Chicago Cubs: Carlos Silva
Alfonso Soriano’s game-tying hit and Blake DeWitt’s go-ahead double were the keys to the Cubs’ win over the Pirates on Saturday. But it was the team’s bullpen that paved the way for a victory after starter Carlos Zambrano left the game due to leg and hand cramps in the 7th inning.
Here’s Saturday’s bullpen log that helped hold the Pirates in check before the Cubs’ 8th-inning rally: Kerry Wood: one inning with one walk and two strikeouts; Sean Marshall: one inning and one strikeout; Carlos Marmol: one inning and three strikeouts.
Cubs’ first baseman Carlos Pena was shocked watching Marmol end the game with his first save of the season.
“What I saw today, I’ve heard it all about his stuff,” Pena said. “You hear the rumors. But actually when you see it and the kind of swings that he gets from his pitches, it shocks you. It shows you how dominating that slider is. It looked like they were missing it by three feet. That’s how violent the break is on his slider.”
How good is Marmol’s breaking pitch? Pena wasn’t afraid to expound on it.
“It’s probably the best slider in the game,” Pena said. “Not just this season or last season. The best slider period.”
The Cubs’ bullpen has allowed one hit and no runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Pirates in the season’s first two games.
In 2010, the San Diego Padres had the most productive and dominant bullpen in the National League. Many baseball people feel the Cubs have the talent to produce those kinds of bullpen results in 2011.
“I think our bullpen on paper is pretty good,” Marshall said. “Marmol has been lights out for a couple of years. [John] Grabow is healthy and [Kerry Wood] is back and that’s awesome.”
Wood, who pitched in the Yankees’ outstanding bullpen during the final two months of 2010, was cautious when asked to compare this group to the one he pitched with in New York.
“We know what we have,” Wood said. “We know what our roles our, which is always good. But it’s way too early to say we’ll be good or bad. We have a good group of guys don’t there. Solid arms, and if we stay healthy, that will be the key for us.”
General managers look for power arms in the offseason. But power arms that throw strikes like San Diego’s bullpen did in 2010 seem to be the exception.
“The Padres put together a great year last year,” Cubs manager Mike Quade said. “Obviously, their bullpen was huge, but they did it for a full year. So I’m not ready to make comparisons yet. I know like [Padres manager] Bud Black did last year, that I feel real good getting through six innings with a lead.”
The three phases of Zambrano’s 2010 season, included middling results as a starter to begin the season; an incomplete record as a relief pitcher from late April until June and complete domination when he returned Aug. 9 after spending six weeks in anger management classes.
Zambrano’s return to form late last season must continue in 2011 as he once again will be the lynchpin to a solid rotation, along with mainstay Ryan Dempster and newcomer Matt Garza. The final two spots in the five-man rotation are Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner.
Dempster, who has been the most consistent starter over the last three seasons, gets the Opening Day assignment due to his 600-plus innings pitched over that span. Dempster brings innings and stability to the top of the rotation, if not spectacular results.
Garza, acquired in an eight-player trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, takes over the third rotation spot. The 27-year-old right-hander is coming off his best season, winning 15 games. Many scouts believe Garza has matured to the point he might be a 17-20-game winner. That is what the Cubs expect after trading four top prospects for him.
Wells, who tanked in 2010 after winning 12 games as a rookie in 2009, has worked hard to win a spot in the rotation, posting a 2.10 ERA in the Cactus League and allowing just six earned runs in 25 innings. Besides a great attitude, Wells has re-discovered the command on his hard sinker, which is his bread and butter pitch. Wells paid strict attention to getting his work done this spring, including a strong conditioning program.
Wells believes his work ethic was the same in 2010, but the results were 8-14 and a 4.26 ERA.
Cashner, the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft, came on stronger in the last two weeks of spring training to beat out Carlos Silva and Braden Looper. Scouts say Cashner’s two-seam fastball and slider are the pitches he needs to command.
Three keys for Cubs' rotation
After all, my Friday night was centered around a trip to In-N-Out Burger.
But it's safe to say the Cubs will be better off after cutting a significant amount of dead weight with the departure of Silva.
Read the entire column.
