Chicago Cubs: Blake Parker

Cubs welcome back Barney, recall Rosscup

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
3:55
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs made a pair of roster moves Friday, reinstating Darwin Barney from the paternity list and calling up left-hander Zac Rosscup from Triple-A Iowa.

To make room for both players, right-handed pitchers Kyle Hendricks and Blake Parker were optioned back to Iowa.

Barney was not in the lineup Friday as Arismendy Alcantara started at second base. The 28-year-old Barney is batting .224 with a .261 on-base percentage in 70 games this season.

Rosscup is beginning his fourth stint with the Cubs this season. He has made a total of four appearances for the Cubs this year and has not been scored upon in four innings. He is 2-0 at Iowa with a 2.61 ERA in 20 appearances.

Hendricks got word of his demotion one day after making his major league debut at Cincinnati. He gave up four runs in six innings of the Cubs’ eventual 6-4 victory in 12 innings.

Parker, who had a 9.53 ERA in five appearances with the Cubs, has 18 saves and has a 1.44 ERA at Iowa this year, earning Pacific Coast League All-Star honors.

Alcantara, 3 others make Triple-A All-Stars

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
4:56
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Led by rising infield/outfield prospect Arismendy Alcantara, four members of the Iowa Cubs made the Triple-A All-Star Game, which will be played the day after the major league All-Star contest, July 16. Missing from the team is the Cubs' No. 1 prospect heading into the season, shortstop Javier Baez.

Alcantara, 22, will be joined by pitchers Kyle Hendricks (10-5, 3.58 ERA), Tsuyoshi Wada (9-4, 2.55) and closer Blake Parker (18 saves, 1.44). Alcantara is on a 12-game hitting streak heading into action on Thursday while playing second base and some outfield as he prepares for a possible promotion to the major leagues.

"I feel like he’s the underappreciated guy in our system," general manager Jed Hoyer said on Wednesday. "He has a chance to put up a pretty special year at Triple-A. When you look at his doubles, triples, homers and stolen bases, guys don’t normally do that at his age. We’re excited for him. Obviously, he’s on the [40-man] roster, which is nice for us. I’m not going to answer yes or no if he’s coming up [to the majors], but he’s certainly opened our eyes with the year he’s had."

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Rapid Reaction: Giants 4, Cubs 0

May, 28, 2014
May 28
12:14
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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SAN FRANCISCO -– The Chicago Cubs lost 4-0 to the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: Cubs starter Jake Arrieta wasn’t able to field a couple of ground balls hit back up the middle as they got to center field in the first inning and the Giants were able to take advantage. Two runs crossed the plate as Buster Posey hit a sacrifice fly and Michael Morse singled home the second run. The Giants added two more in the fifth. Again, Arrieta wasn’t hit hard, but Posey hit his second sacrifice fly while Pablo Sandoval blooped one in for an RBI hit. Meanwhile, Giants starter Tim Hudson rolled through the Cubs' lineup, giving up six hits and no walks in seven innings of work. The Cubs had two on and one out in the fourth but Luis Valbuena popped out and Welington Castillo struck out to end their lone threat.

What it means: Arrieta should only be displeased with his fielding, not his pitching. Sometimes balls are going to find holes and that’s exactly what happened to him on Tuesday. Yes, he could have used an extra strikeout here or there, but he limited the damage. It didn’t matter because the Cubs got shut out for the sixth time this season.

Parker recalled: Blake Parker threw a clean inning of relief on Tuesday after being recalled from Triple-A Iowa. Reliever Wesley Wright was put on paternity leave for up to three games as his wife is due.

What’s next: The Cubs and Giants play the rubber game of the series Wednesday afternoon when Edwin Jackson (3-4, 4.94) takes on Tim Lincecum (4-3, 4.55)

Cubs shake up bullpen numbers

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
1:46
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs made the somewhat drastic move on Thursday of going with 13 pitchers on their roster and 12 position players one day after using three pitchers in a ninth-inning blown save against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Rosscup
Ramirez
Blake Parker was sent down to Triple-A Iowa and outfielder Justin Ruggiano was placed on the disabled list allowing room for lefty Zac Rosscup and righty Neil Ramirez.

