Chicago Cubs: Mlb

Barney, Olt break out in sweep of Red Sox

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
12:35
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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BOSTON -- It all came together in one evening for the Chicago Cubs on offense, especially for a couple of struggling players.

Darwin Barney nearly hit for the cycle and Mike Olt had a rare two-hit game as the Cubs swept the defending world champs with a 16-9 win over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night.

[+] EnlargeDarwin Barney
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsDarwin Barney exploded for four hits Wednesday in Boston and came up a home run shy of completing the cycle.
“It’s always an amazing atmosphere here,” Barney said afterward. “It’s fun to take the series the way we did.”

Barney went 4-for-4 with a triple, single and double in his first three at-bats. He came up in the top of the ninth facing Junichi Tazawa needing a home run for the cycle, but instead singled to drive in a run.

“Everyone on our side kind of knew what was going on,” Barney said. “I was happy to get a knock there. It’s a tough guy to [take out] when you’re thinking you want to elevate something.”

For Barney and Olt, playing time and offensive success have been sparse. Going 2-for-5 without a strikeout is a victory these days for Cubs third baseman Olt.

“When I wasn’t playing, I was working hard,” he said. “We started to figure things out and get back to basics again.”

It’s hard to say whether a night when he homered over the Green Monster will jump-start a season during which he has already had several starts and stops.

[+] EnlargeMike Olt
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsIn his first start since May 12, Mike Olt enjoyed a 2-for-5 outing, with a dinger over the Green Monster and nary a strikeout.
But the same can be said of the Cubs, who pulled off the unthinkable sweep.

“They feel good about it,” Chicago manager Rick Renteria said.

There haven’t been many happy days for the Cubs this season, but these three in Boston is a highlight for the team and individuals.

Barney, in particular, is getting more playing time and feeling better about his game.

“It’s nice to get back into that routine,” he said. “You know what you’re up against. That’s baseball. Sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don’t. Lately I’ve been feeling pretty good.”

And so are the Cubs.

Barney said he’ll savor the night, as did Olt. Great outings may be difficult to come by, but they’re easy to remember.

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 16, Red Sox 9

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
11:17
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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BOSTON -- The Chicago Cubs beat the Boston Red Sox 16-9 on Wednesday night in a slugfest. Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it Happened: The Cubs got to Red Sox starter Brandon Workman right away, as the first four hitters all reached and three of them scored. Justin Ruggiano hit a long home run over the Green Monster for a two-run shot. Two batters later, Starlin Castro drove in Anthony Rizzo with a base hit to center. Rizzo and Castro both stole second base in the inning. Boston got one back in the third, when Jonny Gomes drove in Dustin Pedroia with a sacrifice fly. But the Cubs extended the lead with three more in the fourth; Mike Olt went deep with a man on and Darwin Barney tripled on the next pitch. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Chris Coghlan. Cubs’ starter Travis Wood was shaky, as he was unable to get out of the fourth inning, giving up a bases-loaded hit to Gomes. But reliever Carlos Villanueva got Xander Bogaerts looking with three men on. A Welington Castillo two-run shot in the fifth extended the lead again, but Mookie Betts hit his first career home run in the bottom of the inning to close the gap. After Olt’s second hit -- a double -- he came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Coghlan in the sixth to make it 9-5. Nate Schierholtz hit a solo shot in the eight and singled home a run in the ninth, as did Luis Valbuena with a double. Barney and Coghlan also had RBI base hits as part of a six-run ninth. Ruggiano opened and closed the scoring for the Cubs on the night, as he doubled home two more to make it 16-6. The Red Sox added three scores in the bottom of the ninth off of Justin Grimm. The Cubs scored runs in six of the innings.

What it means: The Cubs swept the defending World Series champions on their home field and did it with good pitching and timely hitting. They had contributions up and down the lineup this week, including playing long ball a season-high four times on Wednesday. Every hitter in the lineup had at least one hit in the game, as the Cubs totaled 19 on the night. The one concern was Wood, who missed his spots and paid for it. Luckily, he minimized the damage; but giving up seven hits and four walks in 3 2/3 innings while playing with a lead isn’t a recipe he wants to keep. His ERA is 4.62, and it’s indicative of his performance this season.

