CHICAGO -- After taking over the team lead in home runs (four) and tying for RBIs (nine), Chicago Cubs third baseman Mike Olt might finally be given the chance to play more -- or at least he will Wednesday after helping the Cubs to a 9-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday night.
"We talked about him gradually getting into that role," manager Rick Renteria said after the game. "Will I play him again tomorrow? Yes."
That's good news for fans of Olt who have seen him go to the bench too often this month even after hitting home runs. Not this time as he helped put the game out of reach with a three-run, opposite-field shot in a four-run fifth inning.
"Hitting is tough, especially if you do get sporadic at-bats," Olt said. "It is tough, but I definitely think it's made me a stronger hitter. I'm going to carry that into playing multiple games."
No one will know if the Cubs' strategy of platooning Olt to start the season was the right idea. The facts are he's hitting only .195, but his four home runs in 43 plate appearances are pretty impressive. It means he has hit a home run in 9.8 percent of his at-bats. Albert Pujols, who leads the majors in home runs, has hit them in 9.5 percent this season.
"Everything is very calculated," Renteria said. "I'm going to throw him out there and let him run with it a little bit. We're still measuring everything, we're trying to be guarded. He'll be in there tomorrow."
CHICAGO -– The Chicago Cubs beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 9-2 on Tuesday night to take the first two games of the series. Here’s a quick look:
How it happened: Mike Olt broke open a close contest with a three-run home run in the fifth inning while Jason Hammel threw seven solid innings as the Cubs handed the Diamondbacks their 18th loss of the month. Nate Schierholtz drove in the first two runs of the game with an RBI single in the third inning and a sacrifice fly in the fourth before Olt hit his fourth home run of the year. Hammel stymied the Diamondbacks just as Travis Wood did the night before. His lone mistake came with the Cubs up 5-0 as Tuffy Gosewisch went deep in the sixth. The Cubs added four more in the eighth on a Luis Valbunea bases-loaded walk, followed by a Justin Ruggiano base hit. Hammel won his third game; the Cubs have won seven all month.
What it means: Hammel is starting to rack up the solid starts, which is going to make him attractive to other teams. It’s doubtful the Cubs would extend a long-term contract for the 31-year-old, but he should bring back a nice haul of prospects if he keeps pitching as he is. Meanwhile, Olt took over the team lead in home runs and is tied with Starlin Castro for most RBI (nine). All this in limited starts this year. His power is real as he went out to right field on a tough hitting night with the wind blowing in and temperatures near freezing.
Castro’s night: He was 2-for-4 at the plate and made several nice plays in the field, including back-to-back in the top of the eighth inning. First he made the right decision on a backhand play and threw out speedy Chris Owings, then went diving up the middle to get Gosewisch. Castro has had a great first month of the season after coming back from a hamstring injury suffered during spring training.
What’s next: The Cubs will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first-ever game at Wrigley Field on Wednesday afternoon. Former Cubs players and baseball dignitaries will be on hand, including commissioner Bud Selig. Jeff Samardzija (0-2, 1.29 ERA) faces Wade Miley (2-2, 4.35 ERA) as the Cubs look for their first series win of the year.
CHICAGO -- Jason Hammel pitched seven strong innings, Mike Olt hit a three-run homer and Nate Schierholtz drove in a pair of early runs to lead the Chicago Cubs to a 9-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday night.
Hammel (3-1) allowed just one run and four hits in seven innings to lower his ERA to 2.60.
Olt still is batting below .200 for the season (.195), but has four homers and nine runs batted in.
The Cubs, who've won three of four, have won back-to-back games for the first time this season. They last won consecutive games on Sept. 9 and 10 of last season against the Cincinnati Reds. Their last consecutive home wins came on Sept. 4 and 6 against Miami and Milwaukee.
Brandon McCarthy (0-4) managed to lower his ERA from 7.11 to 6.23. He allowed five runs -- one earned -- and seven hits in five innings.
"If something goes wrong in your life for a month you think it's going to be bad for 12 months?" he asked rhetorically on Tuesday afternoon. Of his struggles, he said "it's not going to be there for six months. It's going to be there for a little bit. And warriors don't give up on it. That's what I am. I'm a warrior. One day it's going to turn around and that's it. It's gone."
