Notes: Baker changes closer strategy

Notes: Baker changes closer strategy

CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker has decided to make a change and use a "bullpen by situation" after LaTroy Hawkins blew his second one-run save situation.

Baker spent a sleepless night Saturday after the Cubs' 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hawkins now is 3-for-5 in save situations. One of those was a one-run decision on April 16, and the other two saves came in games when the Cubs had a two-run lead.

Since joining the Cubs last year, Hawkins has blown nine of 14 one-run save situations. According to Stats Inc., Hawkins has been successful on 21 of 44 one-run save situations in his career, while he is 24-for-28 in his career in two-run situations, and 20-for-22 in three-run situations.

Baker doesn't believe the problem is Hawkins' pitches. He has the stuff.

"That's not the issue," Baker said. "It's time to make some changes. At least until whatever is happening stops happening and we get it straight. Right now, we have to make some changes. It's not very pleasant on us, or him, or Cubs fans, or anybody.

"It's not all on him," Baker said of Hawkins. "We have to tighten our total game up. If our game is tight, we wouldn't be in that situation. We have to tighten it up and urge everybody not to panic. After 17 games, you can turn it around like spring time -- cold one day and hot the next."

After Hawkins blew a one-run lead in the Cubs' home opener on April 8 against Milwaukee, Baker talked to the right-hander. The manager chatted with his pitcher on Sunday as well.

"I talked to him, talked to Jim [Hendry, general manager]," Baker said. "I talked to a lot of people."

The bullpen by committee concept is not one that Baker endorses.

"You end up waiting to use the committee in the ninth and you need the committee in the seventh or eighth," Baker said. "It will be more of a bullpen by situation, bullpen by who's pitched two or three days in a row. It could be a number of things. It's not exactly by committee.

"You say 'bullpen by committee' and that sounds like everybody, and it's not everybody," he said.

Joe Borowski, who had a chance to reclaim his job as the Cubs closer but hurt his wrist in Spring Training, threw from flat ground on Sunday and is progressing.

"He's doing pretty well," Baker said. "If Joe hadn't gotten hurt, we wouldn't be talking about this. He did get hurt in a freak accident and hopefully we can be together soon and have it how we planned."

Perhaps the bigger concern than who will close for the Cubs is the team's performance with runners in scoring position. Entering Sunday's game, the Cubs were batting .252 with runners in scoring position overall, but a dismal .171 with RISP and two outs.

"That's a big one," Baker said. "I think a lot of guys are trying to do it all themselves.

"Sometimes if it's not a good pitch to hit and it's a ball, then you have to pass the baton to the next guy," he said. "When things aren't going the way you want it and being the team guys who we have here, everybody wants to be the guy who gets us over the hump. That's counter-productive sometimes, especially when you're swinging at bad ones."

   Michael Wuertz  /   P
Born: 12/15/78
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 205 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

Closer candidates: So, who might Baker go with? How about Michael Wuertz?

The right-hander had 19 saves and a 2.42 ERA at Triple-A Iowa last season, and has a 1.13 ERA in nine games this year. And he likes the idea.

"I just accept whatever role I have," Wuertz said. "I'll be ready to pitch whenever they need me.

"When the bases are loaded, one or two outs, or something like that -- I like that," he said. "Last year, going to Iowa and getting into that closer role and having that mentality, that's the mentality you have to take in those situations. It's just making one pitch at a time, and getting one out at a time. It's just concentrating on getting that one out."

Wuertz wasn't going to campaign for the job. It's still April.

"It's still early in the season," he said. "How often do you see that happen to the closer? Giving up a home run like [Hawkins] did to tie ballgames -- you don't see that. It's weird. We all wish we had the answer. It's early in the season and we have a long way to go. It'll be interesting to see how it works out. We'll see."

Chad Fox is against the bullpen by committee concept. He was part of the Boston Red Sox's attempts to do that in 2003 and called it a "coin flip."

