A "Numbers" Game

Grant Johnson dropped his third start of the year on Saturday night. At 3-3, the Cubs' first overall pick in the 2004 draft has a decision in all six of his starts and a 5.40 ERA. Could those numbers be somewhat misleading? Daytona pitching coach Tom Pratt seems to think so.

Daytona fell, 5-4, to Lakeland in Class High-A Florida State League action and are 12-17 through 29 games. They maintain the worst ERA in the league at 4.38 in what is otherwise one of the most pitching-heavy leagues in minor league baseball.

For his part, Johnson allowed five runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings, walking two and striking out two. He has allowed 39 hits in 31 2/3 innings.

Given Johnson's past and the fact that he missed a good portion of last year while recovering from injuries, do his numbers tell the full story?

"He's only now finally starting to settle into a type of poise out there," said the veteran Daytona pitching coach. "We have to remember that last year was more of an introductory year for him. He hadn't thrown any at all coming off the nagging little injuries that kept him out of camp early on last season.

"He had some mechanical problems to iron out and trying to make those adjustments while competing at the same time is sometimes hard."

Are those mechanical issues still bothering Johnson this year?

"Well, he's getting better and better while showing signs of improvement every time out," Pratt offered. "The biggest thing for him is that he's very mature, disciplined, and his work habits are off the charts. He's prodding away."

From the bullpen, Tim Layden threw another 2 1/3 scoreless innings since joining the team and has not allowed a run in seven of his last eight appearances. The left-hander has a 1.41 ERA between Daytona and Peoria.

At the plate, Sam Fuld finished with three hits for the second straight night and has hit safely in all but one of his last nine starts atop the Cubs' order. Fuld is now batting .297 and is off to a 9-for-24 start in May.

Matt Craig has hit safely in all but one of his last 15 starts to bring his average to .258 after batting under .200 through April 21.

ELSEWHERE ON THE FARM ... In Memphis, Tenn., Iowa cruised to their second victory in as many days against Memphis, 7-2. Felix Pie collected a season high four hits in the win, including his sixth double. He is 11-for-32 against left-handers with five extra base hits and is batting .292 overall this season.

Les Walrond picked up his fourth win and lowered his ERA to 2.12 with six solid innings. He allowed an unearned run on four hits, walking four and striking out four. The 29-year-old southpaw is the only Iowa pitcher with more than one victory this season.

In Jackson, Tenn., West Tenn fell, 5-4, in their 13th one-run game this season. Randy Wells made his second start since coming off the disabled list and was presumably on another pitch count -- 45 pitches or three innings. He struck out four and walked one while allowing one hit and now has a 1.56 ERA through four starts. He lasted 2 2/3 before giving way to Bobby Brownlie, whose struggles followed him to Double-A.

Brownlie was tagged with the loss, allowing five runs and five hits in 2 1/3 innings in his first game since being demoted from Iowa on Friday. He is 0-4 to start the year.

Nic Jackson was hitless in five at-bats to snap his 21-game hitting streak. He is 13-for-34 since joining the team from Daytona. Chris Walker extended his hitting streak to eight games, raising his average to .281, its highest mark since April 15. He stole his 11th base.

In Peoria, the Chiefs won their third in a row and improved to their high-water mark at three over .500 with a 6-4 victory over Lansing. Mitch Atkins remains undefeated in six starts, but got a no-decision Saturday by lasting 4 1/3 innings and allowing two runs. The 20-year-old has the best average against of any starter on the staff at .185 and has a 2.01 ERA.

Mark Reed scored two hits to raise his average to .326, but has only started 13 games behind the plate while alternating time with Jake Muyco. Jonathan Mota and Ryan Norwood picked up their third straight two-hit games. Mota has six hits in his last 11 at-bats with four runs scored and is 8-for-25 through eight games. Norwood has 11 multi-hit performances this season for a team best .327 average (minimum 50 at-bats).

Kerry Wood makes his ninth career rehab appearance beginning at 6:30 p.m. CDT Sunday in Peoria. A compilation of those nine games (all but two of them starts) shows that Wood is 3-0 with a 1.85 ERA in that span.


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