Next on the Schedule: The Nationals

The Cubs visit the Washington Nationals in a three-game set starting Friday.

It will be the first time the Cubs have played in the nation's capitol since 1899, and playing at RFK Stadium could be a good thing.

The Cubs struggled mightily at Olympic Stadium, posting a feeble 12-27 mark there in the past 10 campaigns (75-108 overall).

The Cubs and Expos split six games last year and Chicago hit seven home runs against Expos pitching. Corey Patterson and Aramis Ramirez each had two homers against Montreal in 2005.

Patterson hit two home runs from the leadoff spot against the New York Mets on Tuesday night. He has eight for the season, which is one behind team leader Derrek Lee.

Former longtime Expos catcher Michael Barrett hit .313 with a home run and two RBI against his former team last year.

Barrett, who hit a career-high 16 home runs in 2004 for the Cubs, hit his fourth of 2005--a three-run shot on Monday.

Cubs pitchers held Montreal to a .229 average last year.

NOTES, QUOTES

In the wake of LaTroy Hawkins' three losses in his last three appearances, he has been demoted from closer, to eighth-inning setup man, to a less prominent role.

Manager Dusty Baker is not giving up on Hawkins, who is 1-4 with a 4.26 ERA and three blown saves.

"We're going to put him in a less prevalent role for him so that he gets his confidence back," Baker said on Tuesday. "He'll pitch in the fifth or sixth, or whatever is necessary.

"One of the main problems is his fastball has leaked back over the heart of the plate," Baker said. "He'll have two strikes and get ready to throw one on the outside and it will come back toward the plate instead of cutting away from the hitter. I still contend he has the best stuff of anyone on our team. It's just that we have to do something like changing grips so that fastball doesn't leak over the plate."

Hawkins, who came to the Cubs as a successful setup man before the 2004 season, has been called on as a closer the past two seasons and results have been disappointing. Hawkins lost two straight games in the ninth inning last week, first against Milwaukee and then against Philadelphia.

He temporarily lost the job once this season when he blew his second save of the season against Pittsburgh on April 23. The next day, Chad Fox was the closer and picked up the save.

However, Hawkins picked up a reprieve when Fox suffered an elbow injury on April 25.

Greg Maddux turned in his best performance of the season on Tuesday, pitching 6 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out 10. The veteran will be counted on for quality innings in the next few weeks as the Cubs go to a four-man rotation.

Jon Leicester, who was brought up Monday to make an emergency start for the Cubs, was sent back to Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday. He gave up four runs in three innings of work in a no-decision against the Mets.

Roberto Novoa was sent down to Triple-A Iowa to originally make room for Leicester. Novoa, whom the Cubs feel could be a closer in the future, was 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA in five relief appearances.

Sergio Mitre was promoted from Triple-A Iowa to the parent squad on Tuesday and will serve as long reliever.

Jason Dubois picked up a rare start against a right-handed pitcher, as he was in the lineup against the Mets' Kris Benson on Tuesday. Dubois homered in the fourth inning against Benson and will get more playing time against righties in the wake of Todd Hollandsworth's struggles.

Hollandsworth, who hit .318 with eight homers and 22 RBIs in 57 games as a backup last year before he suffered a shin injury, is struggling as an everyday player this year.

He is hitting just .221 with one home run and seven RBI so far this year, and some are itchy to see how the rookie Dubois (.300, 3 HR, 9 RBI against mostly left-handed pitchers) would fare if he picked up more playing time.

"His timing is off some," Baker said of Hollandsworth. "And he's probably trying too hard now that he has a chance to play (full-time) again. That's what I think most of it is. Every time I look up it's no balls and two strikes against him. He's fouling a lot of pitches back that he usually puts in fair territory. It's like a nightmare. And anyone who has hit--the most time you are in trouble is when you are 0-2.

"We need Holly. Not only do we need him offensively, but he can run, steal a base or two, and he's a very good defensive player. That's what you need when you're not scoring a lot of runs."

Ryan Dempster was appointed the new closer. Dempster was considered a candidate to be the closer in spring training, but he was needed early in the season in the injury depleted starting rotation. He went 1-3 with a 5.35 ERA in six starts.

Dempster's stint as closer could be short-lived, as Joe Borowski could be an option when he comes off the disabled list. Borwoski saved 33 games in 2003 but injured his shoulder and missed most of 2004. He fractured his right wrist in spring training this year.

Borowski has been making minor league rehab appearances and looked sharp in two early appearances. But the chances are good that when he comes back, he will not be thrown into the fire right away. It's likely the Cubs will use him in the seventh and eighth innings before giving him a shot at closing.

Carlos Zambrano notched his first complete-game victory of the season with a 2-1 win over Philadelphia on Sunday. Zambrano threw 130+ pitches and finished the game because the Cubs' bullpen has struggled recently.

Todd Walker (left knee injury) is mapping out his potential return. The veteran is eyeing a rehab stint with Triple-A Iowa on May 14 and is hoping to rejoin the Cubs on May 20 against the White Sox.

Glendon Rusch, who had not gone more than three innings in a game this year while working out of the bullpen, started Saturday against Philadelphia and threw four shutout innings before giving up two runs in the fifth. Rusch will likely take over Kerry Wood's spot in the rotation while Wood recovers from a shoulder injury. However, the Cubs could get away with using a four-man rotation until late May.

(Content provided by Scout.com.)


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