"Right now, at least for 15 days with Ruggiano down, and then we'll go from there," manager Rick Renteria said of using 13 pitchers. "We can use the pitching."

This comes on the heels of Cubs' starters going seven or more innings in the first three games of the series against Arizona but maybe Renteria was preparing for the next two days when Edwin Jackson (Thursday) and Carlos Villanueva (Friday) take the mound. Bullpens have been in use more often than not when they pitch.

But why did the Cubs choose to send down the righty Parker in favor of the lefty Rosscup? Maybe it has something to do with the lefties currently in the bullpen. James Russell and Wesley Wright have struggled, especially against left-handed hitting. Opposing lefty hitters are 5-for-10 against Wright this month and Russell has walked three and given up three hits, including a home run, in 11 at-bats against left-handed hitters.

"Rosscup has shown he's capable of relieving up here," Renteria said. "He did a nice job in New York."

Rosscup threw 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief as the 26th man on the roster in a doubleheader against the New York Yankees but was sent right back to Triple-A. Wright and Russell could be showing signs of fatigue due to heavy workloads over the past two years. Both are at the top of the league in appearances over that time frame. Either way, the Cubs bullpen is a mess right now with no clear-cut closer and overuse or ineffectiveness is the common denominator.

"The reality is you win or lose ballgames in the seventh, eighth and ninth inning," Renteria said. "You have to learn from these experiences. (Wednesday's) experience hopefully gives them something to build on and work with. Both the negative and the positive. Everything has to be useful and serve some purpose."

Renteria is right about the learning experience. If Pedro Strop's struggles on Wednesday make him better for it than it was worth the blown save. The Cubs are playing for the future. Figuring out who fits in and where is their lone priority right now.

And finding a closer.

Cubs recall Parker, option Rusin

April, 13, 2014
Apr 13
12:46
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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ST. LOUIS -- The Chicago Cubs recalled righty pitcher Blake Parker from Triple-A Iowa and sent lefty Chris Rusin back down to Triple-A after he threw five innings in Saturday’s 10-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

“Parker gives a fresh arm,” manager Rick Renteria said Sunday morning.

The Cubs have been using their right-handed relievers often this season, having played three extra-inning games already. Parker was one of the last cuts at the end of spring training.

“I didn’t really pitch the way I wanted to,” he said. “My arm felt good, my body felt good but I just wasn’t getting it done.”

Parker posted a 2.72 ERA in 49 relief appearances for the Cubs last season and is the all-time saves leader for Iowa with 42. The Cubs have an opening at closer now that Jose Veras has been relieved of those duties.

“It’s the hardest job for a pitcher, to get those last three outs,” Parker said. “I just want to get outs whether that be in the ninth inning or the sixth inning.”

Renteria has indicated he’ll use the best matchup when it comes to closing out games right now, until someone emerges as a longer-term solution.

Cubs sign 19 players to 1-year deals

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
2:50
PM CT
By ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
The Chicago Cubs agreed to contract terms Monday with 19 players all with fewer than three years of experience, including catcher Welington Castillo, outfielder Junior Lake and pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Also signed were pitchers Zac Rosscup, Chris Rusin, Dallas Beeler, Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm, Blake Parker Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon and Arodys Vizcaino. Infielders Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt, Christian Villanueva and Logan Watkins as well as outfielders Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur and Josh Vitters were also signed to contracts.

Terms of the contracts were not disclosed.

Day 4 Notes: Praise for Ryan Dempster

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
3:26
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MESA, Ariz. -- He might be gone, but former Chicago Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster isn’t forgotten, especially by one of his former protégés. Righty Jeff Samardzija reflected on Dempster’s time as his teammate one day after Dempster announced he would sit out the 2014 season mostly for health reasons.