"I'm sure [Baker] knows who he wants to use," Fox said Sunday. "If he calls on me, that's great. Like I've said from Day 1, all I want to do is be in a situation to help us win."

Fox talked to Hawkins after Saturday's game.

"It's a long year and you can't throw someone by the wayside just because he blew a game last night," Fox said. "I think we're all ready and prepared down there. If the phone rings in the ninth, let's go get 'em."

House call: Nomar Garciaparra is still considering his options and had yet to make a decision whether to have surgery for the ruptured tendon in his groin. He has been examined by Dr. Stephen Gryzlo, the team's orthopedic specialist.

"I'll get evaluated again in the next couple of days by other people," Garciaparra said Sunday. "As long as everybody's consistent, we'll know we're making the right decision."

It was encouraging to see Garciaparra walking much better on Sunday than he has since injuring his groin Wednesday night in St. Louis. Mike Piazza suffered a similar injury on May 16, 2003, and was able to play again that season, returning to the lineup on Aug. 13.

"He didn't have surgery, but everyone is different," Garciaparra said. "Somebody joked that you can ask 100 doctors, and 50 will say you should have surgery, and 50 will say no, and they're all right.

"Everybody's different but getting looked at, you will make the right decision," he said. "I'll know more in the next couple days."

Step by step: If all goes well, Borowski could throw a simulated game on Wednesday.

Borowski threw a side session on Friday at Wrigley Field, and threw fastballs and sliders off flat ground on Sunday. He will have a throwing session in the bullpen on Monday.

The latest X-rays show calcium buildup on his right wrist, and doctors told him the X-ray won't be completely normal until December.

"I've been very fortunate the last three, four days," said Borowski, who has had no pain or problems with his right wrist. Originally, the Cubs medical staff thought Borowski would not be able to pick up a ball until May 1.

"I told the doctor ... I was going to prove him wrong," Borowski said.

Cubs outfielder Jeromy Burnitz was asked if injuries are looked at differently inside the clubhouse by the players than outside by the fans and the media.

"Yes, because as players we're all just showing up individually to do our job," Burnitz said. "In my world, I don't want to see anybody get hurt ever, but it doesn't enter into my mind and I'm not different than any other guy here who's participating. It's not even really talked about.

"We're sorry for the guys who got hurt, but the fact is we all have jobs to do and we show up here," Burnitz said. "It's not that big of a factor for the other guys. It's a factor for the guys who got hurt."

Minor matters: The Iowa Cubs and Nashville did not play Saturday because of a power outage inside the stadium. The outage was due to a car accident outside the stadium that resulted in a downed power pole. ... Matt Murton was 2-for-4 with a solo homer for Double-A West Tenn in a 5-3 loss to Huntsville.

Extra bases: It was much warmer Sunday compared to Saturday, although most of the Cubs players couldn't tell. "I'm still cold," Derrek Lee said. "I think if it's below 40 [degrees], you should call the game." ... One option not being considered is moving Ryan Dempster out of the rotation and into the closer role. "He's throwing so good -- you would weaken yourself in one area to strengthen yourself maybe in another area, but you don't know if that's going to work," Baker said. ... Corey Patterson did not start because he was 0-for-10 lifetime against Pirates starter Dave Williams. "Most of the guys don't even know the stats that I know," Baker said. "I told [Jerry] Hairston he was 0-for-15 off [Mark] Redman and he says, 'Really?' I showed it to him. He doesn't even remember facing him." ... Former NFL quarterback Joe Montana was a guest of Baker's before the game and threw out the first pitch.

On deck: The Cubs play host to the Cincinnati Reds for three games starting Monday, marking the first night games at Wrigley Field this season. Hopefully, the temperatures will warm up. Mark Prior is scheduled to start Monday, followed by Carlos Zambrano and Dempster. Prior is 1-2 with a 1.82 ERA lifetime against the Reds.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.