03/12/11 8:40 PM ET
Cubs' rotation competition getting tight
By Carrie Muskat and Owen Perkins / MLB.com
Cashner's longest outing has been four innings, and the Cubs are happy to see him making adjustments."He's just got to go through some games," pitching coach Mark Riggins said. "The more he goes out there and pitches, the more relaxed he's going to be and his confidence is going to get better. It's a process of building him up both mentally and physically." Fellow rotation hopeful Randy Wells also has had positive outings. "He came in with a great attitude in a competitive atmosphere, which was good for us," Riggins said. "He's taken it very well." Wells won 12 games in his rookie season but was 8-14 last year. The right-hander came to camp this spring knowing nothing was guaranteed. "I think he got a little embarrassed at some point last year and he's put his nose to the grindstone and worked hard this spring and in the offseason," Riggins said of Wells. "That's the way it's supposed to be. You can have a good year and take things for granted and it'll bite you right in the butt. He's had a great spring and I applaud his efforts so far." Riggins also has seen positives from Jeff Samardzija, who is being considered for the bullpen. Samardzija did serve up a two-run homer in the ninth inning on Friday against the White Sox, but the Cubs held on for a 4-3 win. "I was extremely happy with the way he threw yesterday," Riggins said. "I don't look at results. I'm looking at how he executed pitches. It was a complete turnaround from what he has been doing in the past. He got the ball down well, he threw some really good cutters and we're bringing his split up more often. [Friday] to me was a positive day for him. The home run racked up the runs on him, but other than that one pitch, I thought he pitched really good."
Russell makes strides in pursuit of rotation
LAS VEGAS -- Cubs rotation hopeful James Russell made his third spring outing and first start on Saturday, giving up four runs -- one earned -- on five hits over three innings against the Reds."I had a couple pitches I put where I wanted to, and it didn't really work out," Russell said. "That's part of it. You'll get them, and they'll get you on your best stuff. I got some key ground balls that I needed. That's part of the game also." Russell said he "feels 10 times better this spring than last year." He spent the winter training in Texas with Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo, among others, and arrived 15 pounds lighter. The pitchers have known each other since they were 13, playing summer league baseball.
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"It'd be awesome to be in the rotation and have a start against him," Russell said.The lefty has a way to go before he can start projecting that. Cubs pitching coach Mark Riggins said Saturday was a big game for Russell. "At some point in the next week, we have to make some decisions," Riggins said. "We're going to try to keep seven to eight possibilities, just in case something happens to one. At least that way we'd have other guys built up. We need to make a decision on two to three of them in the next five to six days." Riggins wanted to see Russell keep the ball down better than his previous outing. "He should be getting better," Riggins said. "With 'Cash' and Wells and now [Ryan Dempster] yesterday, this is the way we're supposed to be getting ready for the season now."
Cubs' Silva continues to battle
MESA, Ariz. -- Carlos Silva looked beyond the numbers to find the positives in his start against the Reds on Saturday. After throwing a combined 3 1/3 innings over his first two spring starts, Silva lasted five frames."I threw much better today, especially with my command. I feel good about it," Silva said. "Five innings was really good for me, because I felt comfortable all the way there and I felt strong the whole game." Silva is competing for a spot in the Cubs' rotation, and he is happy with the progress he has been making from start to start. His second start featured a pair of scoreless innings before he yielded eight runs while recording only one out in the third. "I know I can pitch. I know what I can do," Silva said. "The first two games were hard, but you can learn a lot from that, too. A lot of people said I did a lot of good things the first two innings, but for me, I always look over what happened in the whole game, not just the first two innings." Silva has grounded himself considerably since his first start. He spent time working on his mechanics in his last bullpen session, and the hard work is paying off -- although one of his adjustments was to back off from throwing too hard. As a sinkerball pitcher, when Silva throws too hard, he loses his natural sink. "My first game, I looked like a young guy," the 31-year-old veteran of nine big leagues season said. "I tried to overthrow the ball. For me, especially for a sinkerball pitcher, you have to forget about how hard you throw." Silva's mistakes Saturday came on a pair of changeups that yielded solo homers to Chris Heisey and Jeremy Hermida, but his command was where he wanted it, and that made all the difference. "I know when my command is good," the right-hander said. "When you want to throw out, you throw out. When you want to throw in, you throw in. Even though I missed some spots today, it's feeling better and better." Silva goes into his final three starts with renewed confidence, and he has his focus where it can best benefit him as he competes for a spot in the rotation. "I'm not going to keep worrying about [making the rotation]," Silva said. "I just have to worry about what I have to do to get better."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.