Carlos Silva's career with the Chicago Cubs is over, the veteran pitcher said Saturday.
According to general manager Jim Hendry, Andrew Cashner will begin the season as the team's fifth starter.
Hendry said Silva will be given the option to go to Triple-A if he accepts a waiver assignment.
With the Cubs’ fifth starters’ role still up in the air, veteran right-hander Carlos Silva gave the team his best 80 percent on Wednesday.
Silva pitched six strong innings, allowing three hits and one run while striking out three. The 80-percent effort? That was Silva’s game plan.
“I’ve been working hard with my confidence,” Silva said. “I needed to trust myself?”
Opening Day starter Ryan Dempster had this piece of advice for Silva before he took the mound against Oakland.
Silva does have a natural sink to his fastball. Scouts say that if he doesn’t overthrow the pitch, he’s very effective with his two-seam fastball.
Before this outing, Silva had been awful most of the spring. Going into Wednesday’s action he posted a 15.99 ERA that included 29 hits and 20 earned runs in 11 1/3 innings pitched.
“I needed this game,” Silva said. “Not just to win a spot in the rotation, it’s personal. You need good games too. I needed this game to start building my confidence.”
Among the dozen scouts in the stands were evaluators from Washington, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Minnesota. All those teams are looking for pitching help.
Silva, for his part, just wants to contribute to a major league team.
“I don’t care where they put in the starting rotation or the bullpen,” Silva said. “I just want to do my job and be a better pitcher.”
The Cubs are Silva’s third team. He knows that being traded is part of the profession.
“This is like a business,” Silva said. “If I’m pitching good and I’m traded, I’ll be OK. I just didn’t want to go out the door the way I was pitching.”
Manager Mike Quade was noncommittal after the game when asked about naming a fifth starter.
“This means the decisions remain tough,” Quade said. “And we’re thrilled to death guys continue to make them tough.”
The six innings from Silva were the best outing from any of the candidates for the vacant rotation spot so far this spring.
Quade, however, wants to see more before he can make a choice.
“It means Silva pitched very well today,” Quade said.
Looper will pitch the second half of the Cubs-White Sox game Thursday. Cashner will go Saturday. On a five-man rotation, Silva’s next spring start would be March 28 against Cleveland. Carlos Zambrano is scheduled to start that game.
The battle for the Cubs’ fifth starter spot continued Tuesday – just eight days before the team is scheduled to break camp.
“Mr. Silva is starting against Oakland [on Wednesday],” Cubs manager Mike Quade said.
Silva has posted a 15.99 ERA for the spring to date. He has had issues both on and off the field and hasn’t had a good outing at any point. His best showing was a five-inning effort in which he surrendered four earned runs and two homers on March 12 against the Reds.
“I never count anybody out,” Quade said. “I’m anxious to see him pitch tomorrow. We still have some tough decisions. [We had] productive discussions today, nothing definitive. I have a lot to sleep or not to sleep on tonight. In the next couple of days, we got to get this thing down. The truck is leaving Sunday [for Chicago]. “
Right-hander Andrew Cashner had his chance to win the job outright on Monday. Cashner, however, couldn’t get over the hump. He allowed seven hits and four runs in three innings during a rainout in Tempe.
The third contender, veteran right-hander Braden Looper, surrendered eight runs in two innings in his last outing on Saturday. He remains the team’s third option for the vacant rotation spot.
Here are the three pitcher’s logs for spring training: Looper has pitched 10 2/3 innings, allowed 17 hits, 13 earned runs, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts, 3 homers and a 10.97 ERA; Silva has pitched 11 1/3 innings, 29 hits, 20 earned runs, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts, 4 homers and a 15.99 ERA; Cashner has pitched 11 1/3 innings, 11 hits, 5 earned runs, 7 walks, 6 strikeouts, 1 homer and a 3.97 ERA.
“I think people have had good outings,” Quade said. “But no one has been good start to finish battling for that fifth spot. No one battling for that spot has been consistent. That I will say.”
Carlos Zambrano had his roughest outing of the spring Friday, giving up six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings against division rival Cincinnati.
“I was just playing with him,” Zambrano said after the game.
“What about if I don’t want to leave? You want to fight here,” Zambrano said he jokingly told Quade.
