8/22/2014 3:48 P.M. ET
Cancer patient who inspired Rizzo visits Wrigley
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- A month ago, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo visited a cancer patient, Mike Kasallis, and promised the 22-year-old he would hit a home run for him. Rizzo hit two blasts against the Padres on July 22, and he made sure to touch his lips and point to the sky as a signal.
"I was absolutely stunned," Kasallis said about seeing Rizzo deliver his request. "All I said was, 'If you hit a home run, blow a kiss to the sky for me,' and he did."
On Friday, Kasallis, his girlfriend, Ashley Souk, and his family were at Wrigley Field as part of the pregame ceremonies.
"When my son asked, [Rizzo] said, 'I'll do my best,'" said Donna Kasallis, Mike's mother. "To not only hit the home runs, but to remember to do that [touch his lips and point], that's what was so touching."
Rizzo and Kasallis have exchanged text messages since that July day and since Mike began chemo treatments. Rizzo knows what Kasallis is going through. In 2008, the Cubs slugger was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. He has recovered and is ranked second in the National League in home runs entering play Friday.
Kasallis, of suburban Buffalo Grove, Ill., graduated from Illinois State in May, and he was diagnosed on June 20 with pancreatitis.
"We have six months and two years to go," Donna said of the chemo treatments, which includes weekly sessions for six months, then monthly treatments for two years. She said the good news is that doctors say Mike is already in remission.
Kasallis was at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago when Rizzo visited that morning. What was their reaction when Rizzo homered that night at Wrigley Field?
"I started crying," Donna said. "[Mike] got all choked up. And then to do it again -- we started crying."
Rizzo had said the visit brought back memories of his own experience.
"This one hit more at home for me," Rizzo said in July about meeting Kasallis, his mother and his girlfriend. "I usually don't get flashbacks, but I did this time."
When Rizzo visited Kasallis in the hospital, Donna said her son perked up for the first time since the diagnosis. She had taken Mike to see a doctor because he was complaining of stomach pains, and it turned out to be much more serious. Donna said they were lucky to get a diagnosis so early.
"It was the first time I'd seen him with any spark," Donna said of Rizzo's visit. "It was like I saw my kid again that day."
Rizzo's mother, Laurie, joined him at the hospital, and Donna asked for advice.
"I said, 'How do you deal with this?' and she said, 'One second at a time,'" Donna said.
If needed, Turner ready to answer starting call
CHICAGO -- Jacob Turner pitched in relief on Thursday, although it was more like a start, and it could lead to a start on Tuesday against the Reds.
Officially, Turner entered in the sixth inning in relief of Tsuyoshi Wada, who had started Tuesday's game. That contest was suspended because of rain, and it resumed on Thursday in the sixth. Turner threw 34 pitches over two innings, and the Cubs held on for a 2-1 win over the Giants.
Manager Rick Renteria has yet to name a starter for next Tuesday against the Reds. It would be Edwin Jackson's start, but the right-hander was placed on the disabled list Thursday with a strained right lat.
Turner is ready.
"Definitely," he said when asked if he could go five innings. "I was starting at the beginning of the month. I don't think I'd have any problem going five [innings], and depending on how stressful the innings were, getting back up and down wouldn't be a problem."
Turner did throw more pitches on the side after his outing Thursday.
"Whatever they decide, I'll go out there and do the best I can," Turner said.
The Cubs acquired Turner on Aug. 8 from the Marlins in exchange for two Minor League pitchers. Turner, 23, was 4-7 with a 5.97 ERA in 20 appearances (12 starts) for Miami.
Turner admitted he felt a little anxious Thursday because he wanted to preserve the Cubs' 2-0 lead.
"You feel like you have extra pressure, because you don't want to blow it for the starter, especially since I've been a starter for so long," Turner said. "I can appreciate that, coming out of the bullpen, keeping the team in the game, keeping us in the lead. It was fun to warm up like normal."
