Cubs

Castillo hopes to follow Sorianos lead

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Castillo hopes to follow Sorianos lead

MESA, Ariz. Welington Castillo remembers seeing Alfonso Soriano working out at the Cubs academy and wondering what the 136 million man was doing there.

Soriano, Starlin Castro and Carlos Marmol have become billboards for the organization in the Dominican Republic, where the Ricketts family plans to construct a new facility and build a bigger pipeline to Wrigley Field.

Castillo will turn 25 in April and has already spent seven seasons in the system (and 11 games with the big-league club). The catcher with a rocket arm and bilingual skills took this message from Soriano years ago.

Thats where youre going to be, Castillo recalled Wednesday. You have to keep (working), so you dont just get to the big leagues. You stay in the big leagues. Thats why theyre always working hard.

I was growing up with that mentality. I want to get there and stay there. I dont want to just get there and come back (and forth).

Either way, thats where this could be heading. Geovany Sotos groin injury which has limited him for several days but is considered minor made you wonder about the future of the Cubs behind the plate.

Soto emerged as an All-Star and the National Leagues Rookie of the Year in 2008, when he hit .285 and accounted for 23 homers and 86 RBI. He has landed on the disabled list in each of the past three seasons.

Soto is also a popular, well-respected figure in the clubhouse, a homegrown catcher who can hit for power (34 homers combined the past two seasons), which is unique. He will make 4.3 million this year and wont become a free agent until after the 2013 season.

The backup job will be a battle between Castillo, Steve Clevenger and Jason Jaramillo. Clevenger made his big-league debut last year, while Jaramillo, a non-roster invitee, has spent parts of the past three seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Manager Dale Sveum said the deciding factor will be who handles the pitchers best.

Even after an injury-plagued 2011 season that shut him down in late August and robbed him of a September call-up, Castillo is regarded as the organizations sixth-best prospect by Baseball America.

Castillo still managed to hit 15 homers in 61 games at Triple-A Iowa. He rehabilitated his hamstring last fall at the Cubs complex in Arizona, then wasnt allowed to play winter ball at home.

The focus was on what could be a breakthrough season. Working out alongside Soriano and Castro at the academy, he focused on agility and lost around 20 pounds, getting down to 205, so he could feel more flexible and ease the stress on his body.

I dont have to show anything, Castillo said. I just have to play. I dont want to put any pressure on myself, like, Yo, I got to hit. I got to catch. I got to throw people out. I just got to go out there and play the way I (can), play hard all the time.

Here comes Kimbrel: Closer expected to join Cubs Thursday

Here comes Kimbrel: Closer expected to join Cubs Thursday

Here comes Craig Kimbrel.

Cubs fans can get used to hearing those words, as the closer is on his way to Chicago, the team confirmed Wednesday evening.

Kimbrel wrapped up his minor-league rehab stint with a scoreless outing Tuesday and is expected to be activated ahead of Thursday's homestand finale against the Atlanta Braves, the team he began his career with.

There is no word yet on what the corresponding roster move will be, as the Cubs have a very tough decision on their hands. Unless a trade or injury pops up, the move very well might be sending rookie Adbert Alzolay back down to the minor leagues. 

The Cubs have been operating with a six-man rotation recently, with Alzolay making his first big-league start Tuesday night as a part of that. But that's also left the bullpen a bit short-handed, featuring six veterans who are either out of minor-league options or on big-league deals and cannot be sent down:

Pedro Strop
Steve Cishek
Brandon Kintzler
Brad Brach
Mike Montgomery
Tony Barnette

The same applies for the entire rotation outside of Alzolay.

The Cubs could send down Kyle Ryan, but he's their only true left-hander out of the bullpen (Montgomery mostly serves as a long man) and he's been pitching a lot better of late (2.08 ERA in June). 

Alzolay, of course, hasn't done anything worthy of a demotion, either. In his two outings in the big leagues over the last week, he's put up a 2.08 ERA and 0.92 WHIP while striking out 9 batters and permitting only 2 hits in 8.2 innings.

The Cubs haven't made any set plans for Alzolay's next outing, but Joe Maddon admitted it could come in the minor leagues. 

The organization also wants to be careful with his workload, as he pitched only 39.2 innings a year ago due to injury. He's already thrown 44.2 innings this year.

"Of course you want to keep him on a schedule," Maddon said. "We're talking this all the way through — he can do it here, he might have to do it somewhere else. We're not sure yet. But you also have to be mindful of the innings that he's pitching this year based on what kind of a jump you want him to endure this year. 

"There's a lot of different components about these discussions specifically. Definitely showing you that he can pitch here. No question he can pitch here. But now we have to figure out how to put him in the mix in a way that's beneficial to him and us. We're not done discussing that, but it's possible both ways."

The Cubs could also send a position player down and roll with a 14-man pitching staff for a little while, but that would leave them with a very limited bench (only two players and the backup catcher).

The Cubs will have other roster crunch decisions to make in the near future as both Kyle Hendricks and Carl Edwards Jr. are recovering from their respective injuries.

Both right-handers threw a bullpen at Wrigley Field Wednesday and progressing toward a return.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 2

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 2

In the second part of our interview with Ryne Sandberg, the Hall of Famer talks the legendary Bleacher Bums (3:20), the increased media attention after his epic June 23rd game in 1984 (7:00), his 1st home run off Bruce Sutter (11:00), and his 2nd longball that improbably tied the game again in the 10th inning (16:30), as well as all the craziness that followed once the game ended.

Part 1 of the interview is available here.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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