“For 3-4 years I was down here (Arizona) with him and he was dragging me out of bed at six in the morning to go do Dempster workouts,” Samardzija said Monday morning. “That was great. He really showed me it might be November or December but there are things you can do to prepare for the season.”

Those workouts included climbing desert mountains and even ice skating. Samardzija thinks it’s not the last the baseball world has seen of Dempster.

“He doesn’t make any rash decisions,” Samardzija said. “It doesn’t sound like he’s totally done. I know what kind of competitor he is so sitting around and watching probably is not going to be the easiest pill to swallow so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back

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Day 2 Notes: Bonifacio could make 25-man roster

February, 15, 2014
Feb 15
4:22
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Emilio BonifacioAP Photo/Charlie RiedelEmilio Bonifacio has a good chance of making the Cubs' 25-man roster after being released by K.C.

MESA, Ariz. -- Though new Chicago Cubs infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio will certainly address his reasons for choosing the Cubs when he arrives at spring camp, it’s not hard to understand why he signed with them Saturday.

Bonifacio has a very good chance of making the Cubs' 25-man roster after being released earlier in the week by Kansas City. The Cubs have two openings among position players. Assuming they carry 12 pitchers, they have 11 other positions seemingly locked up:

Infield: Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro, Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy have jobs to go along with catchers Welington Castillo and George Kottaras.

Outfield: Nate Schierholtz, Ryan Sweeney, Justin Ruggiano, and Junior Lake are locks as well.

So there’s a spot open in the infield and outfield. Bonifacio plays both. In his career he’s appeared in the infield in 396 games and the outfield in 198. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s a seven-year veteran.

“He’s certainly been around in different organizations,” manager Rick Renteria said Saturday after morning workouts. “His experience surely doesn’t hurt us.”

So Bonifacio joins a group that includes 40-man roster guys like Logan Watkins, Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson and Mike Olt fighting for a spot. And there’s more competition with other non-roster invitees like Ryan Roberts, Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Mitch Maier and former rookie of the year, Chris Coghlan. Bonifacio should have a leg up on most of the competition.

Bullpen sessions: Newcomers Jose Veras and Jason Hammel were among pitchers to throw bullpen sessions Saturday but the most intriguing player might be highly touted prospect, righty Arodys Vizcaino.

“The ball comes out of his hand pretty easy,” Renteria said. “He snapped off really strong breaking pitches. You can see every now and then it might get away from him as it is for everyone early in the spring.”

Vizcaino is coming off two years of injuries but still can get his fastball into the upper 90’s. As previously stated by the front office, they’ll take things slow with Vizcaino as he’s ticketed for the middle of the bullpen right now -- either for the Cubs or Triple-A Iowa.

“I think he looked as good as we would want him to look right now,” Renteria said.

Cubs monitoring Castillo: Coming off right knee surgery the Cubs will keep an eye on their starting catcher.

“We’re cognizant that he had the issue with the knee,” Renteria said. “We’re going to monitor the innings that he catches just like anyone that comes off of something, especially a catcher.”

Renteria explained the caution is only for spring training.

Parker pukes: Renteria said the only “casualty” from Day 1 of bullpen sessions Friday was pitcher Blake Parker getting dehydrating and throwing up. It’s unusually hot for this time of year in Arizona, undoubtedly contributing to Parker’s woes.

“I wanted to keep going,” Parker said Saturday. “But the training staff said it probably wasn’t a good idea.”

Veras just a small piece for Cubs

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
8:49
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Jose Veras had a 3.02 ERA and 21 saves in 67 appearances for the Tigers and Astros last season.Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty ImagesJose Veras had a 3.02 ERA and 21 saves in 67 appearances for the Tigers and Astros last season.
CHICAGO -- He may end up making the most money of all the relievers, but the addition of potential closer Jose Veras to the Chicago Cubs' bullpen is just one small move to improve on a part of the team that wasn't very good in 2013.