Olt hit just his second home run since May 18, but he got all of it going out to left center. Before the game Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said he was “concerned” with Olt’s high strikeout total. Olt, starting for the first time since May 12, also grounded out, doubled and popped out, avoiding a strikeout.

Barney’s night: Barney had four hits and was a home run short of the cycle. He came up to the plate with two outs in the ninth with a chance to achieve the feat but got only a base hit to right to drive in a run.

Maybe Wada: Before the game, Hoyer indicated that Triple-A lefty hurler Tsuyoshi Wada, 33, is a candidate for a major league start on Tuesday when the Cubs play a doubleheader in Cincinnati. Wada is 9-4 with a 2.55 ERA in 16 games. The Cubs would have to adjust his next start in Iowa to avoid pitching him on three days' rest against the Reds.

“I think he’s a guy here that we’ll see at some point in the future,” Hoyer said.

Fujikawa status: Cubs reliever Kyuji Fujikawa still is progressing slowly in Arizona, according to Hoyer. There is no timetable for a return to game action as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery performed last summer.

Stat of the night: The Cubs scored runs in six innings Wednesday.

What’s next: The Cubs have the day off on Thursday before opening a three-game series at the Washington Nationals on Independence Day. Jason Hammel (7-5, 2.98) takes on Tanner Roark (7-5, 2.98) in a 10:05 a.m. CT start.

Hoyer on Arrieta: 'I'm glad we have him'

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
7:48
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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BOSTON -- Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer met with reporters on Wednesday before the Cubs played the Boston Red Sox. Here are some of the highlights:

Jake Arrieta
There’s been some talk the Cubs’ rising star could be on the trade block, along with Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Given Arrieta’s contract situation -- he hasn’t even hit arbitration yet -- it would be a surprise if the 28-year-old was dealt. It wasn’t a surprise, though, that Hoyer wouldn’t directly answer if Arrieta would be with the Cubs after the July 31 trade deadline.

[+] EnlargeJake Arrieta
Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY SportsGeneral manager Jed Hoyer was less than revealing about Jake Arrieta's future with the Cubs. 
“It’s been fun to be here and talk to people with the Red Sox, what they thought of that outing because they did see him so much,” Hoyer said of Arrieta’s one-hitter on Monday. “They saw a different guy pounding the strike zone, and the cutter/slider he’s been throwing has been the talk of those guys.”

When Arrieta was with the Baltimore Orioles before being traded to the Cubs last season, he faced the Red Sox six times, going 0-3 with a 5.89 ERA. On Monday he gave up one hit and one walk in 7 2/3 innings pitched. He’s 5-1 with a 1.81 ERA.

“One of the beauties of our situation [is] opportunity,” Hoyer said. “There will be a day in the future where we won’t have that much opportunity to play. But right now we do. He knows he’ll be in the rotation. He can pitch with confidence.”

As for Arrieta being part of any potential trade scenarios, Hoyer had little to offer.

“I’m not going to comment on any other part of it, but I’m glad we have him,” he said.

Olt and Lake
Hoyer said there is “concern” over the high strikeout totals of youngsters Mike Olt (71) and Junior Lake (87). Both have struggled mightily, especially in important moments of the game.

“Yeah, they’re a concern,” Hoyer said. “Both guys provide power. In strategic positions in the game, there are times you have to make contact. That’s an area we’ll have to improve. Strikeouts are part of the game, but ultimately you have to put a ball in play at the right time. We’re high on both guys, but that’s part of their growing pains.”

Before Wednesday’s game with the Red Sox, Olt was 2-for-22 (.091) -- both hits home runs -- with seven strikeouts with men in scoring position and less than two outs. Lake was hitting .100 with 11 strikeouts in the same category.

Data security
The Cubs, along with the rest of the baseball world, took notice when a Houston Astros database was hacked, revealing trade details from previous years. Many were deals that weren’t done, just discussed.

“It’s a scary thing that can happen to all 30 teams,” Hoyer said. “I read through Houston’s stuff. I think their stuff was professionally handled. They’re the unlucky one of 30 that had that happen to them.”

