Quality starts eluding Cubs

The Cubs led the National League in quality starts last year with 95. It's been quite a different story in the early going of this season.

When Ryan Dempster gave up four runs in the first inning of Sunday's 9-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies, it ensured the Cubs would not get a quality start for the 11th straight game.

One of the purported strengths of this team heading into the season was its starting pitching, particularly Nos. 1-3 pitchers Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza.

So far, Dempster is 1-2 with a 6.84 ERA, Zambrano is 2-0 with a 6.11 ERA, and Garza is 0-2 with a 6.27 ERA. Nos. 4 and 5 starters Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner are on the disabled list and will be for at least a couple more weeks. Righty Casey Coleman has slid into one of the vacant spots and has pitched reasonably well. The Cubs are trying to get a few more pitches from left-hander James Russell, who made his first major league start last Tuesday and lasted only 55 pitches.

Still, the focus remains on Dempster, Zambrano and Garza.

"None of them has hit their best stride yet," said manager Mike Quade. "And we've seen them when they've hit their best stride. Now, Garza, I haven't seen, but I've heard and read about it, so we know it's there. Start putting it together now."


--Russell is scheduled to start Tuesday night's home game against San Diego. Russell made his first major league start last Tuesday at Houston, but he lasted just 1 2/3 innings. The Cubs are without Wells and Cashner, both of whom are on the DL. Each will be re-evaluated this week.

--SS Starlin Castro finished a torrid road trip and showed he could handle any spot in the lineup. For the final six games of the trip, he batted leadoff. He was 15-for-28 with seven runs scored out of the No. 1 spot in the order, and Quade is inclined to keep him there.

"I'm not smart enough to change anything right now," Quade said.

Castro raised his batting average to .418 with a 3-for-4 performance Sunday.

--Alfonso Soriano leads the Cubs in home runs with five. He hit his fifth homer of the season in the Cubs' 14th game. Last year, Soriano didn't hit No. 5 until May 2, the Cubs' 24th game.

--2B Darwin Barney is the other half of the young keystone combo for the Cubs. Barney was 2-for-5 with a run scored against the Rockies as he went 8-for-24 since getting regular duty in the No. 2 spot. He won a roster job in spring training and has demonstrated good instincts in the field and on the basepaths.

--Dempster was not happy after giving up four runs in the first inning Sunday. The No. 1 starter in the Cubs' rotation did not get a decision. He's 1-2 with a 6.84 ERA.

"I've just got to do a better job of making pitches and getting people out," he said. "It's getting really old and really tired. I know they're professional hitters on the other side. You have to tip your cap to them sometimes, but when you throw the ball over the middle of the plate too much, you don't tip your cap to anybody. You look in the mirror and do a better job of that."

BY THE NUMBERS: .475 -- Cubs leadoff hitters entered the week leading the major leagues in batting average at .475 (28-for-59). Chicago leadoff men this year have been Castro, Jeff Baker and Kosuke Fukudome.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "No, I think I'll do it. I feel really good about my chances of being an All-Star, too. I'm working for that." -- Castro, on the possibility of becoming an All-Star.



--1B Carlos Pena (sore right thumb) sat out April 13, but returned to the lineup on April 14.

--Fukudome (strained left hamstring) came out of the game April 10. It wasn't believed to be serious. He did not play April 11-15.

--Cashner (mild right rotator cuff strain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 6. He might be able to return in late April or early May.

--Wells (slight right forearm strain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 5. He might be able to return in late April or early May.

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