"I'm sure we haven't seen the best of him," manager Rick Renteria said. "He'd be the first to tell you that."
Renteria is backing up his player as much as he can, but the struggles continue. At least Veras started to find the strike zone Sunday as his previously wild curveball produced two outs, including a strikeout. But he still gave up two long balls on sinker/fastballs.
"My curve and my changeup are better," Veras said.
You have to start somewhere as Veras will need some work to lower his 15.43 ERA. Renteria vowed to find it for him.
"It could be at any moment," Renteria said. "We could be up by 10 or down. He needs to pitch."
It just won't be in pressure situations unless the Cubs get desperate. Veras doesn't care. He just wants a chance to prove he can do it.
"What doesn't kill you will make you stronger," Veras said. "It will turn. You think it's going to be bad all day? And then two weeks later you don't even remember what happened."
“I think he has a short stint,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Kind of like what we did at the end of spring training.”
“I got to throw everything,” he said of his Monday outing. “Got built up.”
Arrieta gave up three home runs in 5.2 innings against Clearwater but says the wind was blowing out and isn’t too concerned with the results, though he would like to be even sharper.
“Still need to be more efficient with my changeup,” Arrieta said.
Arrieta was acquired last season from Baltimore for pitcher Scott Feldman and immediately impressed with his devastating off-speed pitches, especially his curveball. The knock has been his control, as he’s averaged four walks per nine innings in his career. When healthy, he’ll be given a chance to pitch his way into the core group the Cubs hope to win with in the near future.
“Just try and bring what I bring to the table and help the guys around me out and hopefully string some wins together and get this thing going in a more positive direction,” Arrieta said.
Arrieta gave up five runs on Monday but produced a 0.73 ERA in three rehab starts with Double-A Tennessee. He owns a 5.23 career ERA in the majors but threw well after the trade to the Cubs. He was 4-2 with a 3.66 ERA in nine starts. His return will mean a move to the bullpen for Carlos Villanueva, who's struggled in his last two starts. Villanueva will get one or two more depending on when the Cubs activate Arrieta.
In the first month of the season, it's the Cubs' pitching prospects who have impressed. Here's a look at what's happening down on the farm:
Triple-A Iowa starter Kyle Hendricks arguably threw his best game of April on Monday night when he beat Round Rock (Texas) and former Cub Scott Baker. Hendricks improved to 3-1, giving up just two hits and two walks in six innings, striking out six. His ERA is 3.65 after winning his third straight start following a shaky opening day. That coincides with Hendricks' spring training where he struggled early but finished strong. And it's consistent with his scouting reports, as well: He's a quick learner.
The most impressive starter at Iowa so far is Tsuyoshi Wada. He leads the Pacific Coast League with a 0.84 ERA and a 0.56 WHIP, having giving up just 12 hits/walks in 21 innings on the mound. Unlike Hendricks, Wada did not look good in the spring, but as a lefty, he could be used in a very specific situation if the Cubs need him. It's early, but Wada is off to a nice start after a rough time in Arizona in March.
Lefty Eric Jokisch throws Tuesday afternoon. In two of three starts this season, he's given up zero earned runs, but he got hit hard in the other one, as has Chris Rusin so far this month. His ERA is 6.32 after giving up four runs in six innings over the weekend. Rusin did have one decent relief appearance for the Cubs in St. Louis recently.
Scott Hairston last season, has a 1.15 ERA after three starts and has looked as good as he did after the trade to the Cubs last year.
At Class A Daytona, flamethrower Arodys Vizcaino earned his first save Monday night. He's given up one run in six innings. The Cubs want him in warm weather to start the season, and he could make a jump to the big leagues later, as well. Even at Class A Kane County, there is a wave of pitchers off to good starts. Jen-Ho Tseng and Duane Underwood have been impressive in the early going.
As for the hitting prospects, some of the headlines haven't been as big as they were in the spring. Javier Baez (.152, two homers, three RBIs) is just back from an injury and had a slow first couple of weeks of the season. Jorge Soler remains sidelined with a hamstring problem. Kris Bryant (.284, 4, 10) is doing well at Double-A and might be one of the first to get a promotion to Triple-A if he keeps it up. Albert Almora (.286, 1, 7) is progressing nicely at Class A, as well.