Hoyer is referring to the fact that though Houston thought the information would remain private, the notes that were revealed were businesslike and not disparaging to any individuals.

“In the end, they were probably embarrassed that it got out. But I don’t think anyone faults them,” Hoyer said.

The Cubs have increased the security on their computer system since the troubles in Houston were revealed.

Cubs, Nationals manage well through fog

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
11:43
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals played their version of the Fog Bowl on Thursday night as conditions made it hard to see the ball at times.

“It made the signs a little harder to see,” Cubs pitcher Travis Wood said after their 5-3 win.

And it made for some adventures in the field, as well. Nationals center fielder Denard Span completely lost a Luis Valbuena drive that landed behind him for a triple in the sixth inning.

[+] EnlargeDenard Span
David Banks/Getty ImagesThursday's fog made things difficult for Nationals center fielder Denard Span. 
“Just rough conditions,” Span said. “There’s nothing you can do to prepare for that. I don’t think I’ve ever played in a game with that much fog. You just try to concentrate and try to keep your eye on the ball as long as possible and hope that you can gauge where the ball’s going to be after it’s hit.

“I didn’t even know it was coming at me, to be honest with you. I didn’t know where it was. I finally figured that the ball was coming towards me because everybody was looking at me and pointing in my direction.”

Chicago has been hit with fog for several days, but Thursday was the worst of it at Wrigley Field. Starlin Castro started a double play on a ball hit by Danny Espinosa in the fifth inning, but he barely glimpsed the ball at first.

“I saw that ball in the last moment,” Castro said, shaking his head. “That double-play ball? It almost got me.”

Luckily for Span and the Nationals, Valbuena didn’t score after his triple, and no other plays in the game were adversely affected.

“As long as the ball stayed lower than the lights, it was all right,” Cubs outfielder Justin Ruggiano said. “It’s kind of fun, because it mixes it up a little bit.”

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 5, Nationals 3

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
10:03
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs beat the Washington Nationals 5-3 on Thursday night. Here’s a look at the game.

How it happened: The Cubs retook the lead for good when Justin Ruggiano doubled home two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning -- just after the Nationals tied the game with two scores of their own in the top of the inning. The Cubs tallied three times in the fourth, thanks to a Starlin Castro two-run single followed by a Welington Castillo RBI hit. Washington finally got on the board against starter Travis Wood in the sixth after Anthony Rendon drove home Denard Span. The Nats chased Wood in the seventh when Span doubled home two runs to tie the game, but the Cubs quickly regained the lead a few minutes later. Hector Rondon earned his ninth save.

What it means: Castro will easily get to 50 RBIs before the All-Star break after earning No. 46, then No. 47 on a broken-bat hit to left. Those were the plays he wasn’t getting last year, as he’s used the entire field in 2014; the evidence is in his numbers. Anthony Rizzo went 3-for-4 as both players continue to bolster their bids for the Midsummer Classic in mid-July.

Lake OK: Junior Lake left the game in the second inning after a scary crash into the batting-cage door in the right-center wall. His leg and face hit the door as he tracked down a fly ball by Ryan Zimmerman that landed for a double. Lake was slow to get up but eventually walked off under his own power. The Cubs announced Lake had only bruises and no concussion symptoms.

Ramirez starts: Cubs farmhand Manny Ramirez was in the starting lineup for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in Game 2 of their doubleheader against Colorado Springs.

What’s next: Game 2 of the series with the Nats takes place Friday at 3:05 p.m. CT, when Jason Hammel (6-5, 2.99 ERA) faces Tanner Roark (7-4, 2.79).

Rapid Reaction: Reds 4, Cubs 1

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
9:23
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Cubs lost to the Cincinnati Reds 4-1 on Wednesday. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: The Reds broke open a 1-1 game with three runs in the sixth inning to chase starter Edwin Jackson. Both Joey Votto and Jay Bruce doubled home scores, then a suicide squeeze play by Skip Schumaker brought home another. The Cubs tied the score back in the fourth inning, when Starlin Castro singled home Ryan Sweeney, who had doubled. The Reds got on the board in the first inning when Bruce doubled home Todd Frazier, but Votto was thrown out at the plate. Mat Latos held the Cubs at bay most of the night, giving up five hits and no walks over seven innings.