Veras agreed to a deal Tuesday joining a group that includes Justin Grimm, Blake Parker, Hector Rondon, James Russell, Pedro Strop, Carlos Villanueva and newcomer Wesley Wright, among others. Prospect Arodys Vizcaino and Japanese pitcher Kuyji Fujikawa are rehabbing from injuries and are expected back in 2014 as well.

As a whole, the bullpen looks that much better than at the beginning of last season when Carlos Marmol anchored the back end of a group that blew 26 saves and produced the third-worst ERA (4.04) in the National League. The turnover by midseason was astounding as only Rondon and Russell survived from start to finish.

"That was one of our biggest regrets from last year," general manager Jed Hoyer said last week at the winter meetings. "We have spent a lot of time about the bullpen, thinking of ways to get better."

At the same time, Hoyer was quick to point out the holdovers are better positioned to have success next year. The Cubs simply have more depth and now are "redundant" in several roles to withstand injury or ineffectiveness.

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Cubs season review: Bullpen

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
11:30
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Jesse Rogers recaps the Cubs by position and looks at what changes might be in store for 2014.

Pedro StropDilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesPedro Strop showed potential after coming to Chicago and could be the closer next season.
Talk about an upside down aspect of the Cubs in 2013, the bullpen would qualify. Just two members from Opening Day -- James Russell and Hector Rondon -- made it through the season unscathed. Injuries and ineffectiveness were the norm but there were bright spots, especially after the first couple of months. Kevin Gregg solidified the ninth inning, at least for a while, and a few other names emerged with potential for next season and beyond.

The good: Let's start with Gregg. No matter what you thought of him at season's close or his mouthing off about his role in the final weeks, Gregg was a savior in the middle months of the season. He was 12 for 12 in save chances to begin his second stint as a Cub and finished with 33 for the season. Not bad for a guy who was picked up off the scrap heap. His pinpoint control -- especially with his fastball -- was his signature. Juxtaposed against the first few weeks of Carlos Marmol and Kyuji Fujikawa, Gregg looked even better. Pedro Strop might be the heir apparent for that role as his arm was electric at times after coming over in a mid-season trade with Baltimore. Meanwhile, Rondon improved as the season went on and might be in line for a set-up role. Russell was just OK after a stellar 2012 but remained a mainstay through some tough times. Justin Grimm, Matt Guerrier and Blake Parker all had moments in the second half that could give them a leg up come 2014, if healthy.

The bad: The Cubs went through relievers in 2013 like they've gone through managers over the years. Starting the season with Marmol as the closer was a big mistake. It didn't help when Fujikawa went down with a season-ending injury as the Cubs went on to blow 26 saves. Shawn Camp was predictably ineffective due to his workload the season before and Hisanori Takahashi failed as a second lefty in the pen. Michael Bowden, Kameron Loe, Brooks Raley, Alberto Cabrera and Eduardo Sanchez are among those with ERAs north of 4.30. Even though Rondon came on late he finished with an ERA of 4.77. If not for the expansion of rosters in September, the Cubs would have overused Russell as they had no other competent lefty in the bullpen all season. That's on the front office.

Who's next: Going outside the organization for a reliever or two is a distinct possibility but there's a good chance the Cubs will also look from within to fill some roles. It's doubtful Gregg will be back which means Strop could be the man to close games with Fujikawa, if healthy, helping out. Rondon, Russell and Parker should have jobs, if none are moved, along with Carlos Villanueva, assuming he's not starting. Another left-hander could be essential as the appearances start to pile up for Russell. Raley or Zach Rosscup will have to show they are ready for prime time.

2014 outlook: When you're in the cellar there's only one way to go: up. The Cubs' bullpen ranked 25th in baseball in ERA (4.04) in 2013 and blew those 26 saves, second worst in the National League. Better decisions out of spring training are needed with another veteran arm or two to solidify things. By year's end the 'pen wasn't bad so picking up where they left off won't be the worst thing. If Strop becomes a legitimate closer, 2014 might be deemed a success for that alone.