But it's the pitchers who have stood out, and because of the nature of the game, they might be the first ones to make big league appearances. Rusin is a good example. He threw five innings in relief and then was sent right back down. Expect a cup of coffee for some of the above names as the season progresses. After all, the Cubs need all the arms they can find.
Only 4 pitchers in history have homered in each of their 1st five MLB seasons: Claude Hendrix Pat Malone Dontrelle Willis TRAVIS WOOD #Reds— High Heat Stats (@HighHeatStats) April 22, 2014
Wood hit .222 with three home runs last year, and while we won't quite declare him the new Mike Hampton yet, there are similarities in that both are/were smallish lefties who could hit (Hampton hit seven home runs for the Rockies in 2001 and hit .344 the next season with three home runs).
More importantly, Wood is off to a great start on the mound (2.52 ERA), so far proving his 2013 breakout wasn't a fluke. In 25 innings, he has 28 K's and four walks and two home runs allowed. That's a big boost in his strikeout rate from 2013 -- 17.5 percent to 25.7 percent -- and if this is a real improvement then it's time to start thinking of him as an elite starter.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, while Wood and Jeff Samardzija have allowed just 14 runs in their eight starts, those two are a combined 1-4 as the Cubs are next-to-last in the NL in runs.
Other quick thoughts from Monday's action:
- New Pirates first baseman Ike Davis hit a grand slam and then the Pirates scored runs in the eighth and ninth to beat the Reds 6-5. The Reds have an MLB-worst 5.77 bullpen ERA with an atrocious 1.72 WHIP. J.J. Hoover and Manny Parra have really struggled, so even Aroldis Chapman's return isn't an automatic fix. As for Davis, he's been plagued by inconsistency in his career, but we're not that far removed from the second half of 2012 when he hit .255/.346/.542 with 20 home runs. Who knows if it will work out, but it was a good risk by the Pirates to get him. Sure, you worry about all the strikeouts and low average you're going to get from Davis and Pedro Alvarez but they may also combine for 65 home runs.
- Some sweet fielding plays on Monday. Loved this double play by Ruben Tejeda and Daniel Murphy for the Mets and this slick bare-handed play by Albert Pujols. Tejeda made another diving stop and out as the Mets blanked the Cardinals 2-0 behind Jenrry Mejia's 6.2 scoreless innings and Kyle Farnsworth's first save.
- Nice 4-3 win for the Rangers over the A's on a night Yu Darvish didn't have a dominant outing, with eight hits and four walks in six innings. Fun fact: Prince Fielder has already been intentionally walked nine times, the most ever for an AL player in April. He's hitting just .205 but opposing managers still want to get a righty-righty matchup when possible.
- Fielder's old teammate in Detroit, some guy named Miguel Cabrera, continues to struggle with a .206/.275/.333 line and one home run. It's gone relatively unnoticed because he's Miguel Cabrera and we expect him to heat up soon enough -- and the Tigers are still 9-7 after losing to John Danks on Monday -- but this is a guy who never has a bad month (last September, when he was injured, being the exception). He only has one opposite-field hit all season. Last year, 55 of his 193 hits went to right.
- Keep an eye on Corey Dickerson, who gets a chance to play for the Rockies with Michael Cuddyer on the DL. He can hit and went 3-for-4 with one of the five home runs the Rockies hit against the Giants.
- Things are turning ugly in Seattle. The Mariners returned home to face the Astros with Felix Hernandez pitching and put up a stinkbomb of a game for their seventh straight loss. An error by Kyle Seager in the sixth inning led to four unearned runs as Hernandez gave up three run-scoring hits with two outs. Dustin Ackley was moved up to the No. 2 spot in the lineup and promptly went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Justin Smoak is hitting .170 after his big opening series against the Angels. Seager and Brad Miller are hitting under .200. Leadoff hitter Abraham Almonte has 28 strikeouts in 19 games. Looks like the same old Mariners.
CHICAGO -- Forget about Jeff Samardzija for a moment. If the Chicago Cubs don’t lock up starter Travis Wood to a long-term deal sometime soon, their rebuilding plans will really take a hit.
At 27, Wood is younger by two years and certainly won’t be looking for the same kind of a mega-deal Samardzija wants. Plus, he’s proving to be every bit the pitcher that his teammate is -- and right now he might be one of the Cubs' better hitters. Wood homered and doubled, driving in four runs in Chicago's 5-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night.