What it means: Once again, Jackson came up short, giving up all four runs in 5 1/3 innings pitched. His four walks to go along with six hits didn’t help matters as his ERA rose to 5.22 on the season. Jackson hasn’t had a quality start in over a month.

Castro continues to bolster his bid for the All-star team as he racks up the hits and RBIs in the first half. He already has surpassed both his home run and RBI totals from all of last year while working his way to 100 hits; he has 87 after Wednesday’s game.

Beeler to debut: Before the game, Cubs manager Rick Renteria announced that Triple-A righty Dallas Beeler would start the first game of the Cubs’ day-night doubleheader on Saturday against the Washington Nationals.

What’s next: The Cubs open a four-game series with the Nationals starting on Thursday night when Travis Wood (7-6, 4.55) faces Doug Fister (6-5, 3.24) at 7:05 p.m. CT.
Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta discusses his outing a day after taking a perfect game into the seventh inning in an eventual 7-3 victory Tuesday against the Cincinnati Reds.

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Dallas Beeler to make MLB debut Saturday

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
7:19
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Sometimes good timing is all it takes to make it to the major leagues, as Chicago Cubs Triple-A right-handed pitcher Dallas Beeler is finding out this week. Beeler will make his major league debut Saturday afternoon as the Cubs play a rare day-night doubleheader Saturday with a day off on Sunday due to the Pride Parade.

[+] EnlargeDallas Beeler
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsDallas Beeler, here pitching for the Cubs in spring training, will soon see his first regular-reason duties.
“It just fell in [his] slot and obviously he’s been performing,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Wednesday after making the announcement.

Beeler, 25, was a 41st-round pick of the Cubs in 2010. He’s not as highly touted as Iowa teammate Kyle Hendricks nor as accomplished this season as lefty Tsuyoshi Wada. So why is he getting recalled to pitch the afternoon affair against the Washington Nationals before Jeff Samardzija pitches the nightcap?

It’s his turn to pitch.

Beeler last pitched on Monday, so Saturday would be his next turn in the rotation. Instead of pitching for Iowa, he’ll do it at Wrigley Field.

Per Major League Baseball rules, the Cubs and Nationals are allowed to add a player for the doubleheader. The Cubs chose to start Beeler over Carlos Villanueva, who hasn’t been stretched out since going to the bullpen.

Beeler is 5-3 with a 4.03 ERA in 10 Triple-A starts. He’s given up 56 hits in 60 1/3 innings while walking just 15. The Cubs thought enough of him this past offseason to pitch him in the Arizona Fall League after injuries held him to nine starts in 2013.

“Everyone is looking forward to having an opportunity to come out here and show what he can do,” Renteria said. “We’re glad to have him.”

So the Cubs will finally showcase one of their prospects, just not one ranked in their top 20, according to MLB.com.

Jake Arrieta's hot streak continues vs. Reds

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
1:23
AM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
Special to ESPNChicago.com
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Jake ArrietaJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJake Arrieta's stellar season continued with seven innings, nine strikeouts and three hits Tuesday.
CHICAGO -- It might have taken longer than some had hoped, but everything is finally starting to click for Jake Arrieta.

It all came together on Tuesday night, with Arrieta mowing down the first 18 batters he saw before finally losing his perfect game on Billy Hamilton’s seventh-inning leadoff single.

Arrieta was well aware of the stakes when he took the mound in the top of the seventh.

“I knew that’s kind of what was going on; most guys do when you’re in a situation like that,” he said. “Really, [I] just wanted to continue to execute pitches and try to pitch deep into the game. That’s really the only couple of thoughts going through my head.

“Nothing changes. It’s just kind of the way things worked out in the first six innings. Then you get to the meat of the order, and it’s tough to continue to put guys away like that."

Arrieta retired the next two batters after Hamilton but gave up back-to-back RBI hits to Davin Mesoraco and Jay Bruce before striking out Ryan Ludwick to wrap up his outing.

All in all, it was a seven-inning, three-hit night during which he struck out nine and didn’t walk a single batter.

