Notes: The thrill of the chase

Notes: The thrill of the chase

CHICAGO -- This is the fun time of the year for Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker.

"I've been going through this for a long time, either chasing somebody or being chased," Baker said Monday of the Wild Card race. "This is the most fun part of the year. You derive energy from it. When you're in the race and have something to play for, you have some energy. I enjoy it a lot. This is what I manage for."

The Cubs started the day 6 1/2 games back, which is not an impossible feat, Baker said. But winning the Wild Card isn't the team's No. 1 goal. The Cubs entered Monday's game four games under .500. That's a problem.

"No. 1, we've got to get back to .500. That's how it is. That's our first task," Baker said.

Charmed: There is a lucky bamboo plant in Jerome Williams' locker. He also has a jade dragon because "I was born in the Year of the Dragon," he said. He'll tuck a tea leaf in his cap when he takes the mound Tuesday night for the Chicago Cubs.

It's all normal for the part Hawaiian, part Chinese pitcher.

"I'm trying to do everything I can," he said. "This kind of stuff always keeps me up."

Williams will make his first start since Aug. 13 on Tuesday night against Atlanta. He was skipped over because of an off-day last week, and has taken advantage of the time off to work on getting his arm stronger. That doesn't mean Williams will be throwing 100-mph fastballs.

"It's not throwing harder, but being stronger mentally and physically," he said. "It's keeping your body strong and having endurance, too."

He was a little distracted on Monday. Williams is close to the Hawaiian team competing in the Little League World Series, and the team's current third base coach was his coach when he was 10 years old.

"They're a pretty good team," Williams said, proudly.

The Hawaiian team won, 10-0, over a Florida team on Monday to improve to 3-0.

Backup plan: Nomar Garciaparra did not start Monday, still bothered by tightness in his lower back. His status is day-to-day. Garciaparra can hit, Baker said, but moving around on the field is a problem.

"One guy you've got to really be thankful for is Neifi Perez," Baker said of the backup shortstop who has started 89 games at the position. Garciaparra has started 24. "Hopefully, Neifi comes to the rescue again until Nomar gets better."

Slip sliding away: Reliever Scott Williamson knows he should listen to his catcher. Hopefully, next time he will.

Williamson is having trouble with his slider, and told catcher Michael Barrett on Sunday that he didn't want to throw it. But when Barrett went through the signs, Williamson shook him off until he came to the slider.

"If I had stayed with him, we probably would've been fine," said Williamson, who served up a three-run homer on his slider in the Cubs' 9-7 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

"I'm getting beat by the same pitch. It's my slider," Williamson said. "It used to be my bread and butter. It hasn't come around like I thought it was going to. To come to this level, they make you realize if it's good or not, and right now it's not. All my hits are off that."

Williamson is coming back 9 1/2 months after his second Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He's got a huge scar to prove it. And he's frustrated that he hasn't pitched better.

"I had a good talk with Larry [Rothschild, Cubs pitching coach] and Nomar," he said of a Sunday night conversation on the plane back to Chicago. "I played with Nomar two, now three years, and he's seen me when I'm healthy. I know what he's gone through and it's the same thing I'm going through.

"It was really good to have a talk with Larry," Williamson said. "He understands and they understand, too. When you struggle, the first thing that goes is your confidence, and not really in yourself, but in the organization. In my mind, I can still get guys out. But in their mind, you wonder if they're thinking, 'Can we keep running him out there? He hasn't fared well. Do we put him in these situations or not?' It's not that I can't get them out. It's bad pitch selection by me."

When Williamson came back from his first Tommy John surgery, he had 12 months to rehab -- plus Spring Training to get through the ups and downs. Now, he's trying to return after a shorter time and without spring games. He doesn't have the "snap" he needs on his pitches.

"I'm trying to find my rhythm and it's hard to do that at the big-league level," he said.

Special K: The Cubs could become the first team to lead the Major Leagues in strikeouts for five consecutive seasons since the Cleveland Indians did so from 1963-68. The last National League team to lead the Majors in Ks for at least five consecutive seasons was the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, who were on top seven years in a row from 1957-63.

If the Cubs reach 1,144 strikeouts this year, they would top their own Major League record for most over four seasons.

Sing along: Former Cub Tim Stoddard was to sing the seventh-inning stretch on Monday night. On Tuesday, comedian and Chicago native Tom Dreesen is on tap to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." WGN weatherman Tom Skilling and his crew will sing on Wednesday, followed by former Cubs reliever Lee Smith on Friday and the Comcast sports crew on Saturday.

Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg will lead the crowd on Sunday. Sandberg's No. 23 will be retired that day in pregame ceremonies. Former manager Tommy Lasorda will sing on Aug. 29 when the Dodgers come to town, followed by Ron Cey on Aug. 30 and broadcaster Charlie Steiner on Aug. 31.

Minor matters: Sergio Mitre gave up six runs on six hits and two walks over 1 2/3 innings in Triple-A Iowa's 6-3 loss to Memphis on Sunday. Ronny Cedeno was 2-for-4 and Matt Murton 1-for-3. Ben Grieve drove in all of the Iowa Cubs' runs. ... Juan Mateo threw five scoreless innings, giving up two hits and walking two, in Class A Daytona's 13-0 win over St. Lucie. Mateo struck out six. J.J. Johnson was 4-for-5 with eight RBIs and three home runs. ... Sean Gallagher gave up six runs on 10 hits over 4 2/3 innings while striking out eight in Class A Peoria's 14-7 win over Quad Cities in the first game of a doubleheader. Peoria lost the second game, 4-2. Eric Patterson had four hits and scored three runs in the first game, and stole two bases in the nightcap to increase his season total to 38. ... Mitch Atkins gave up one run on six hits over seven innings and struck out six in Class A Boise's 3-1 win over Vancouver.

Minor matters, Part II: The Cubs hope highly touted outfielder Felix Pie, who has been sidelined with a bone bruise in his right ankle, can play on Saturday and continue for seven to 10 days to finish Double-A West Tenn's season. Pie would then be eligible for the Minor League team's playoffs.

Pie will be one of seven Cubs players in the Arizona Fall League. The others include second baseman Patterson, outfielder Murton, first baseman Brandon Sing, utility player Buck Coates and pitchers David Aardsma and Angel Guzman. One more pitcher will be named to the Mesa Solar Sox team, Cubs player development director Oneri Fleita said.

Guzman is expected to throw Thursday. He had been bothered by a strained right forearm this season but his velocity is back in the mid 90s, Fleita said. And outfielder Adam Greenberg was to play three to five innings on Monday for West Tenn and work his way back to playing a full nine innings by week's end. Greenberg has been slowed by dizziness from being hit in the head by a pitch on July 9.

On deck: Williams (3-6, 5.13 ERA) will start in Game 2 of this three-game series against John Thomson (3-3, 4.53 ERA) and the Braves on Tuesday. Williams is looking for his first win at home and has lost his last three decisions.

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