Oh, and he threw seven innings of one-run ball while striking out a career-high nine. His ERA is 2.52 in the opening month.
“He’s another guy that’s Steady Eddy,” manager Rick Renteria said afterward. “He goes out there and does his thing. He gets better every year."
That he does. Wood was an All-Star last season, and he’s picking up right where he left off. Monday he did it with his fastball, striking out seven of his nine victims with that pitch.
“You don’t have to get funny,” Renteria said. “It was well located.”
But just as a season ago, Wood impressed as much with his bat and athleticism as with his arm. Since last May, he has a solo home run, a two-run shot, a three-run homer and a grand slam, according to ESPN Stats & Information. After Monday’s first two hits, he came up with the bases loaded in the sixth inning, prompting Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson to make a pitching change. How often does that happen with the opposing hurler at the plate?
“I guess it feels good that they kind of respect you up there and you’re doing your job,” Wood said. “I’m just not in the 9-hole to fill a spot. You have to try and be as best you can at it.”
He grounded into a double play after admittedly swinging for the fences. Wood is more than adequate at the plate, as his seven career home runs attest. Add it all up and he’s become a keeper in the Cubs' rotation. They need as much pitching as they can get, especially if Samardzija is on the move. Renteria was asked if he would like to be able to pencil Wood into the rotation for the next five years.
“I think everyone would,” he responded.
Wood is one year behind Samardzija in terms of arbitration -- he has two more years after this one before he becomes a free agent --- so there’s no real hurry, but the Cubs have shown a propensity to lock players up, as long as the players give a hometown discount to the team.
Unlike Samardzija, Wood might be willing to do that, considering he hasn’t made nearly as much in his career to date.
After winning his first game of the season almost single-handedly, it might be a good idea to start discussing options with the left-hander. And maybe think of batting him higher in the lineup until reinforcements come.
“He’s really coming into his own,” Renteria said.
Wood has become a keeper. That much we know.
CHICAGO -- Travis Wood hit a three-run homer and drove in four runs to back his nine-strikeout performance on the mound, leading the Chicago Cubs to a 5-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night.
Wood (1-2) gave up a run and six hits over seven innings. His four RBIs and nine strikeouts matched career highs.
Bronson Arroyo (1-2) allowed five runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings for Arizona. The Diamondbacks have lost nine of 10 games and have the worst record in the majors (5-17).
Ryan Kalish followed Castillo's RBI single with a single of his own to extend the inning. Bronson Arroyo fell behind in the count 1-0 before Wood hit a hanging slider for a three-run shot into the left field bleachers. It was Wood's seventh career home run.
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-1 on Monday night in the first game of a four-game series. Here’s a quick look at the game:
How it happened: Travis Wood hit and pitched his way to his first victory of the season as he homered and threw seven innings of one-run ball. After Welington Castillo drove in the game’s first run with an RBI single in the second inning, Wood followed with a three-run shot to left field. Two innings later, he drove in another run with a double to deep center. Meanwhile, the left-hander was great on the mound, giving up just six hits without a walk while striking out a career-high nine batters. The Diamondbacks' run came on Mark Trumbo's league-leading seventh home run, but that was Wood’s only blemish. Hector Rondon pitched a clean eighth inning, extending his scoreless streak from last season to 17.2 innings.
What it means: This was vintage Wood. He worked both sides of the plate, up and down -- and did it quickly. And he helped his cause with his bat. Wood is considered one of the better athletes on the team, and proved again why he’s one of the better pitchers -- probably one that the Cubs should lock up to a long-term contract sooner rather than later. He lowered his ERA to 2.52 and reminded everyone why he was the Cubs' lone All-Star last season. ... The Cubs improved to 6-12 on the season while Arizona fell to 5-17.
Wood at the plate: According to ESPN Stats & Information, Wood’s past four home runs have included a three-run shot (Monday), a solo blast (last July 28), a two-run homer (last May 19) and a grand slam (last May 30). The last pitcher to accomplish the “homer cycle” in less than a year was Larry Christenson of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1977-1978. ... It was the seventh home run of Wood's career. His four RBIs either matched or surpassed what four other Cubs in Monday's lineup have for this season. In fact, starter Bronson Arroyo was pulled as Wood came up for a third time, with the bases loaded in the sixth. Now that’s respect. Wood hit into a double play.