Arrieta had led off the Cubs’ half of the sixth by taking a walk and spending a lot of time on the basepath. Then he waited for the inning to end as the Cubs tacked two runs onto their lead. Add that to the fact he waited out a 53-minute rain delay prior to even stepping on the mound on a muggy Chicago night, and it’s understandable Arrieta fell short of perfection.

“I was pretty gassed there, unfortunately,” he said. “Pretty humid night, long inning there in the sixth, running the bases, which really isn’t all that tough in itself. But couple that with being on the mound and having that long layoff, and it adds a little bit to it.

“I left a couple of balls up. Bruce and [Devin] Mesoraco were able to put some good wood on it and drive in a couple runs. But for the most part, I was down with pretty much everything and commanding the ball where I wanted to, so I was able to do some good things.”

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Rapid Reaction: Cubs 7, Reds 3

June, 24, 2014
Jun 24
11:19
PM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
Special to ESPNChicago.com.
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs registered a 7-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

How it happened: Anthony Rizzo broke a scoreless tie in the fourth with a solo home run, and Welington Castillo added to the lead in the fifth with an RBI double to put the Cubs up 2-0. The Cubs added two more in the sixth.

But the story of the night was Jake Arrieta and his dominant performance on the mound. Arrieta tossed six perfect innings before giving up a leadoff single in the seventh to Billy Hamilton. The Reds plated two in the inning, with Devin Mesoraco and Jay Bruce both delivering RBI hits. Arrieta ended the evening with seven strong innings and gave up just three hits and two runs while striking out nine and walking none.

The Cubs tacked on three runs in the eighth, and the bullpen did the rest. However, Neil Ramirez did allow a ninth-inning home run to Mesoraco, which gave the Reds catcher five consecutive games with a home run and tied a franchise record.

What it means: Arrieta has been getting better every time he's taken the mound for the Cubs this season, culminating in Tuesday's brilliant performance. Although there is still a long way to go in the season and in his career, Arrieta finally is starting to show the consistency and command that eluded him early in his career, when he was a much-hyped prospect with the Baltimore Orioles. His development will certainly soften the blow if and when the Cubs deal their other two strong rotation pieces, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

Outside the box: The Cubs’ top two prospects, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, were both named to the Futures Game on Tuesday. Bryant celebrated by getting his fifth hit at Triple-A Iowa -- all five them home runs. Bryant is slugging (again: slugging, not on-base plus slugging) a slightly crazy .952. Yes, it's only six games, but impressive nonetheless for the young hitter. Baez went 1-for-2 with two walks and no strikeouts, a very good sign for the often overly aggressive shortstop as he attempts to strengthen his plate approach.

Up next: The Cubs send Edwin Jackson to the mound against Mat Latos on Wednesday night as the North Siders attempt to take the rubber match in this three-game set.

Rick Renteria defends late batting changes

June, 22, 2014
Jun 22
7:14
PM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
Special to ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria played the matchups in the eighth inning when his team was attempting to comeback from a 2-0 deficit.

After being shut down for seven innings against starter Brandon Cumpton, lefty reliever Tony Watson came in for the Pirates to start the eighth.

Watson has a 0.79 ERA on the season and for his career lefties have managed a .563 OPS against him. Righties don’t fare much better, with a collective OPS of .624 against Watson, but Renteria didn’t hesitate to pinch hit for his lefty-heavy lineup in the inning.

[+] EnlargeRick Renteria
Brian Kersey/Getty Images"I'm trying to score some runs," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of his eighth-inning decision. "I'm trying to get us in a position where we can potentially tie the ballgame."
Off the bat, it seemed to be working when Junior Lake stepped in for catcher John Baker and reached on a single. Darwin Barney followed with another single to put men on first and second with nobody out. That’s when Renteria made the interesting decision to pull the recently activated Welington Castillo from the on-deck circle and allow Travis Wood to pinch hit for starter Jason Hammel with the intention of bunting.

Wood fell behind 0-2, but still managed to get a bunt down and advance the runners a base while giving the Pirates the first out of the inning.

“What we basically were trying to see was how the inning was going to develop,” Renteria said of pulling Castillo for Wood. “We ended up getting those first two guys on. Obviously I didn’t want to bunt Wely. I wanted to put Woody in there to put them over and then we could obviously put Wely in the Coghlan spot. If it had just been one guy on, I would have just hit Welington.”

