Notes: Figuring out Hawkins

Notes: Figuring out Hawkins

CHICAGO -- Could LaTroy Hawkins be tipping his pitches? Apparently, the Chicago Cubs thought he was doing that last year and feel they've addressed it.

The issue was raised by former Philadelphia manager Larry Bowa, who said the Phillies knew what Hawkins was throwing. Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said it's been taken care of.

"Unless it's something different, I don't know [if he's doing it again]," Rothschild said Tuesday.

"Obviously, if we knew what it was we would've fixed it a long time ago," Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said. "I've looked at films and watched him pitch and tried to see if he's tipping his pitches, and I must be missing something."

When Hawkins was working on his slider last year, the Cubs thought hitters were getting good looks and able to anticipate things.

"It's hard as a catcher, especially in the heat of the game in the late innings to be looking for things like that," Barrett said. "I'm paying more attention to the hitters."

Cubs manager Dusty Baker said he'll try to use Hawkins now in a less stressful role than setup to get the right-hander's confidence back. Hawkins was the closer, then switched to setup when Ryan Dempster was moved to the closer role. Now, Baker said he'll use Hawkins earlier.

"Right now, I'm sure his confidence is down, big time," Baker said. "It has to be down. I don't care who you are, if you're booed the way he's booed, it has to affect you. I was booed every day in [Los Angeles]. As soon as I took my jacket off to go hit, they'd boo. I had my car scratched, gas lamps broken, rocks [thrown] at my house, all kinds of things. Then things changed. The next year I hit 30 home runs and I was on the all-Dodger team."

On Monday, Hawkins served up a game-winning home run to his former teammate Doug Mientkiewicz in the eighth, and said later that he was fine.

"Be consistent, that's all. Can't get too high, can't get too low," Hawkins said. "I didn't always have success. I've been there before. I know there's brighter days."

Baker doesn't think Hawkins is tipping his pitches or that he lacks the ability. The problem is basic: bad location.

"One of the main problems is that his fastball has leaked back over the heart of the plate," Baker said. "That's the main problem. I still contend this guy has some of the best stuff on our team. We just have to do something about changing grips or something so the fastball doesn't leak over the plate."

"I feel awful for him," Barrett said. "First of all, I want everyone to know this guy has been a Cub fan his whole life. He's a good pitcher and a great teammate. He wants to win more than anybody on this team. When he goes out there and doesn't pitch well, it hurts us all. We're all behind this guy 100 percent. It's just been baffling."

The fans haven't been as kind. Past Cubs closers Antonio Alfonseca, Rick Aguilera and Mel Rojas all were booed in Chicago.

"It's sad but true," Baker said.

"It ultimately comes down to location and stuff," Barrett said. "It doesn't hurt to make a mistake once in a while and not have it hit hard or hit over the fence.

"I've seen him get beat on home runs, I've seen him get beat on bloop hits, I've seen him get beat on weird plays. I feel for him and I want it to end."

Hawkins has addressed the media after games this year but before Tuesday's game, he shooed the media away from his locker.

"He's almost handled it too well for me," Barrett said. "I don't know how he does it. If I'd gone through what he's gone through, I'd need somebody with me in my room at all times."

   LaTroy Hawkins  /   P
Born: 12/21/72
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 215 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

Old friends: Mientkiewicz wasn't happy that his game-winner came off his former teammate.

"I felt almost bad for LaTroy," Mientkiewicz said. "He's one of the best teammates I've ever had, and I know he's scuffling and getting a raw deal. It's the first time I hit a home run I feel guilty about.

"He just didn't seem like the free-and-easy LaTroy of the past," he said. "I've only seen two guys all of 2002 square up his fastball on the first pitch. One was Manny (Ramirez); the other was Gary Sheffield. Hopefully he gets out of it. He's as dominant of a setup man as there is in baseball. I almost feel guilty for him."

Mientkiewicz didn't enjoy the reception Hawkins got from the Wrigley Field fans. It wasn't pleasant.

"It hurts me being an ex-teammate of his," he said. "He's fighting it a little bit. I feel horrible for him. He'll be fine. He's too good a pitcher not to get out of it."

Roster move: Jon Leicester made his first Major League start on Monday, and on Tuesday he was packing for Iowa again. The right-hander was optioned back to the Triple-A team and Sergio Mitre was called up.

The Cubs want Leicester, 26, to get more regular work at Iowa. Mitre was 2-3 with a 5.34 ERA in six starts for Iowa. He has struck out 27 over 32 innings.

Mitre got the phone call at 2 a.m. on Tuesday.

"I thought I was dreaming," Mitre said.

The 24-year-old right-hander will be used in the bullpen. He has a 2-5 record and 6.86 ERA in 15 big league games over the last two seasons.

Aches and pains: Kerry Wood is doing exercises to strengthen his right shoulder and keeping up with his cardio workouts. "I can do everything but throw," said Wood, on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right shoulder. ... Reliever Chad Fox is still waiting for the inflammation in his right elbow to go down before he can make a decision on what step to take. Fox felt a pop in his elbow on April 25, and had to leave the game. He's already undergone three operations on his elbow. ... Todd Walker (sprained left knee) is on schedule to leave Wednesday for Arizona and start his rehab assignment. ... Joe Borowski (fractured wrist) was to throw Tuesday for Triple-A Iowa, and, if all goes well, throw again on Wednesday.

Just the facts: Cubs shortstop Neifi Perez had a 13-pitch at-bat in the third inning Monday night against New York's Aaron Heilman. It tied a career best for Perez. He also had a 13-pitch at-bat May 11, 2003, in the ninth inning against Atlanta's John Smoltz. Perez also has had two 12-pitch and seven 11-pitch at-bats in his career.

Minor matters: Bobby Brownlie gave up two runs on five hits over six innings and struck out five in Iowa's 3-2 loss to Memphis on Monday. Dwaine Bacon was 2-for-5 with a triple and an RBI. ... Jae-Kuk Ryu gave up two runs on eight hits and two walks over six innings in West Tenn's 4-3 win over Tennessee. Matt Murton was 1-for-4 with a double and an RBI. ... Luis Montanez was 2-for-4 with a double in Peoria's 5-2 loss to Kane County.

On deck: Mark Prior will close the Cubs' series against the New York Mets on Wednesday. Set your alarm clock. It'll be a day game, 1:20 p.m. CT start.

Looking ahead to the weekend series against the Washington Nationals, the Cubs will start Glendon Rusch, Carlos Zambrano and Greg Maddux on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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