Cubs

LIVE: Cubs facing Diamondbacks at Wrigley

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LIVE: Cubs facing Diamondbacks at Wrigley

Monday, April 4, 2011
Posted: 9:24 a.m.

(AP) -- Randy Wells thinks his struggles in 2010 will make him a better pitcher this season.

The Chicago Cubs right-hander will try to get this campaign off to a strong start and help his team bounce back from a disappointing loss in Monday's opener of a three-game home series with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Wells' first full season as a starter in 2009 was a surprise as he finished 12-10 and led all Cubs starters with a 3.05 ERA after being called up in May.

Wells, though, won only eight times last year, going 8-14 with a 4.26 ERA. After opening with three consecutive victories, he was 2-12 over his next 21 starts.

READ: No excuses, Cubs can't close deal for Garza

"I hit a little rough patch and didn't really know how to deal with it," Wells said. "I think it was a big learning experience. You learn a lot about yourself when you're going through that kind of adversity. I think it's really going to be beneficial for me this year."

The Cubs (1-2) could use a solid effort from their right-hander after failing to win their season-opening series versus Pittsburgh on Sunday as closer Carlos Marmol allowed two ninth-inning runs in a 5-4 loss. Shortstop Starlin Castro, who had two triples among his three hits, made a throw that pulled first baseman Carlos Pena off the bag, allowing Neil Walker to score the go-ahead run.

"A tough one for sure," manager Mike Quade said. "My sense is we'll be in a lot of (close) games. You work like heck and eliminate the mistakes."

The Diamondbacks (1-1) didn't get the chance to play Sunday as a mix of rain and snow postponed their series finale in Colorado. The previous day, they experienced a record 84-degree weather in Denver before losing 3-1.

Arizona had six hits in that game after collecting 15 in its season debut, a 7-6 win in 11 innings. Ryan Roberts said that opener gave the Diamondbacks a boost confidence.

"This team is capable of coming back and we showed it," he said. "This is a team that can hit and score runs late in games."

READ: Leading off, Castro only scratching the surface

Joe Saunders, who was scheduled to start Sunday, will get the ball for the series opener and bump Barry Enright to Tuesday.

"The guy's on my team. He's a veteran. I feel great about it," manager Kirk Gibson told the team's official website. "He was behind on his innings, but he got up around 100 pitches in his last outing. ... He'll be fine."

Saunders will try to rebound after suffering the most defeats in the majors in 2010 with Arizona and the Los Angeles Angels. The left-hander, who was 9-17 with a 4.47 ERA in a career-high 33 starts, didn't give many promising signs of a rebound during spring training as he was 1-3 with a 12.46 ERA in six outings.

Enright went 6-7 with a 3.91 ERA in 17 starts after his contract was purchased from Double-A Mobile on June 30. He won his major league debut in St. Louis but lost to the Cubs at home in the next outing.

Saunders dropped his only outing against Chicago on June 20 when he was tagged for eight runs - five earned - in 2 2-3 innings at Wrigley Field.

Wells is seeking his third win in as many starts against Arizona and will try to guide the Cubs to their seventh straight victory in the series.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

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AP

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, bullpen help figures to be on the Cubs' wish list.

But thanks in part to Kyle Ryan's emergence, the Cubs don't absolutely need that reliever to be left-handed (though it would probably be ideal).

The Cubs began the week with three southpaws in their bullpen, but at some point this weekend, Ryan may be the lone lefty remaining. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Royals late Monday night and with Carl Edwards Jr. progressing in his rehab (he threw again Tuesday), he might take Randy Rosario's spot in a couple days. 

The Cubs like Edwards against lefties and they also feel confident in Pedro Strop against either handed hitter when he's on. But Ryan has worked his way into Joe Maddon's Circle of Trust and is currently the only lefty residing there.

That's not to say the Cubs don't need another reliable southpaw in the 'pen, but Ryan looks like he's going to get some big outs for this team down the stretch.

"He's done a great job for us since he's been here," Jon Lester said of Ryan last month. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's been able to do."

Ryan impressed the Cubs with his work as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A last season and turned heads again in camp this spring. Still, Rosario made the Opening Day roster over him, though Ryan got called up on the team's season-opening road trip and made his first appearance on April 6.

Since then, he's been a mainstay while Montgomery battled injury and ineffectiveness, Rosario and Tim Collins have bounced between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago and veteran Xavier Cedeno's time off the injured list was short-lived.

Ryan looked to be finding his way throughout his first month in the bullpen, but after his infamous "freeze" moment against the Marlins, he endured some struggles (7 runs allowed on 12 hits in 7 innings from May 8 through June 1).

He's righted the ship since then, permitting only 1 run over his last 17 appearances (14 innings) and lowering his season ERA to 3.21 to go along with a 1.31 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

A big part of that recent success can be tied to Ryan's increased improvement against left-handed hitters. 

Lefties hit .344 with a .405 on-base percentage off Ryan through June 5. But since then, Ryan has surrendered only 3 hits — all singles — and zero walks to the 19 left-handed hitters he's faced (.158 AVG).

He credits part of that turnaround to working on a changeup, which he thinks has helped lock in the "feel" of all his other pitches as well as his mechanics. 

As he works to add a new pitch to his repertoire, Ryan has leaned on Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for assistance, while also picking the brains of veterans like Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Brad Brach who have all thrown changeups for quite a while.

But even with all that work, he still hasn't resorted to using the changeup much in games. The pitch is so foreign that it's still being picked up as a sinker, including on the Wrigley Field video board Sunday when he threw one in his inning of work.

"Eventually, I'm gonna find the changeup and it's gonna be a comfortable, confident pitch," Ryan said. "But I do think it's gotten me behind all the rest of my pitches and it's maybe a little bit better feel for everything. It's gonna stay where it is for a while. I'm gonna keep trying."

Ryan said one of the things he likes about the changeup is that it can eventually be a nice weapon because it "goes in the opposite direction" of all his other pitches.

We'll see if the new pitch can ever become a factor for the 27-year-old. But if it's helped lock in his other pitches, that's great news for the Cubs, especially as they look to fortify their bullpen this month.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss Yu Darvish's 1st win at Wrigley, Cole Hamel's status, and Kris Bryant playing better than he did in his MVP season.

01:00     Darvish picking up 1st win at Wrigley

03:30     Cole Hamels injury update

05:00     Starting rotation after the All-Star break

06:00     Cubs defense looking sharp

07:30     How the Cubs will approach the weekend and the expected heat

09:30     Kris Bryant playing above his MVP level

12:00     How the NL Central stacks up

14:00     Upcoming road trip to San Francisco, Milwaukee and Saint Louis

16:00     Addition to Martin Maldonado

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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