Renteria confirmed that the thought process behind the bunt was to get the tying run on second base with less than two outs. While there is one school of thought that bunting is just handing the opposition an easy out while playing for one run instead of the big inning, Renteria stood by his move and explained his decision.

On a day with a strong wind coming in from left field and a team that was struggling to score just one on the day, Renteria was asked if his choice may have been different if the conditions had been more conducive to hitting.

"I'm trying to score some runs,” Renteria said. “I'm trying to get us in a position where we can potentially tie the ballgame. Whether the wind had been howling or not, I was trying us to give a situation where I saw that there was no one else throwing [in the bullpen]. The lefty was gonna stay in there and we ended up getting Welington and [Justin] Ruggiano both at-bats in key situations.”

Unfortunately for Renteria, Watson managed to get both Castillo and Ruggiano to strikeout and end the Cubs’ threat in the eighth without a runner crossing the plate.

Renteria was pleased that his team showed fight in the eighth and with another failed rally in the ninth against one of the stronger bullpens in baseball. However, Anthony Rizzo clearly would have preferred a victory.

"Well we had a couple opportunities, but we didn't get it done,” Rizzo said. “It's not a moral victory; we lost the game. Cumpton pitched a really good game for them and he shut us down."

Hammel also delivered another strong outing, giving up just two runs in seven strong innings, striking out six and walking just one. It was a good sign for Hammel, who had given up four runs in each of his previous two starts.

“[My slider is] coming back,” Hammel said. “The last two outings, previous to this one, I was leaving it up a lot. A couple today that stayed up that were hit in play, but majority were singles. But the command of the slider and the heater are coming back, so I feel pretty good about it.”

One of the sliders that Hammel did leave up was hit right back at him by Josh Harrison for an RBI single. The ball ricocheted off Hammel’s side, but after a visit from the trainer Hammel appeared fine and went on to retire the next nine batters he faced.

“It got me right in the meat of the butt,” Hammel said. “I’m very lucky I have a nice bum, so I’ll be good to go.”

Rapid Reaction: Pirates 4, Cubs 0

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
10:53
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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PITTSBURGH -- The Chicago Cubs lost 4-0 to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday night. Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: Andrew McCutchen did the Cubs in again. He was in the middle of two rallies that helped win the game for the home team. He doubled in the fourth inning and came home to score the game’s first run on a Russell Martin hit. Then in the fifth, he doubled home two more runs before being tagged out as he slid past third base. Jordy Mercer added a sacrifice fly to close out the scoring for the Pirates. The Cubs had some chances against starter Edinson Volquez but went 0-for-8 with men in scoring position. Back-to-back strikeouts by Junior Lake and Anthony Rizzo killed a rally in the third inning, then Lake struck out again in the fifth with two more on. Luis Valbuena continued a hot stretch in collecting two more hits, but Jeff Samardzija wasn’t very sharp in giving up nine hits over more than six innings.

Rain delays: The game was delayed 21 minutes before first pitch, then again in the seventh for an hour and 14 minutes. Both starting pitchers already were out of the game before the second delay began.

What it means: The Pirates took down the Cubs’ top two starters, Jason Hammel and Samardzija, combining for 20 hits against them over the past two nights. That might not bode well for their trade value if it keeps up. Most of the damage all week came from McCutchen’s bat. He was 8-for-14 with three home runs and nine RBIs in the series. Valbuena was just as hot but without the power, going 8-for-13 and bringing his batting average to .293 on the season.

Bonifacio leaves: Emilio Bonifacio led off the game but never left the batter’s box, as he went down in pain after hitting a ground ball to the shortstop. The Cubs said it was a rib cage injury and that he’ll be re-evaluated. Outfielder Ryan Sweeney was pulled from the lienup for Class A Kane County, where he was rehabbing a hamstring injury as he prepared to come off the disabled list. He could join the team in Philadelphia if Bonifacio has to miss time, which appears likely.

What’s next: The Cubs open a three-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night at 6:05 CT, when Jake Arrieta (1-1, 2.50) faces Roberto Hernandez (2-4, 4.35).

