05/06/2013 8:09 PM ET
Cubs hope to turn quality starts into more wins
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- The Cubs' starting pitching has been impressive in the first 31 games, but the team hasn't been able to take advantage of it, and it's frustrating, general manager Jed Hoyer said Monday.
"You could say that because of our pitching, our record is misleading, but I don't think our record really is misleading," Hoyer said of the Cubs' 11-20 mark. "We just need to get better at winning games."
Cubs starters have posted 18 quality starts and have a 2.05 ERA in those games, yet have won just six of those games. Four National League teams (Cardinals, Reds, Phillies, Nationals) have more quality starts than the Cubs. Plus, Chicago's starters are tied for the NL lead in strikeouts.
Good pitching usually leads to good games, but the bullpen has struggled and the offense hasn't delivered. Twenty-six of 31 games have been decided by three runs or less.
Starter Edwin Jackson is 0-5 in his first seven starts, but Hoyer said they aren't concerned about the right-hander.
"He's got a really long track record of success," Hoyer said of Jackson. "His consistency has been one of his biggest strengths. [We're] not concerned, but he does need to pitch better.
"Luckily he does have 25 more starts this year and plenty of time to turn it around," Hoyer said. "I think he's frustrated with how he's pitched and we expect him to get better."
The other pitcher who has scuffled is Carlos Marmol, who was removed as closer after the first week of the season.
"Carlos has had a real long track record of success here," Hoyer said of the reliever. "He has a number of more appearances than any other pitcher in baseball in the last four, five years. This team has expected a lot out of him for a lot of years and ridden him really hard over the last few years. Some of that has probably taken its toll.
"His slider isn't what it used to be," Hoyer said. "He's been really durable and ridden hard by a number of managers here. He had a really good second half last year and threw well [Sunday]. He has struggled in save appearances and it's been frustrating.
"I do think he's a lightning rod here and I think people forget how much he's pitched here and how well he's pitched at times here and have focused on his failures."
Sweeney, Dolis promoted from Triple-A Iowa
CHICAGO -- Getting sent to the Minor Leagues was a good thing for Ryan Sweeney, who was promoted to the Cubs on Monday.
Sweeney was limited to 63 games last season with the Red Sox after he injured the pinkie finger on his left hand when he punched a door in the Red Sox dugout in late July. He batted .260 last season, and spent the offseason working on his swing. But the Red Sox released him March 30 and Sweeney signed with the Cubs on April 2.
At Triple-A Iowa, he batted .337 in 23 games with six home runs, two doubles, two triples and 16 RBIs.
"It might have been a positive for me to go to Triple-A and play every day and get my confidence back," Sweeney said.
The Cubs promoted Sweeney and pitcher Rafael Dolis from Triple-A Iowa on Monday, and optioned outfielder Dave Sappelt to the Minor League team. Reliever Kameron Loe was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Sweeney.
Sweeney was pulled from the second game of Iowa's Sunday doubleheader and told by manager Marty Pevey that he was headed to the big leagues. He was considering at least three teams, and after talking to Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, decided Chicago was a good fit.
A left-handed hitter, Sweeney, 28, has played for the White Sox, Athletics and Red Sox, and has a career .280 batting average over seven seasons in the big leagues.
Sappelt, 26, was used in Cubs manager Dale Sveum's platoon against left-handed pitchers. In 20 games with the Cubs, Sappelt was batting .178 (8-for-45).
The Cubs had claimed Loe, 31, off waivers from the Mariners on April 14. On Sunday, he gave up one run on one hit and two walks in one inning against the Reds, and has a 5.40 ERA in seven games.
"We want him to go to Triple-A to get things worked out," Sveum said of Loe. "He's a nice piece to have when that sinker is working correctly. He just needs to iron out some mechanics."
Dolis, 25, appeared in 34 games last year with the Cubs. In eight games with Iowa, the right-hander has given up three runs on six hits and three walks over 7 2/3 innings, striking out seven.
Sweeney did admit it was tough to go back to the Minor Leagues after spending so much time in the big leagues.
