Cubs

The comeback: Baker does the job for Cubs

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The comeback: Baker does the job for Cubs

Saturday, April 23, 2011
Posted: 3:49 p.m. Updated: 6:34 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com
Jeff Baker walked back toward the dugout and looked down at the binder Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo placed on the ledge.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were changing relievers in the eighth inning of what was suddenly a tie game. Baker went over his keys, a few quick tendencies on Blake Hawksworth and got ready for another professional at-bat.

The Cubs had already erased a three-run deficit against Matt Guerrier, who came into the game with a 0.00 ERA. Baker excels against left-handers but the Dodgers have none of those in their bullpen.

Manager Mike Quade could have pinch-hit for Baker, but liked how he was already in the flow of Saturdays game. Hawksworth left a breaking ball up, and Baker barreled it.

The line drove bounced all the way to the wall in right field, just below the 368 sign at Wrigley Field, for a two-run double that completed a 10-8 comeback victory.

Its a decision you make and say, The guys been doing a hell of a job for us, lets give him a shot to win this thing, Quade said. And Ill be damned, he did it.

Darwin Barney who has emerged to take the second-base job away from Baker scored first on the play. Aramis Ramirez the third baseman Baker backs up in case of injury scored next.

That leaves Baker as a utility infielder, starting at first base on Saturday in place of Carlos Pena against left-hander Ted Lilly.

Hes always prepared for whatevers thrown at him, pitcher Ryan Dempster said.

Baker will turn 30 this summer and understands how hes being perceived at this stage in his career. He does not want to be labeled as a utility guy and doesnt think the sample size is big enough to say he cant hit right-handers.

But youll never hear Baker whos hitting .361 ripping the manager or the organization.

Thats not my style I like to win, Baker said. Obviously, you in your mind have ways that you want it to go and you want it to happen. But if it doesnt, its not about just me. There are 25 guys on the team. Im not going to complain.

My job is to play when they tell me to play.

The Cubs needed contributions from all over the roster to finish off the Dodgers (11-11).

Reed Johnson another bench player went 2-for-3 with a walk, an RBI and two runs scored. Jeff Samardzija earned the win by getting four outs and getting the ball to Carlos Marmol, who notched his fifth save.

We know that we have a lot of pieces to the puzzle, Barney said. We believe in ourselves. We dont feel were out of the game until its over. We think we can do some things this year. Thats what keeps us going.

The 10-10 Cubs have set a major-league record by hitting the .500 mark every step of the way, which led Quade to say: Its been the strangest 20-game start that I can remember at any level, anywhere.

Inevitably, things will happen over the next 142 games and the Cubs will need players to step up. Baker will be ready for it. He wont be looking over his shoulder for a pinch-hitter.

Thats not my call, Baker said. I dont worry about that stuff. I believe I can hit righties, lefties, it doesnt matter. I dont prepare to go up there and get taken out. I prepare to go up there and get the hit.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views

Yu Darvish still searching for results, but maintains he's on the cusp of putting it all together

Yu Darvish still searching for results, but maintains he's on the cusp of putting it all together

Yu Darvish accomplished something Saturday he has never done in a Cubs uniform — he pitched at least 5 innings in three straight starts for the first time since signing that $126 million deal more  than 14 months ago.

That's not exactly an indicator that Darvish will be contending for the National League Cy Young this season, but it's certainly a step in the right direction from his previous 10 starts in Chicago.

Darvish lasted just 5 innings in Saturday's 6-0 loss to the Diamondbacks, needing 88 pitches to get through those frames before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth inning. 

He retired 12 of the final 14 batters he faced, including a pair of strikeouts to end his last inning. 

Does he feel like he's still moving forward?

"I think so, especially that last inning," Darvish said. "The fifth inning — mentally — was very good. It's good for next start."

The end line Saturday wasn't great — 5 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts, 2 homers — but he kept his team in the ballgame after giving up back-to-back homers to the second and third hitters of the afternoon.

He was still hitting 96 mph in the fifth inning and acknowledged he could've easily gone another inning if the Cubs weren't trailing 3-0 when his spot in the batting order came up.

"The fastball velocity came up as the game was going on, the breaking ball got sharper," Joe Maddon said. "...They got him quickly and then [Zack] Greinke pitched so well. I thought keeping it at 3, which Yu did do, and that's really not a bad thing after the beginning of that game. We just could not get to Greinke. 

"Had we been able to get back into the game, I think Yu's performance would've been looked on more favorably, because he actually did settle down and do a pretty good job."

Still, the Cubs need more than moral victories every time Darvish takes the ball.

Theo Epstein said earlier this month he doesn't think it's fair to issue a "start-to-start referendum" on Darvish, but this is 5 starts into the season now for the 32-year-old right-hander, who's walked 18 batters and served up 6 homers in 22.2 innings so far. 

Forget the salary or the big free agent deal. This is a four-time All-Star who has twice finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young voting, yet fell to 2-6 with a 5.31 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 13 starts in a Cubs uniform. 

In those 13 starts, Darvish has walked multiple batters in 11 of them and allowed at least 3 earned runs in 8 outings. He's also averaged less than 5 innings a start overall, and that number is down to just 4.5 innings per outing in 2019. 

Darvish said he wants to pitch into the seventh inning (something he's never done as a Cub) and believes that would be great for his confidence that's been building — slowly but surely — since the start of the season. But he still has to get over that hump.

"His stuff's nasty — plain and simple," Jason Heyward said. "Any time I pitch with Yu in a video game, guarantee at least a 1-hitter. I feel like his confidence is just another thing he'll have to keep building on for himself. 

"Every game is different. Today was — I guess you could say — a step back or whatever. Last start was pretty good and next start, I know he's gonna come out and be hungry again. ... Today was one day. We got a long season. Hopefully next time we can scratch a few runs across."

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Cubs get more encouraging news on Jon Lester

Cubs get more encouraging news on Jon Lester

The news on Brandon Morrow might not be so positive, but the Cubs did receive very good reports on their injured ace this weekend.

Jon Lester threw a simulated game against a couple of his Cubs teammates Saturday morning at Wrigley Field, tossing 45 pitches in total. In between "innings" of the sim game, Lester was also working out on the side in an effort to ramp up the intensity and simulate more of a game feel to see how his injured left hamstring will respond.

Lester initially went on the injured list two weeks ago after he was removed in the third inning of the Cubs' home opener on April 8, when he hurt his hamstring running the bases.

"[The sim game went] really well," Joe Maddon said Saturday morning. "I thought he looked very good. Pretty amazing where he's at already. ... Did not hold back at all, so it's very encouraging."

Maddon also said he thought Lester's stuff looked good from where he was watching behind the catcher and pointed out that the Cubs ace was "hypercritical of himself," indicating that Lester's focus was on competing and making good pitches instead of worrying about his hamstring or any physical limitations.

The Cubs don't have a next step mapped out for Lester just yet, as they will see how the 35-year-old feels Sunday after the "rigorous" activity Saturday.

There is currently no timetable for his return, but Maddon didn't rule out the possibility that Lester would be able to pitch sometime in the coming week.

The Cubs rotation has looked very good since Lester went down — combining for a 0.96 ERA in the last 7 games before Yu Darvish struggled early in Saturday's tilt with the Diamondbacks.

Tyler Chatwood gets the ball for the Cubs Sunday to close out the series against Arizona and then the team has Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels lined up for the first two games of the series against the Dodgers when they come to town Tuesday night. 

The Cubs won't need a fifth starter in the rotation again until next Saturday, April 27, so that could be a date to circle for a possible Lester return if all continues to go well in the veteran's recovery.

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