Quade finally got the joke and told Zambrano to get out of his face, according to the pitcher.
“It’s about having fun too,” Zambrano said. “You want to work hard, but you want to have fun too.”
As for his struggles on the mound, Zambrano said the Reds didn’t see all of his pitches on Friday.
“I like to try some of my other pitches besides my sinkers,” Zambrano said. “I like to trust my split finger and my slider. Today I threw one good one and two bad. Same with the split pitch I threw to [Scott] Rolen. I didn’t have a good grip on it.”
Rolen’s homer came in the third inning with two runners on. The home run he gave up to Joey Votto was a hanging slider in the fifth with one aboard.
“I’m glad we play in Chicago and Arizona,” Zambrano said. “It’s better air but it also has to do with a bad grip too.”
Zambrano admitted that he slightly injured his left wrist taking batting practice this week.
Although the injury is not considered serious, he may limit himself to just few swings in his charity home run derby on March 21 at Big League Dreams field in Gilbert, Ariz. The money raised for the event goes to charity in Venezuela and Guatemala.
For more information on Zambrano’s charity fund, visit BigZFoundation.com.
Other surprises on Friday included Carlos Silva pitching three disastrous innings in relief of Zambrano and James Russell pitching 1/3 of an inning. Both players were in the mix for the fifth starter role, but, at this point, that race appears to be down to Braden Looper and Andrew Cashner. Right-hander Randy Wells has all but locked up the fourth spot in the rotation.
Russell may go back to the pen or get stretched out as a starter at Triple-A Iowa to begin the season. Silva’s role with the team appears to be iffy at best. The Cubs still owe him $11.5 million in 2011. Their choices seem to be to ask him to go to the bullpen, trade him, put him on the DL (if he’s hurt) or an outright release if they deem that feasible.
Let's look at the bullpen first.
Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall, John Grabow and Jeff Samardzija are all locks to make the team. That leaves two spots open. One will possibly be filled by a third left-hander, either Scott Maine or James Russell, who has made some nice improvements during spring training. He may be asked to go to Triple-A in order to establish his skills as a starter. Maine showed the ability to get lefties out in a September call-up last season.
Those final two bullpen spots may also be dictated by who doesn't join the rotation. Braden Looper, Andrew Cashner, Carlos Silva and Randy Wells seem to be the four battling for the final two spots. Wells appears to be a lock after throwing 14 innings and allowing only two earned runs this spring.
According to team sources, Cashner will either be in the rotation or in the bullpen this season. Looper and Silva are still competing for the starting job, although with $11.5 million owed to Silva, the Cubs may put him in the bullpen as a long man if he doesn't make the rotation or isn't traded.
Two position jobs remain open. Augie Ojeda and Darwin Barney are battling it out for the backup infielder job. Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt will platoon at second base. Baker will also back up Carlos Pena at first and Aramis Ramirez at third.
Reed Johnson and Fernando Perez are competing for the fifth outfield spot. Both have struggled at the plate in spring training [Johnson 4 for 29, .138; Perez 4-23, .174]. Perez brings speed to a Cubs team that had a major league-low 55 stolen bases last season.
Johnson can play all three outfield positions and has the solid makeup that teams look for in an extra man.
A decision on the rotation could come as early as Monday or Tuesday. The other roster spot might not be decided until March 30 when the Cubs fly to Chicago to prepare for the opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 1.
During Saturday's 7-6 split-squad loss to the Cincinnati Reds, numerous scouts, including three from the Washington Nationals, saw Silva's best performance of the spring. The 31-year-old veteran threw five decent innings, giving up four runs on five hits.
In addition to the Nationals, the New York Yankees are following all of Silva's outings, according to major league sources. Both teams need to fortify their rotations. The Yankees could easily absorb most of Silva's $12 million salary for 2011 if they like what they see from the veteran pitcher the rest of the spring.
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The good: RHP Carlos Silva pitched five innings in his best performance of the spring. Outfielder Fernando Perez drove in three runs as he continues his battle to win the fifth outfield spot against veteran Reed Johnson. Veteran infielder Bobby Scales chipped in with three hits and two RBIs.