Cubs bullpen keeps surprising

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
7:53
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- At the beginning of the season, the Chicago Cubs' bullpen was a mess causing upheaval throughout the season.

Yes, the occasional blown game still occurs but just as the season is winding down, the relief corps might be coming together.

At least the names have been the same since the trade deadline, and those same names might make the offseason task look a little easier. It was only a few months ago it looked the Cubs would need to find a whole new bullpen.

“They’re all going to be in the mix,” manager Dale Sveum said after he used five relievers to secure a 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday.

Think about it. It wasn’t that long ago it looked like the front office would have to bring in a whole new group of pitchers. After all, only two relievers, Hector Rondon and James Russell, remain from Opening Day. Closing games has been a problem.

“We’ve had a little trouble with that sometimes, but you get the matchups and do some things, and, obviously, you get to your setup guy and closer and see what happens,” Sveum said.

On Saturday, it worked to perfection. And Sveum’s moves felt like the Cubs were in a pennant race. After Carlos Villanueva pitched 1⅓ innings in relief of Chris Rusin, Sveum went to three relievers to get three different batters. Then, Pedro Strop pitched the eighth while Kevin Gregg worked the ninth for his 28th save.

“To put five guys out there and finish off the game, that’s what we’re hoping to do every time,” Gregg said. “What we got out there is working pretty well. I like the pieces that we have. They fit together good."

At least on Saturday they did. Russell came in to face lefty Chase Utley. He popped out. Righty Blake Parker got his man -- Carlos Ruiz -- before Strop and Gregg finished things off. Maybe this is the crux of the bullpen for 2014.

“You think about it, yeah,” Parker said of next season. “You still try to get out there and show you can pitch, and, hopefully, it can be good for next year or down the road.”

Parker has come back from an injury to post a 2.13 ERA. Russell has struggled some but has probably been overused as the only lefty reliever, while Gregg has been a godsend since Carlos Marmol and Kyuji Fujikawa were ineffective and injured, respectively.

Then there is Strop. Acquired from the Baltimore Orioles for Scott Feldman, he might have the brightest future.

“I saw it in Baltimore, so I knew what we were in for,” Gregg said of his teammate. “Electric stuff. That’s a guy that’s real comfortable with what he’s doing.”

His perfect eighth inning lowered his ERA to 2.22. The Cubs' bullpen was so good on Saturday, Gregg lamented the fact he thought he gave up the only hit over the final five innings. Villanueva gave up one, too, so neither was “perfect.” It’s a far cry from April and May when blown leads were the norm. Maybe the Cubs' front office will indeed have less work to do on its bullpen than first thought.

No one could see that coming.

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 4, Phillies 3

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
7:08
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Here’s a quick look at the Chicago Cubs' 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday:

How it happened: Starlin Castro hit his first home run in exactly a month to give the Cubs their first lead of the day in the sixth inning, and it would hold up as five relievers helped shut down the Phillies over the final five innings of the game. The Cubs trailed three times but fought back with single runs in the second, third and fifth innings before Castro’s winning homer. Cole Gillespie had a hit and sacrifice fly to drive in two runs, while Welington Castillo’s base knock in the third inning was one of three times the Cubs tied the game before taking the lead for good. Kevin Frandsen homered for the Phillies, who also got RBI hits from Carlos Ruiz and Michael Young. The teams played sloppy early, but the Cubs settled down as Carlos Villanueva, James Russell, Blake Parker, Pedro Strop and Kevin Gregg came on in relief of Chris Rusin to secure the win. Combined, they gave up two hits.

What it means: Before the game, manager Dale Sveum was lamenting the fact the Cubs had blown so many leads this season -- especially at home.

Maybe the bullpen heard his words, because it came up big.

Sveum used four different pitchers to retire four consecutive batters in the seventh and eighth innings. The strategy worked, as Russell took care of lefty Chase Utley, and Sveum's right-handed relievers did the same to the right-handed Phillies. For one of the few times this season, the Cubs grinded out a home win.

