Lieber a Welcome Presence

One of the biggest differences between this year's Cubs team and last is the presence of a long-relief man. At the start of the season, that long reliever is right-hander Jon Lieber.

Lieber is in the bullpen because the Cubs went to spring training with seven starting pitchers competing for the five spots. Right-hander Carlos Zambrano and lefty Ted Lilly are the Nos. 1 and 2 starters. Left-hander Rich Hill has the third spot. During spring training, right-hander Ryan Dempster won the fourth spot, and righty Jason Marquis won the fifth spot.

Lieber pitched the best of the three right-handers, but the Cubs made good on their promise to allow Dempster a shot at going from closer to starter. Marquis balked originally at possibly going to the 'pen. All along, Lieber said he'd do whatever manager Lou Piniella asked.

"We're fortunate this year in that we're carrying a long guy, Lieber, in our bullpen who we stretched out to start," Piniella said. "It really helps a lot. Last year, we didn't have that. Most of our relievers last year were of the very short variety. In that type of situation, we'd have to use up a lot of pitching. But this year, I think we're more prepared for it."

Before the season is too old, Lieber is likely to get a start, especially with bad weather -- or if one of the guys in the rotation falters. The Cubs like the fact that Lieber works quickly and throws strikes. His sinker also is ideally suited for Wrigley Field, where he is 29-18 with a 3.62 ERA for his career.

BREWERS 4, CUBS 3 (10 innings): The Cubs' top four hitters were a combined 1-for-18 against Ben Sheets and the Milwaukee bullpen Monday. New closer Kerry Wood hit the first batter he faced in the ninth, leading to a three-run inning. Bob Howry gave up a double to the first batter he faced, Craig Counsell, in the 10th. The first-batter troubles again bit the Cubs, with the Brewers scoring the game-winner in the 10th.


  • RF Kosuke Fukudome enjoyed a stellar Cubs debut Monday, going 3-for-3, including a game-tying, three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning against Eric Gagne. Fukudome doubled on the first big-league pitch he saw, off Ben Sheets. He also walked and singled, displaying the patience at the plate he was known for in Japan. Fukudome denied he was holding anything back in spring training, when he struggled from time to time with his hitting even as he was getting on base with walks.

  • LHP Rich Hill said he threw between 80 and 90 pitches Sunday in Arizona before rejoining the Cubs on Monday. Hill threw in a minor league game to stay on his regular turn. He'll make his season debut Friday against Houston. Hill has been working on mechanics and repeating his delivery over and over after he endured a tough spring that was full of command and control issues.

  • RHP Carlos Zambrano moved into 10th place on the Cubs' all-time strikeout list Monday, posting career strikeout No. 1,044. That moved him past Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown. However, forearm cramping came back again to bother Zambrano, who came out of Monday's game after 6 2/3 innings. The cramping has bothered him the previous two seasons, and Zambrano said drinking more water is one possible solution.

  • 1B Derrek Lee, who struggled during spring training, went 1-for-5 in the season opener. Cold, wet and windy conditions seemed to bother both the Cubs' and Brewers' offenses, and Lee continues to say he'll break out of it soon.

  • SS Ryan Theriot opened in the leadoff spot as expected. He and the No. 2 hitter, LF Alfonso Soriano, were a combined 0-for-10 with four strikeouts against Milwaukee pitching. Manager Lou Piniella will be patient, but only to a point, and if Theriot doesn't get on base, a lineup shakeup could be in order.

  • Northsiders Report Top Stories