The bad: Veteran right-hander Todd Wellemeyer, who is in the competition for a rotation spot, struggled through two innings, allowing four hits and two runs. For the second straight outing, Wellemeyer said that a sore left hip was impeding his delivery. After his best day as a Cub on Friday, first baseman Carlos Pena fell back into an 0-for-4 funk with two strikeouts.
Beyond the box score: Silva attracted attention from other teams' top talent evaluators, including the Yankees and Nationals, according to major league sources.
Up next: Braden Looper forces former White Sox pitcher Daniel Hudson on Sunday in a split-squad game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Scottsdale, Ariz. Carlos Zambrano will face the Dodgers' Rubby De La Rosa in the other game at Las Vegas’ Cashman Field on Sunday.
The Cubs veteran had his best outing this spring, giving up four runs on five hits while allowing two home runs.
“My command was a lot better today,” Silva said. “Having Geo there, I had very good communication with him. I know when my command is good. When I want to throw outside, I throw outside. When I want to throw inside, I throw it in.”
Soto agreed with Silva’s analysis.
“He was getting better and better,” Soto said. “He had really good command and really good off-speed pitching today.”
Silva gave up both home runs on changeups that stayed up in the zone. One National League scout told ESPNChicago.com that when Silva tries to overthrow his pitches he gets in trouble.
Silva agreed with the scout’s assessment.
“100 percent. 100 percent, I agree with that,” Silva said. “That’s why I said in my first game I looked like a young guy, trying to overthrow the ball. For me, for a sinkerball pitcher, you have to forget about how hard you throw the ball.”
"Whoever needs my support on tips, I'll be there, for anybody. I'm there to support my teammates."
Zambrano was asked if he's a changed man after going through eight months of anger management classes, which ended in December.
"You should ask me if they helped me," Zambrano said. "Not if I'm a changed man."
Zambrano continued to look impressive on the mound Tuesday, throwing three innings of one-run baseball. He dodged a potential big inning by pitching out of a jam that that the defense created in the second with errors of omission. The old Zambrano might have blown up in the same situation, but not the new and improved version.
"I have to do my job," he said. "I don't worry about anybody else. This year, I want to concentrate on what I can do. I don't want to worry about left field or center field. I only want to worry about what's going on the mound."
Zambrano told Silva on Tuesday basically the same thing he's been telling himself.
"I told him to be the same guy he was in Minnesota," Zambrano said. "I was just giving some support for him. I told him to go out there and have fun, like I'm always trying to do . I told him whatever happens, don't let it affect your preparation for the season."
Zambrano is a more patient and focused pitcher since coming back to the team Aug. 9. He was 8-0 after returning, and he's now thrown eight innings this spring, yielding one earned run on seven hits.
"The more he can stabilize the pitching end of it and the clubhouse, the better we're going to be," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "He's been impressive on and off the field this spring."
Silva admits he needs to calm his emotions as he talked about how the pressure of earning a rotation spot has gotten to him a bit. Silva was involved in a dugout altercation with third baseman Aramis Ramirez last week after a rough first inning that featured three errors and two Milwaukee Brewers home runs.
"When you're competing for a job in the rotation, you need results," he said. "To be honest with you, I'm always worried.
"Last time, I didn't even talk to my son. I'm trying to forget about this and keep working and get better. The main thing for me is I feel fine, I feel great. But that [third] inning, I don't know what happened. When you have that type of inning, it's like, 'He pitched bad,' that's what people see."
Silva's trouble was with the opponent this time, not with any of his teammates. Right-fielder Tyler Colvin did commit an error, but all the runs were earned.
After the game, Silva reached out to fellow Venezuelan pitcher Carlos Zambrano for support.
"I texted him and said, 'Man, I don't know what's going on.' We work, we talk, we do all stuff together," Silva said. "I said, 'Man, I don't know what happened.'
"He said, 'You just need to forget everything, go out and pitch and do your thing.' He said, 'You know how to do it, you did it before. Why can't you do it again?' And it's true. This game, I didn't think too much. I felt very good going out there today. I'm going to be fine, I just have to keep working."
Silva is in competition with four other pitchers for the fourth or fifth rotation spot. Manager Mike Quade said a decision on the last two spots will be made between March 20-26.