching in the playoffs. I didn't put any pressure on myself last year."
If he's throwing well, he'll be on the final playoff roster. The same is true for Samardzija, who has rebounded from a brief rocky stretch. In his past two games, he's struck out three of the six batters he's faced without giving up a hit.
"When his split-finger is working well, it really helps him out," Piniella said of Samardzija. "He's been working on the side a lot with his split-finger pitch and working on getting on top. He gets in the habit of slinging the ball instead of getting on top and driving it downhill."
Whoever gets the nod, the others will be supportive. The Cubs' relievers are a close knit bunch.
"Whether it's Samardzija, Hart, whoever, we're here for one thing and that's to win a World Series," Wuertz said. "We're here to help each other."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.