04/27/11 4:45 PM ET
Byrd understands concerns, expects hits to fall
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
The Cubs center fielder was batting .353 after April 14 but has since fallen into a 9-for-45 (.200) slump. He's hitting .265 in the No. 3 hole with five RBIs.
"Everyone's going to harp on certain spots, everyone can talk about No. 3 being a problem all year long," Byrd said Wednesday. "Or you could talk about it being a problem since I went cold."
Cubs manager Mike Quade has inserted Starlin Castro into the No. 3 hole for four games and on Wednesday, Jeff Baker was there for the series finale against the Rockies, although that game was postponed because of rain. Quade wasn't sure who would hit third when the Cubs open a four-game series in Arizona.
It's early, and neither Quade nor Byrd are worried.
"We're not 100 at-bats in," Byrd said. "I'm allowed to go through slumps. It happens. You start looking at guys in baseball all around and there are a lot of guys who are veterans who are moving a little slow right now.
"We can have this same conversation in September and it might be the complete opposite, and we'll be talking about how the three-hole is strong," he said. "It's one of those things where we have a manager who is not panicking because he knows I can play this game and he knows whoever he puts in the three-hole at some point will start hitting."
The Cubs are hitting. They entered Wednesday second in the National League with a .280 average, but they were 13th in home runs and RBIs. The bigger problem may be the pitching, as the Cubs are next-to-last with a 4.92 ERA.
"[The No. 3 hole] is not our worry," Byrd said. "Our worries are winning games, and one spot in the lineup is not going to win or lose the game at all."
The weather has not cooperated with rain nearly every home game in Chicago and the average game time temperature at 47 degrees. Two games have already been postponed by poor conditions.
"I don't use any excuses at all," Byrd said. "The weather's the weather, period. That's not an excuse."
In 2010, his first season in Chicago, Byrd batted .348 in the first month, which was unusual for him. He's normally a slow starter. He took over the three-hole duties when the Cubs traded Derrek Lee to Atlanta and batted .227 there.
It's a prime spot in the lineup.
"I don't mind the spotlight being on me, negative or positive," Byrd said. "I don't mind being the goat. It is what it is right now. I'm not getting the job done.
"[Tuesday] night, I go 0-for-4 with three strikeouts," he said. "I've never struck out this much in my career. I'm not scared that I'm not going to come out of it because I know I will because I've done it before. I need to snap out of it. I don't need to worry about the manager believing in me because I know he does. He knows this is a part of baseball. He's a baseball man."
This is the fifth season Byrd has worked with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, and the two have been looking at video of the outfielder's swing.
"I go in and tell Rudy, 'Hey, this is what I'm feeling,'" Byrd said. "There might be something I'm feeling that is completely wrong, or I'm trying to fix my hands and it's really my feet. It's a thing right now where I have to keep working through it and once I find it, I'll keep plugging along."
Hot-hitting Baker slotted in lineup's No. 3 spot
CHICAGO -- Jeff Baker has played first, second, third, right and left field, and would probably catch if you told him that was the only way he'd get into the lineup.
Baker was in the lineup at second base for the Cubs, but the bigger switch was that he was batting third. That was before rain postponed the series finale against the Rockies.The No. 3 hole has been a weak spot for Chicago as Marlon Byrd and Starlin Castro have combined to hit .245 and drive in six runs. Baker hit .471 on the homestand and .409 overall. He's the hot hand right now.
"I don't care where I hit," Baker said. "One through eight -- as long as it's not nine and the pitcher is hitting in front of me, I don't care. I'm just happy to be playing."
Cubs manager Mike Quade said he wasn't sure if Baker would bat third on Thursday when the team opens a four-game series in the much anticipated and dry Arizona climate. The only spots set for Thursday are leadoff (Kosuke Fukudome) and cleanup (Aramis Ramirez).
Baker's role when he was acquired by the Cubs in July 2009 was to be a jack-of-all-trades and fill in when needed. He batted .350 against left-handers and .106 against right-handers last year, so he became a pinch-hitting specialist, too.
Not this year. Baker is batting .480 against left-handers and .316 against right-handers.
"I've said all along the splits were what they were, they were drastic, they look bad on paper, but I always believed I could hit right-handers," he said. "It's just one of those things."
He has batted third before, including two games last season when he went 4-for-6. In Baker's career, he's 8-for-19 in nine games in the No. 3 hole with one home run and three RBIs. His background as a backup has helped him adjust. So far, Baker has hit first, fourth and fifth for the Cubs in the first month.
"I think it affects guys who are playing every day more, mentally where you are in the lineup," Baker said. "When you're coming off the bench, you don't care where you're hitting."
Wells, Cashner throw on flat ground
CHICAGO -- Cubs pitchers Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner both threw from 90 feet on flat ground Wednesday as they continued their rehabs.
Cashner is on the disabled list because of a strained right rotator cuff, while Wells has a strained right forearm. There is no timetable for their returns.
"All is good," said Cubs manager Mike Quade, who joked with the pair about being "payroll bandits."
The Cubs will discuss their rotation options on the plane ride to Arizona on Wednesday. Casey Coleman (1-1, 7.43 ERA), who was scheduled to start the series finale against the Rockies before the game was postponed by rain, now will go Sunday against the D-backs.
That means James Russell, who has been subbing for Cashner, is out for the time being. Russell dropped to 0-3 with an 11.17 ERA as a starter after Tuesday's loss to the Rockies. In his three starts, the left-hander has given up 12 earned runs over 9 2/3 innings.
One option in the Minor Leagues for the fifth spot could be right-hander Jay Jackson, who gave up one run on four hits over 6 2/3 innings in Iowa's 4-3 loss to Memphis on Tuesday. Jackson, who did not get a decision, went 3-for-3 with two doubles and threw 89 pitches.
The Cubs entered Wednesday ranked second in the National League with a .280 team batting average, but they ranked 11th in runs scored. Manager Mike Quade wasn't too worried about slow starts by players such as Carlos Pena, who is batting .114 with runners on and .169 overall."There have been some pretty good players here, including a Hall of Fame second baseman [Ryne Sandberg], who I think always struggled in April," Quade said. "It's an adjustment. We downplay [the bad weather] and attack it and make it our own, but there's no question it's an adjustment." The problem isn't staying warm or dealing with raindrops in their face. "It's tougher mentally than it is physically," Quade said. "April will be history when we get back." The Cubs open a seven-game western swing Thursday in Phoenix and return to Wrigley Field on May 6.
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.