Notes: Williams on the spot in last start

Notes: Williams on the spot in last start

MESA, Ariz. -- Jerome Williams' start on Thursday suddenly has a lot more meaning.

When spring camp opened, Williams was considered set for the Cubs starting rotation. The right-hander is 1-3 with an 8.00 ERA in five starts so far, and will close the team's Arizona schedule against Arizona at HoHoKam Park. The emergence of youngsters Sean Marshall and Rich Hill have made the Cubs re-think who will be in the rotation.

"You said it. It all depends on myself if I'm in the rotation or not," Williams said Tuesday.

Angel Guzman was in the mix, too, but because the right-hander has been sidelined with various injuries, the Cubs decided he needs more game experience and assigned him to Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday.

"Guzzie's missed a lot of time," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said Tuesday. "He's very, very close. You don't know if he's quite ready or not, but he's very close. We have to analyze that and make some decisions.

"Certain guys need to pitch, and Guzzie has missed part of three years almost," Baker said. "He has the stuff. It's just a question of should he serve a little more time in his apprenticeship."

Recently, Baker was asked if Marshall could make the jump to the fourth spot in the rotation, and the manager's response was that Marshall had to get to the fifth spot first. Now?

"It's a possibility," Baker said. "There are guys around the league who are his age and younger.

"If a young man throws strikes, they can win," Baker said. "There have been a number of young guys who came up and have done quite well, especially if they have the maturity and demeanor to handle it and do it. This is an opportunity for somebody to win a job."

Marshall, 23, has not allowed a run in his five games, including two starts. He's given up three hits, walked six and struck out nine over 10 1/3 innings, and will make his final spring start Friday in Las Vegas against San Diego.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry also said he wouldn't rule out the possibility that Marshall, who pitched primarily at Class A Daytona last year, could be in the four-man rotation. The Cubs have been forced to shuffle the order with Mark Prior sidelined indefinitely with a strained muscle in his right shoulder.

"We're going to pitch the best people in the spots where we think make the most sense," Hendry said. "When you have guys who go down like we have and know that [Kerry Wood] and Wade Miller will be late, we're here to put the best people available at the time out there and win as many games as we can and not worry about who's coming back when."

Hill, 26, is 1-0 with a 6.92 ERA in five games (three starts), and has given up 10 runs on 15 hits over 13 innings. He's struck out 15. But the lefty has looked sharp in his last two outings, and in the seven innings during that stretch, Hill has been charged with one run on five hits.

Williams, 24, who was 6-8 with a 3.91 ERA in 18 games (17 starts) last year with the Cubs, has been working on the back field with pitching coach Larry Rothschild. He's struggled in his first inning of work in his outings.

"The last game I pitched was the first game I didn't give up a run in the first inning -- I was pretty happy," Williams said of his start March 25 against Kansas City. He did give up three runs on five hits in five innings but got the win.

"It's just going out there and concentrating from the first inning on. Before that, I wasn't really concentrating, I was just throwing until the second, third, fourth innings and putting up zeros [then.] You just have to concentrate from the start and that's what I'm trying to do now."

On Tuesday, the Cubs dealt reliever Todd Wellemeyer to Florida for two Minor League pitchers. The team doesn't have a designated long man for the bullpen yet and Baker said Williams could possibly fill that role.

"As long as I'm part of the team, that's all that matters," Williams said. "If I'm part of the team as a reliever, so be it. Starter, so be it. As long as I'm a part of it, that's all that matters."

Trading places: Wellemeyer didn't want to leave the Cubs, but the good news is that he will be reunited with pitching coach Rick Kranitz, who is on the Marlins staff.

"I think this is a tremendous break for 'Welly,'" Baker said. "It's to his advantage to go to such a young club to pitch and also it's his advantage to go to a pitching coach who had him before. He's a fine young man. It wasn't easy to tell him and it wasn't easy for him to accept it."

The first trade is always the toughest.

"I woke up thinking something was up," Wellemeyer said. "Then I came in here, and of course, I get traded. I knew something was going to have to happen."

The right-hander was out of options, and there weren't many openings in the bullpen. Because of the schedule, the Cubs can go with a four-man rotation and won't need a fifth starter until April 15. They plan on taking 11 pitchers -- four starters and seven relievers.

"We came to camp with a tighter club to make in the 'pen with the additions of [Scott] Eyre and [Bob] Howry and the way [Will] Ohman and [Michael] Wuertz came on last year," Hendry said. "There was still a job to be won. We felt we gave him enough time -- we gave him right down to the wire to see if he could fit in with some of the other guys."

Wellemeyer has bounced back and forth between Triple-A Iowa and the Cubs the last three seasons. He was 5-3 with a 6.19 ERA in 57 games with the big-league club. How would he evaluate his time with the Cubs?

