Piniella: Time to Tough it Out

With third baseman Aramis Ramirez out for possibly two months and first baseman Derrek Lee iffy because of neck spasms, the Cubs are going to have to "tough it out," manager Lou Piniella said.

The Cubs will go with a committee at third base, with Mike Fontenot likely getting the bulk of the playing time. He made two nice defensive plays in Sunday's victory over the Brewers, and that seemed to make an impression on Piniella.

The other possibilities at third are Aaron Miles, Bobby Scales and newly acquired Ryan Freel.

Lee has not played since last Tuesday, and Micah Hoffpauir has done a good job filling in at first. Hoffpauir hit well on the recent road trip, and he handles defense at first better than he does in the outfield.

The other area where Piniella is promising change is in the bullpen. Neal Cotts has struggled most of the season, and Aaron Heilman has had a rough two weeks after a good start to the season.

Jose Ascanio will get a chance from the middle innings on, as will Angel Guzman, whom Piniella said would get added responsibility.

The Cubs entered Monday 13th in ERA, and the bullpen has issued 64 walks in 90 innings pitched.


--RHP Randy Wells or RHP Ryan Dempster will start Thursday's series finale against the Padres at Wrigley Field. Wells, a rookie, made his first major league start Friday and got a no-decision after working five scoreless innings. Monday's off day has the Cubs debating whether to skip Wells and start Dempster on his regular day. If that happens, Wells will be an option in the bullpen, where he may end up when RHP Carlos Zambrano comes off the disabled list next week. Piniella said Wells has impressed him.

--Lee might be able to play Tuesday or Wednesday. He underwent an MRI late Sunday on his neck, and the results confirmed a bulging disk, which has been causing spasms. The problem first appeared two years ago, and it cropped up again late last month. Lee has not played since last Tuesday. The Cubs said Lee was feeling "significantly better" Monday. He's off to a slow start at the plate, with a .209 average to go with three homers and 15 RBI.

--RF Milton Bradley has reached base in 14 of his last 15 starts and has hit safely in eight of his last nine starts. Bradley is batting only .179 with three homers and six RBI, but he says he's feeling more comfortable at the plate.

"I feel like a hitter now," Bradley said.

--C Geovany Soto is still without a home run. The reigning Rookie of the Year had 23 last year, but he's batting just .169 with four RBI. His on-base percentage is .297, and his slugging percentage is an anemic .195. Looking for silver linings, Piniella said Soto is providing "leadership" and is doing a good job calling games and handling pitchers.

--RHP Kevin Gregg earned his sixth save in seven chances Sunday. He's allowed only one hit and no runs over his last four outings. Gregg went from opening day until May 1 between his first and second saves. He's gotten regular work of late, and with the offense struggling, the pressure will be on the back end of the pen to preserve leads.


At Des Moines, four Cubs (17-13) pitchers combined for a three-hitter in the victory Monday. RHP Greg Reinhard started and tossed four scoreless innings, allowing just one walk in a no-decision. He struck out three and faced the minimum 12 batters. RHP Vince Perkins (1-0) got the win, allowing one unearned run and one hit over three innings in relief. RF Brad Snyder (2-for-4) paced the offense with a three-run home run, his eighth of the season, and his eighth double.


At Sevierville, the Smokies (14-13) tallied 12 hits in the 13-inning loss Monday. DH Russ Canzler (3-for-4) picked up three hits in his Double-A debut and drove in three runs. 3B Marquez Smith (3-for-6) also added three hits, including a double. Tennessee used six pitchers with LHP Jeremy Papelbon (0-2) suffering the loss in relief. He allowed the eventual winning run and two hits in one inning. RHP Hung-Wen Chen started and received a no-decision, yielding three runs and nine hits over five innings. RHP David Cales made his Double-A debut and tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief. He has allowed just one run through 15 innings this season for a 0.60 ERA in 12 appearances.


At Daytona Beach, the Cubs (13-17) were out-hit, 11-6, in the six-inning loss Monday. RF Dylan Johnston (2-for-3) led the offense with two hits. He has hit safely in five straight games. LHP James Leverton (2-3) started and was tagged for four runs and five hits in three innings en route to the loss. He struck out two batters and walked one. The game was called after six innings due to rain.

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