Arrieta pitches: Cubs starter Jake Arrieta threw 5.2 innings for Class-A Daytona on Monday night. He gave up three earned runs on five hits and two walks while striking out seven. He also gave up three home runs. The Cubs haven’t decided if Arrieta is ready to return from the disabled list, where he has been with a stiff shoulder since the season started. Manager Rick Renteria indicated that fifth starter Carlos Villanueva will get at least one more start later this week. Villanueva’s ERA is 10.93 after three starts and two relief appearances this season.
What’s next: Game 2 of the series takes place Tuesday night featuring Jason Hammel (2-1, 3.05 ERA) taking on Brandon McCarthy (0-3, 7.11 ERA).
“It was fun for me to see [Cincinnati Reds closer Jonathan] Broxton warming up in the ninth inning of an 8-2 ballgame yesterday [Sunday],” Renteria said Monday afternoon. “These guys didn’t quit. We kept it going. Broxton was hot. He was waiting to see what was going to happen.”
Yes, Broxton was up in the ninth inning as the Cubs put a couple of players on base, but the game was still well in hand for the Reds and simply having a pitcher warm up doesn’t sound like much to brag about. But Renteria is trying to grasp onto anything to keep his team focused. Even in losing he wants the Cubs to have fun.
“If they go out there and live in misery for nine innings, that’s kind of tough to exist,” he said. “The constant is to know that every time they go out on the field you have a chance to win.”
You can only believe that for so long. Soon -- if not already -- the Cubs needs to transition this season from “team” to “individual,” as in which individuals are carrying their weight and which ones might be here long term. All the “we never quit” stuff is great but most teams don’t quit, especially in April.
The Cubs can fight tooth and nail all season but if the good prospects and mainstays are struggling -- or not playing -- it won’t mean a thing. You win with talent and production, not with cheerleading.
“I see bits of improvement,” Renteria said. “The process will lead to the ultimate goal.”
Renteria is correct about that last statement and that’s what the Cubs should be focusing on. And yes, it does include playing hard until the end. But they need the right players on the field, playing every day for nearly 162 games to get the most out of this season. Experience trumps playing hard -- or having fun.
“I come out to the ball field and quite frankly by default I’m really happy I’m out here,” Renteria said. “The icing on the cake is the victory.”
The Cubs could use some frosting.
Monday, 7:05 p.m.: Travis Wood (0-2, 3.00 ERA) vs. Bronson Arroyo (1-1, 9.95)
Tuesday, 7:05 p.m: Jason Hammel (2-1, 3.05) vs. Brandon McCarthy (0-3, 7.11)
Wednesday, 1:20 p.m.: Jeff Samardzija (0-2, 1.29) vs. Wade Miley (2-2, 4.35)
Thursday, 1:20 p.m.: Edwin Jackson (1-1, 5.40) vs. Mike Bolsinger (0-1, 10.29)
Cubs record: At 5-12 the Cubs are in last place in the Central Division and haven't won a series yet this season. The last time they went the month of April without a series win was in 1997, the year they started 0-14, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The Cubs are inching their way toward matching that feat with three series left in April.
Who's hot/not: Emilio Bonifacio has found his stroke again. He was 5-for-10 with two walks against the Cincinnati Reds over the weekend but pitchers Carlos Villanueva and Jose Veras continue to struggle. Villanueva has given up 19 hits in his last two starts and has suffered a quarter of the Cubs' losses. Veras' ERA rose again (15.43) after giving up two home runs on Sunday.
100th anniversary: Wrigley Field hosted its first game on Aprils 23, 1914, played by the Chicago Federals and Kansas City Packers. In honor of the anniversary, the Cubs will wear Chi-Fed jerseys while the Diamondbacks will don throwback KC Packer uniforms. In addition, many special guests will be in attendance, including former Cubs players and baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. The Chicago Bears, who called Wrigley Field home for 50 years, will be recognized. Sue Quigg, grandniece of former Cubs owner Charles Weeghman, will throw the game's ceremonial first pitch using the 100-year-old ball her grandmother Dessa Weeghman threw at a Chi-Feds game a century ago.