"That is a good question," Wellemeyer said. "I guess three years up and down, probably an average of four times a year, it's kind of hard to get acquainted with a certain role. I love the guys on the team. I've been a Cub fan my whole life. I think [the trade] is for the better. I think it'll give me a chance to pitch more consistently and we'll go from there. I'm staying positive and I'm ready to play."

Kranitz was the one constant. He was the pitching coach at Iowa last year.

"[Kranitz] was with me all through Triple-A and he's seen me pitch and he knows what I've got when I pitch," Wellemeyer said. "I'm sure that's what he told their head office. I'm glad he's down there."

The Cubs most likely would not have made the trade if Wellemeyer, 27, had options left. The two pitchers acquired in the deal were right-hander Lincoln Holdzkom, who missed all of 2004 with Tommy John surgery, and lefty Zach McCormack.

Holdzkom, 24, impressed the Cubs when he pitched against their Class A Daytona team last year and was clocked on the radar gun at 93-95 mph. He will likely be assigned to Double-A West Tenn. McCormack, 24, was an 11th-round pick in 2003, and has an above-average fastball and some deception in his delivery, Hendry said. He will be assigned to one of the Class A teams.

Congratulations: Outfielder Angel Pagan was named the winner of the fourth annual Ron Santo/Billy Williams Rookie of the Spring award. Pagan, 24, was hitting .367 this spring. The switch-hitter should make the big leagues for the first time in his young career. He has spent his entire career in the New York Mets Minor League system, and his contract was purchased by the Cubs in late January.

"I think his chances [of making the team] are real good," Hendry said. "We've always professed to be in the 'earn it' business. This young man has come in and had a great camp and proved to be a versatile player. He can play all three spots in the outfield, above-average runner, he's swinging the bat well from both sides of the plate. Hopefully he can carry it from Spring Training to the regular season."

Pagan has lived up to the hype from the Cubs scouts who saw him this summer and in Puerto Rico this winter. On Tuesday, he went 2-for-4 with a single and a game-tying, three-run homer, his fifth this spring.

"He's a ballplayer," Baker said. "These are things a ballplayer does -- they run the bases well, they hit well, they throw, they throw to the right base, they steal a base. I think we're very fortunate to get such a talent at such a low price."

Minor matters: Outfielder Felix Pie made a good impression on the Cubs. Baker talked to the young prospect when he was sent to the Minor League camp.

"Just go play," Baker said of his message to Pie. "Play, continue to work on keeping the ball down on cutoffs and relays. He has a strong arm as a kid. When you have a strong arm, you have a tendency to throw the ball all the way. I told him to work on his bunting. He hasn't bunted much. He's been working a lot with [special assistant] Sonny Jackson on bunting.

"And he has to work on his base stealing," Baker said. "We were told that when he gets thrown out, he shuts it down. He'll be fine. He left with a good attitude and thanked us for the amount of playing time that he got."

Extra bases: Hendry said he will likely talk to Derrek Lee's agent, Casey Close, this week regarding a possible contract extension. "Hopefully, we'll be able to do something before Opening Day," Hendry said. "I think Derrek knows our intentions, we certainly know his. We have every intention of trying to secure Mr. Lee for a long time." Lee is 0-for-6 in two games since rejoining the team Monday. ... Hendry said Juan Pierre's agents want to wait before discussing a possible contract extension. The market for leadoff men has changed. Jimmy Rollins was the highest paid leadoff man in the National League last year at $8 million but Rafael Furcal changed the market by signing for $13 million with the Dodgers this year. ... Shortstop Ronny Cedeno made a throwing error in the fifth inning Tuesday to end the Cubs' errorless streak at nine games. Cedeno made another error in the seventh. ... Scott Williamson, who had to leave his last start because of a low back strain, pitched one-third of an inning in relief on Tuesday. ... Roberto Novoa, who had been sidelined with a respiratory infection, pitched two-thirds of an inning Tuesday, his first appearance since March 5. ... Another youngster who has made a good impression is infielder Ryan Theriot. He started at third on Tuesday. "He's improved big time," Baker said. "You wonder if it would be better for him to help us here or continue to improve [and play in the Minors]. Last year, he came into his own. He's one of those guys who will go to the end, too." Theriot hit .304 at Double-A West Tenn last year. ... Aramis Ramirez has an 11-game hitting streak.

Quote of the day: "The tougher the decisions you have to make at the end of camp, that means the better things are going in certain areas." -- Hendry

On deck: The Cubs travel to Tempe to play the Angels on Wednesday. Opening Day starter Carlos Zambrano will make his final spring start for the Cubs.

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