Torrealba signed to minor league contract

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
7:43
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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PITTSBURGH -- The Chicago Cubs signed catcher Yorvit Torrealba to a minor league contract, the team announced Thursday.

Torrealba, 35, played last season for the Colorado Rockies, for whom he hit .240 in 61 games. He’s a 13-year veteran who will provide depth while the Cubs' starting catcher, Welington Castillo, is on the disabled list with a rib-cage issue.

Torrealba will report to the team’s spring training facility in Mesa, Arizona, before joining a minor league team. He was in spring training with the Los Angeles Angels before opting out of his contract.

On base at rate of .394, Valbuena stays hot

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
1:19
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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PITTSBURGH -- He isn’t the most heralded player on the Chicago Cubs roster, but infielder Luis Valbuena continues to do his job both at the plate and in the field.

[+] EnlargeLuis Valbuena
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

"He's a guy that continues to give you very, very good at-bats," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of Luis Valbuena. "Puts the barrel on the ball."

He had three more hits in Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates after driving home the winning runs off the bench in Monday's 7-3 win. He’s 6-for-10 through the first three games of the series against the Bucs.

"Nothing different," Valbuena said. "I'm looking for my pitch and being aggressive in the zone."

While teammates Mike Olt and Darwin Barney are struggling, Valbuena is thriving. His batting average stands at .288, and his on-base percentage is through the roof at .394. His best attribute is giving a good at-bat. He sees more than four pitches per plate appearance and will battle a pitcher as well as anyone on the team.

"He’s a guy that continues to give you very, very good at-bats," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "Puts the barrel on the ball."

Valbuena might be used as a trade piece over the next couple of months with so many teams looking for left-handed hitting. Or he could just keep doing what he's doing and be a valuable role player in the coming years for the Cubs as they transition jobs to prospects.

And he's still getting better. Last year he was known for providing some power but not much else at the plate. This season he’s more rounded as a hitter. He claims it was simply getting experience that’s helped.

"Now I have more idea what [the pitcher is] going to throw me in the count," Valbuena stated. "I feel real good now."

Rapid Reaction: Pirates 4, Cubs 2

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
10:56
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
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PITTSBURGH -- The Chicago Cubs lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-2 on Wednesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: The Pirates jumped all over Cubs starter Jason Hammel with four runs in the first three innings, including an Andrew McCutchen two-run homer in the bottom of the first. The Cubs tied the game in the top of the second on an RBI single by John Baker and a groundout by Darwin Barney. But Pittsburgh came right back. Gregory Polanco earned his first career RBI with a groundout, then Starling Marte drove one home with a single in the third. Hammel lasted only five innings, giving up a season-high 11 hits. Luis Valbuena had three hits for the Cubs.

Key play: Considering the score didn’t change after the third inning, McCutchen’s home run in the first inning was a big one. Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan nearly made a spectacular catch going into the left-field bleachers and getting a glove on the ball, but it popped out for McCutchen’s 10th home run of the season.

Rain delay: The start of the game was delayed an hour and 38 minutes due to violent storms in the area.

What it means: It was obvious from the first batter that Hammel was off his game. The 11 hits given up were the most for him since July 2011. Even the outs were hit hard, and he actually benefited from some poor baserunning by the Pirates. Maybe the rain delay had something to do with it, or maybe he was just due for a bad outing. It was so outside the norm for him this season that he’ll probably just throw it away and move on.

Valbuena on fire: He raised his batting average to .287 and on-base percentage to .394. With Mike Olt struggling, Valbuena will see even more time at third base -- and he deserves it.

Double-A affiliation: The Cubs extended their agreement with Double-A Tennessee to continue as their affiliate for four more years.

What’s next: Jeff Samardzija (2-5, 2.54 ERA) faces Edinson Volquez (3-5, 4.27) in the series finale on Thursday at 6:05 p.m. CT.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jason Hammel
WINS ERA SO IP
8 2.98 104 108
OTHER LEADERS
BAS. Castro .280
HRA. Rizzo 20
RBIS. Castro 52
RA. Rizzo 59
OPSA. Rizzo .892
ERAJ. Samardzija 2.83
SOJ. Hammel 104