Outside the box: The Cubs will get some reinforcements as rosters expand on Sunday, but only a couple of players are sure things to be called up right now.

Ryan Sweeney will be activated from the disabled list and Luis Valbuena shouldn’t be far behind him. Expect Brooks Raley to join Russell in the bullpen as another lefty option, but Sveum said the final call-ups haven’t been determined yet. Don’t expect an influx of players, as several from Triple-A Iowa are already here. Third baseman Mike Olt would be an interesting option, but he’s struggled for much of this season.

What’s next: The rubber game of the series takes place on Sunday when Jake Arrieta (2-3, 5.91 ERA) takes on Kyle Kendrick (10-11, 4.40).

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 7, D-backs 6 (12)

July, 25, 2013
7/25/13
1:14
AM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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PHOENIX -- The Chicago Cubs blew a six-run lead but came back to knock off the Arizona Diamondbacks in 12 innings on Wednesday night.

How it happened: Nate Schierholtz doubled in the winning run off of David Hernandez in the 12th inning, scoring Anthony Rizzo from first base. The Cubs got RBI hits from Rizzo and Schierholtz in the third inning.

Rookie sensation Junior Lake continues to smoke the baseball. Playing left field in place of Alfonso Soriano, Lake doubled in each of his first two at bats and now has 14 hits in six games. Schierholtz hit a monster three-run home run in the Cubs' four-run fifth inning. Jeff Samardzija made it through 5⅔ innings, giving up three runs despite loading the bases in three separate innings. Blake Parker relieved Samardzija and gave up a three-run home run to Paul Goldschmidt in the sixth. The D-backs got a run in the bottom of the ninth off closer Kevin Gregg to send it to extras.

What it means: Gregg had a shaky ninth inning, blowing his third save of the season. Samardzija was denied his seventh win. David DeJesus returned after six weeks on the disabled list with two hits and two runs scored. Plenty of scouts were on hand to watch Cubs players, including DeJesus and Schierholtz, who knocked in five runs. Relievers James Russell and Gregg were also being evaluated.

Outside the box: Soriano sat out the game. He will inform the Cubs in the next couple of days if he will accept a trade to the New York Yankees. Soriano intimated before the game that he would gladly accept a deal back to the Bronx. Team president Theo Epstein said that he would inform the "team of interest" no sooner than Thursday about Soriano's decision. Former Cub Matt Garza won his first start with the Texas Rangers, going 7⅓ innings and giving up one run to beat the Yankees.

Up next: The finale of this four-game series features RHP Carlos Villanueva (2-6, 4.16 ERA) against LHP Wade Miley (6-8, 4.03).

Cubs' bullpen retools and is alive and well

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
12:00
AM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs have won 10 of their past 15 games with a newly constructed bullpen. Chicago's starting rotation has been stellar all season, but the makeshift relief corps has made a big difference in the Cubs' recent surge.

Gone from the bullpen that began the season is closer Carlos Marmol. Setup men Kyuji Fujikawa and Shawn Camp are also out of the picture. Only left-hander James Russell remains from the back end of the unaccomplished first group of relievers.

[+] EnlargePedro Strop
David Banks/USA TODAY SportsCubs reliever Pedro Strop has been an effective setup man, and could be their closer of the future.
"We have a lot of big arms now," Russell said. "We have [Henry] Rodriguez come in and throwing 100 mph. We have [Pedro] Strop, who we just picked up, and he comes in throwing 96 mph from all angles. [Kevin] Gregg has been lights-out at the end of the game. We have Blake Parker coming into his own. All and all, we have a really tight group out there."

On Thursday night, Parker, Russell, Strop and Gregg combined for two innings of one-hit relief in a 3-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Earlier this spring, the Cubs' morale was at quite a low when the bullpen led the majors in blown saves. Before Gregg was picked up as a free agent, the bullpen seemed to be in a state of panic. Gregg has converted 16 of 18 save opportunities since signing in April. The rest of the relievers have been a combined 5-of-21.

