Cubs

Silva rocked in first start since dugout dispute

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Silva rocked in first start since dugout dispute

Monday, March 7, 2011
3:32 p.m. Updated 7:30 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Carlos Silva clapped his glove and pointed at Welington Castillo after his catcher threw out the runner at second base. This was the Cubs picking each other up, just like they talked about.

One inning later, it all unraveled.

Silva allowed seven consecutive Angels to reach base during Monday's 14-13 win. He drew mock cheers from the fans at HoHoKam Park once he finally got the first out of the third inning.

By then, you were lowering the odds on Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells making the rotation. This time Silva did not want to hear about how it might impact his chances.

You need a new question, Silva said, locking in on one reporter. Thats the only question you always ask.

The media actually had to wait nearly 48 hours before Silva finally agreed to talk about last weeks dugout confrontation with Aramis Ramirez.

Next question please, Silva said before muttering something under his breath.

That pressure to compete sparked last weeks dugout confrontation with Aramis Ramirez. Silva watched his teammates make three errors, told them to start making some plays and Ramirez took it personally. They had to be separated.

That meltdown led to a series of meetings, unwanted national attention and the first crisis of manager Mike Quades first full season on the job.After giving up eight runs on 10 hits in 2.1 innings on Monday, Silvas ERA is now 29.70 this spring.

Ultimately, Silva gets why hes being asked about his spot, but he doesnt appreciate it. In his mind, it started last spring training, if not from the moment he was acquired in the Milton Bradley deal.

I understand, Silva said. That was the main question every time I pitched well, when I pitched bad. When I pitched good, no one talked about it. Its the same question asked last year: Do you think this is going to affect you?

(I) cant think about it. If Im going to think that way it will put me down, too. Theyre going to make the decision and well see whats going to happen.

We live in a world of snap judgments and instant analysis, but publicly Quade is taking the long view.

Its about the body of work, Quade said. Hell be back and hell be better. Im convinced of that.

Silva made it unscathed through two scoreless innings before he lost control of his changeup. He couldnt blame this one on his defense. The Angels hit the ball hard, and all over the field. They knocked out eight hits during that sequence.

Silva insisted that he feels good, and wrote it off as bad luck and balls just finding holes.

The Cubs arent stretching out Cashner a 24-year-old former first-round pick just to abandon the plan come April. Wells who has accounted for 59 starts across the past two seasons has not allowed an earned run through his first five innings this spring.

At this point Quade hasnt planned how or exactly when he will announce the winners of the rotation auditions. The first round of roster cuts wont happen until around the March 16 off-day. The final decisions will be pushed toward the end of camp.

We dont know whats going to happen, Quade said. Heck, we could have three guys (get injured). I kind of hope for the best but anticipate the worst, so we need to keep everyone pitching and see how this plays out.

Silva has distanced himself from the idea that hes owed a job. He knows he needs to start showing some results.

If I focus on what happened Im going to get screwed, Silva said. Hopefully well forget about this one and keep working. Hopefully the next game it wont happen again.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

'He belongs here': What to expect from top prospect Adbert Alzolay's first major league start

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USA Today

'He belongs here': What to expect from top prospect Adbert Alzolay's first major league start

A big part of the Cubs’ MO during the Epstein Era has been the team’s reliance on veteran pitchers. Whether it’s Jon Lester’s cutter, Cole Hamels’ changeup, or Jose Quintana’s sinker, it’s been a while since other teams have had to step into the box against a Cubs starter without much of a scouting report. On the surface, uncertainty from a starting pitcher may sound like a bad thing, but it’s that same apprehension that makes Cubs’ prospect Adbert Alzolay’s first major league start so exciting. 

“There’s energy when you know the guy’s good,” Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s game. “There’s absolutely energy to be derived. But there’s also curiosity. Let’s see if this is real or not. I think he answered that call.” 

The good news for Alzolay and the Cubs is that much of the usual baggage that comes with one’s first major league start is already out of the way. All of the milestones that can get into a young pitchers head -- first strikeout, first hit, first home run allowed, etc -- took place during Alzolay’s four-inning relief appearance back against the Mets on June 20th. 

“I want to believe that that would help,” Maddon added. “It was probably one of the best ways you could break in someone like that. We had just the ability to do it because of the way our pitching was set up, and I think going into tonight’s game, there’s less unknown for him.”

It also helps that Alzolay will have fellow Venezuelan countryman Willson Contreras behind the plate calling his first game. There’s even a sense of novelty from Contreras’ end too. 

“[Catching someone’s debut] is really fun for me,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s a big challenge for me today. I’m looking forward to it. I’m really proud of Alzolay, and I know where he comes from - I know him from Venezuela. It’s going to be fun.”

Tuesday's plan for Alzolay doesn’t involve a specific innings limit. Maddon plans to let the rookie go as long as he can before he “gets extended, or comes out of his delivery,” as the manager put it. On the mound, he’s a flyball pitcher with good control that works quickly. Expect to see a healthy dosage of 4-seamers that sit in the mid-90’s alongside a curveball and changeup that have both seen improvements this year. 

Against the Mets, it was his changeup was the most effective strikeout pitch he had going, with three of his five K’s coming that way. It’s typically not considered his best offspeed offering, but as Theo Epstein put it on Monday afternoon, “[Alzolay] was probably too amped and throwing right through the break,” of his curveball that day.  

It’s obviously good news for the Cubs if he continues to flash three plus pitches, long the barometer of a major league starter versus a bullpen guy. Even if he doesn’t quite have the feel for all three yet, it’s his beyond-the-years demeanor that has those within the organization raving. 

“The confidence he showed during his first time on the mound, as a young pitcher, that’s a lot,” Contreras said. “That’s who he can be, and the command that he has of his pitches is good, especially when he’s able to go to his third pitch.” 

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”