"I could go down and be [ticked] off or I could go down and show them I was healthy and still hit and try to get back up as soon as I could," he said.
Perhaps the best part about the timing of the callup is that his parents had traveled from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and were in Des Moines to watch Sweeney play.
"My brother is in the Midwest League, and they had gone to see him a bunch," Sweeney said. "I felt like a little kid again. I'd never gotten called up in the middle of the year. It was definitely different being pulled out of a game to get called up."
Garza looks good in second rehab start
CHICAGO -- Cubs pitcher Matt Garza gave up one run on four hits over 3 1/3 innings Monday for Triple-A Iowa in his second rehab start, and the next step will be a start for Double-A Tennessee.
Garza threw 54 pitches, 37 strikes, against Oklahoma City on Monday. He is rehabbing from a strained left lat suffered in mid-February in Spring Training, and is expected to make at least two more Minor League outings.
"He was really pumped up, everything went really well," said Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who talked to Garza after the outing. "The hits were a blooper, bunt hit, so he was pretty efficient and threw all his pitches 100 percent. His slider was up to 87 mph today. He was getting after it a little bit today."
On Tuesday, Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa will make his second rehab outing when he pitches one inning for Double-A Tennessee. Fujikawa struck out two and walked one batter in one inning in his first rehab outing on Sunday for Iowa. The Japanese pitcher is rehabbing from a strained right forearm.
"If everything goes good again, that should be enough," Sveum said of Fujikawa's rehab outings.
Cubs front office gearing up for Draft
CHICAGO -- The Cubs have the second overall pick in the June 6 First-Year Player Draft, and have narrowed the list of players they're focusing on to half a dozen. General manager Jed Hoyer said the Astros, who have the first pick overall, aren't tipping their hand.
"Houston did a really good job last year," Hoyer said of the Astros, who selected shortstop Carlos Correa with the No. 1 pick in 2012. "We were sitting in our meeting last year, talking about what we were going to do and Carlos Correa was taken, and we assumed [the Astros] were going in a different direction. They did a real good job last year hiding their intent.
"We don't expect to know until the name is called in New York [on June 6]," Hoyer said. "When you pick second, it's a pretty short list [of candidates]. We'll react to what [the Astros] do. At this time of year, you'll get texts from friends thinking they know how things will fall out. The truth is, only two or three people in the Astros organization know how it's going to happen. We don't expect to know until the last minute. We'll keep doing our due diligence."
The Cubs scouts and front office went over the prospects at their mid-point meeting and will not gather again until the end of May.
"When you pick second, you can really bear down on [the top picks]," Hoyer said.
Last year, the Cubs had the sixth pick overall and chose high school outfielder Albert Almora.
• Ian Stewart, activated from the disabled list on Friday and then optioned to Triple-A Iowa, reported to the Minor League team on Monday for the upcoming road trip to Colorado Springs, but did not play this weekend. Stewart took advantage of the 72 hours given to players to report.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Monday that Stewart had the right to take the time off.
Stewart was projected as the Cubs starting third baseman this year, but injured his left quad in an intrasquad game Feb. 21. Hoyer said it's disappointing that Stewart hasn't been able to play for the big league team.
"Last year, we made a trade for him and he had a lot of injuries he was dealing with," Hoyer said of Stewart, who eventually underwent wrist surgery in early July last year. "This year, we never even had him. It was the first swing of the first game of an intrasquad scrimmage. That's as early in the season as you can get. He hasn't had a chance to help us. There's certainly talent there, left-handed power, he's a good defender."
• On Wednesday, Cubs fans are invited to participate in Chicago Cubs Charities "Pink Out," presented by Advocate Health Care. Each fan who buys a bleacher ticket will receive a Cubs Charities "Pink Out" hat to help promote and support breast cancer awareness. The wives of Cubs coaches and players will be handing them out at the entrance gates.
Fans throughout the ballpark are encouraged to wear pink that day for the Cubs game against the Cardinals.
Proceeds from that day's Cubs Charities 50/50 Raffle will benefit mammograms for under/uninsured women through Advocate Healthcare.
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.