"This is a much more functional bullpen than we have had before," manager Dale Sveum said. "With Strop and some of the others now, I am able to do so many things that I wasn't able to do before."

Numerous teams are calling the Cubs to express interest in trading for Gregg and Russell, according to scouting sources. The dilemma for the Cubs' front office is whether to trade from an area that took almost half a season to get right.

"Our bullpen came in and shut down one of the better lineups," said Cubs starter Edwin Jackson, who won his sixth game of the season Thursday after pitching seven innings of three-hit ball. "We picked each other up. That is big when you have a team that can pick each other up."

Slight wobble can't derail Cubs' bullpen

July, 7, 2013
7/07/13
6:19
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – After 11 innings from their relievers against the team with the best record in baseball, everybody in the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen was walking tall Sunday, even the guy who nearly let it all get away.

Kevin Gregg might have blown the save with one out to go in the ninth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the relief corps was still able to gang tackle a team that has played better than anybody this season.

“It wasn’t what the doctor ordered, another two-out, two-strike homer on bullpen day, but they did a great job,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “To give up two runs in seven innings is a great job.”

Perhaps Sveum wasn’t considering Villanueva a member of the bullpen. The long man got the call to start Sunday because of a rotation void and kept the Pirates in check for a 4-3 victory that not only gave the Cubs the series victory, but consecutive series victories at home.

Villanueva gave up just one run on three hits over four innings to start, throwing 69 pitches in the process, his most since throwing 80 on May 14. The rotation opening, left when Scott Feldman was traded to the Baltimore Orioles, figures to be Villanueva’s moving forward.

“It just feels good to have some music on after a game,” Villanueva said of the clubhouse practice of indulging in entertainment only after victories. “Winning this series against these guys who are in first place, I think it definitely cures a lot of aches and pains and I think everybody is healthy.”

Following Villanueva came a parade of six Cubs relievers, starting with Hector Rondon, who gave up a run of his own in 1 2/3 innings. Pedro Strop, James Russell and Blake Parker all had scoreless outings as the Cubs took a 3-2 lead to the bottom of the ninth inning.

That’s where Gregg stumbled, though, with his second blown save in a span of eight days after successfully converting his first 12 chances. The Pirates' Starling Marte crushed a two-out, 3-2 offering into the seats just to the left side of dead center field.

“We were one strike away there,” Gregg said. “I made some good pitches to him and made him conscious of a ball in. I felt like I made a good pitch away from him and he did a good job of going to get it.”

Matt Guerrier then came on to pitch the final two innings a day after he had already pitched two. Guerrier was on the emergency-use-only list and a tie game after nine innings qualified as an emergency.

The right-hander now has consecutive two-inning scoreless outings after taking the loss at Oakland last week in his Cubs debut.

“It’s always nice to beat the team on top,” said Guerrier, who plans on doing extra work in the coming days to help his arm bounce back. “They have been playing some good baseball, and for us to take two out of three here, we’ll see what happens.”

Guerrier, at least, will get to be a spectator when the Cubs travel across town Monday for a makeup game against the White Sox. Sveum said his new right-hander will get at least a day to rest to recuperate.

It might have been a victory where a Scott Hairston home run gave the Cubs a late lead and a sacrifice fly from Dioner Navarro won it in the 11th, but it was really a day to celebrate a bullpen that hasn’t had the best of seasons. Even Gregg could get behind that concept.

“The bullpen, on a whole, was outstanding today,” Gregg said. “It kept us in the ballgame the entire time and we ended up winning.”

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OTHER LEADERS
BAA. Rizzo .284
HRA. Rizzo 25
RBIA. Rizzo 59
RA. Rizzo 71
OPSA. Rizzo .908
ERAJ. Samardzija 2.83
SOE. Jackson 108