Watkins among familiar faces on Cubs
CHICAGO -- Logan Watkins felt right at home at Wrigley Field, even though he was just called up from Triple-A Iowa. He's not alone in players who have been promoted from the Minor League team.
"We were saying last night, it's like an Iowa Cubs party in here now," said Watkins, who started at second base on Friday. "It just shows the organization trusts us to come in."
Watkins, who was batting .256 at Iowa, was added to the Cubs' roster after Starlin Castro was placed on the bereavement list.
"Last year, I got sporadic at-bats, but I've been playing every day at Iowa this past month, so I'm ready to go," Watkins said. "I hate that Castro is going through what he has to go through. I'll be here until he gets back, and we'll see what happens."
Watkins' role at Iowa was to get on base and let Kris Bryant, Mike Olt, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler drive him in.
"That was one of the more talented teams I've ever played on," Watkins said. "It was fun to watch. Every day something cool would happen. Even guys like [Matt] Szczur, who aren't quite the high-profile guys, they're fun to watch, too. Guys like that, you get on base for Kris Bryant and Javy to hit the ball out of the park. We had a really good team and it was a lot of fun to play on."
Bryant has hit 41 home runs combined this season at Double-A Tennessee and Iowa, and Watkins has tried to get the third baseman to loosen up.
"He's going to play this game for a long time," Watkins said. "He's a fun kid to talk to. I hang with him in the dugout and talk to him. I try to get him to smile a little more. He takes it pretty serious. He's pretty intense -- but he's fun to play with."
Renteria will wait for signal before challenging
CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Rick Renteria will make sure he waits for the signal from the dugout and won't rely on a player's reaction before challenging a call.
On Thursday, Arismendy Alcantara thought he was hit by a pitch in the third inning, and Renteria challenged the call that the rookie was not plunked. Video did not support it, and the call stood.
"Do I believe he was hit by a pitch? I do," Renteria said Friday. "Do I believe there was conclusive enough evidence to show to everyone that he was? Probably not. As I went out, he takes first base -- he's not a very good actor. I truly did believe he was [hit by a pitch], but there wasn't enough evidence. It probably would've been more prudent for me to look in [to the dugout]."
Renteria often walks backward as he's headed out to chat with the umpires, waiting for a signal from the dugout about whether to challenge.
"We've played 100-plus games and it's the first time I've used the challenge, and it's ended up coming back and biting me in the rear," Renteria said.
That's because in the fourth inning, Renteria felt left fielder Matt Szczur had thrown out Joaquin Arias at home plate, but he couldn't challenge the call.
"That's one of those situations to make sure I have guys reviewing the plays [to] give me a definitive one way or the other if I can use it," Renteria said. "At that time, I was hoping I could get [Alcantara] on base. I really did think it hit him, based on his reactions. In this age of technology, I need video proof."
• Reliever Brian Schlitter began his rehab assignment on Thursday with the Cubs' Rookie League team in Mesa, Ariz., and he pitched one inning. Schlitter has been sidelined since Aug. 9 with right shoulder inflammation, and he had been rehabbing at the Cubs' Spring Training complex. There is no timetable for his return.
• Class A Kane County has set a single-season franchise record for home wins following Thursday's 7-3 victory over Clinton, which was their 51st at home. The Cougars have surpassed the 2001 team, which compiled a 50-20 home mark en route to winning the Midwest League championship. The Cougars now have won 84 games this season and are 51-15 at home, which leads both Major League and Minor League Baseball.
With 11 regular-season games remaining, the Cougars need five more wins to break the franchise record for most in a season, set by the '01 Cougars, who went 88-50 during the regular season.
• With the help of two of the Cubs' clubhouse attendants, Luis Valbuena fulfilled the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS on Friday in the shower. He was challenged by coach Franklin Font's daughter, Veronica, 20, and another friend in Venezuela. Valbuena's reaction?
"It was cold," he said.
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.