Notes: Piniella sorts out pitching staff

Notes: Piniella sorts out pitchers

SAN DIEGO -- Sean Marshall is now in the Cubs' rotation. Neal Cotts will be pitching for Triple-A Iowa. Angel Guzman is being groomed as a closer, but Ryan Dempster still has the job. For now.

On Tuesday, Cubs manager Lou Piniella sorted out the changes to his pitching staff and took responsibility for the mixup regarding Dempster's role.

Dempster had announced after Sunday's game that he was returning to the rotation. Twenty minutes later, and after a meeting in Piniella's office, Dempster said he was back as the closer.

"I take responsibility for that one," Piniella said Tuesday. "If there's anybody to blame here, just blame me. I was going to talk to him after the game. I did the [postgame] media thing, and then we had to send Cotts out. Before I had a chance to talk [Dempster], he'd already talked to the media. He's in the place right now where he belongs to help us win baseball games."

That means he's still the closer. Dempster was OK with that.

"I'm just going to go out and close a game today," Dempster said Tuesday.

But he also will be mentoring Guzman, who is in the 'pen. Guzman had made three starts but was forced out of his last game because of cramps. Shorter outings may eliminate that problem.

"I talked to Ryan about starting, and he enjoys that," Piniella said. "It's really what he wants to do. At this time, he can help this ballclub a lot more [as the closer]. He's done a nice job out of the bullpen. He can help Guzman get acclimated a little bit. He can learn from [Dempster]. At the same time, down the road we can look at the possibility. Down the road."

Guzman is OK with the new assignment.

"I want to try to get as much as I can from him," Guzman said of Dempster. "He's been two years as a closer in the bullpen. The best way to be a good pitcher is get advice from guys who have been there before. He's a great guy, and I know he'll try to teach me as much as he can.

"I'm pretty excited about it. Let's see how it's going to be."

He has pitched back to back once this year, but in his earlier stint in the pen, Guzman was used in long relief.

"After the problem I had on Thursday [against New York] with the cramps and everything, I started realizing the best thing for me is being in the bullpen, whether it's middle reliever, setup, closer," Guzman said. "I think I can build up strength in my arm to be ready for every game, and I won't be having those kind of problems I was having."

The plan is to ease Guzman into the role. Piniella said the right-hander will be called upon to pitch in the seventh and eighth innings at first. They want to see how his arm responds.

"We've got some figuring out to do," Piniella said. "If Dempster has pitched two or three days in a row, and he needs a day off and we get in a close situation and this kid is throwing the ball well, give him a chance."

Guzman apparently is the type of closer Piniella likes. Still, Dempster has done the job, going 9-for-10 in save situations this season. But he prompted Piniella to consider a change after he was unable to hold a four-run lead last Thursday against the Mets.

Piniella has had an interesting list of closers, including Dave Righetti in New York, Randy Myers and the Nasty Boys, Norm Charlton and Rob Dibble, in Cincinnati, and Jose Mesa and Kazuhiro Sasaki in Seattle. What does Piniella want from his closer?

"I like guys who are successful," he said. "Everybody has their own style. The bottom line is getting the job done.

"I've had good closers. Dempster is a good closer."

Welcome back: Marshall, slowed this spring because of fatigue in his left shoulder, was called up and will make his 2007 debut Wednesday against the Padres. He was a combined 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA in five starts for Class A Daytona and Triple-A Iowa.

Marshall is the seventh starter to be used by the Cubs this year. Through 44 games last season, the Cubs had used eight different starters.

To make room for Marshall, the Cubs optioned Cotts to Iowa, where he will start. Cotts was 0-1 with a 4.86 ERA in 16 relief appearances for the Cubs.

"It wasn't that I was disappointed [in Cotts]," Piniella said when asked to explain the demotion. "We haven't been getting all that much production from our left-handed relievers, and we've been using our right-handed bullpen a lot more.

"Now that we're going to have three left-handed starters, it plays into the strength of our right-handed bullpen," Piniella said. "Somebody had to go. It wasn't that I was disappointed, but we needed a roster spot. Cotts will go back down there and start."

Marshall was eager to get back to the big leagues. He threw 90 plus pitches in his last outing May 17 against Oklahoma, going eight innings.

"I was bummed in Spring Training that I only had one inning in camp," Marshall said. "Now, I'm excited to be able to pitch and pitch back up here again."

The fifth starter spot is open.

"I hope I can stay for the rest of the season, stay for 10 years, 15 years and have a nice long career," Marshall said. "Let's start it right now."

Wheel alignment: With the addition of Marshall, the Cubs have three left-handers in the rotation and didn't want all three going in a row. Southpaw Ted Lilly will get extra rest and open the Cubs series Friday at Los Angeles.

Lilly will be followed by Carlos Zambrano and then Rich Hill, who started Tuesday against the Padres.

Wade Miller rejoined the Cubs Tuesday in San Diego but there was no word on the next step for the right-hander, who made a rehab start Monday. Miller gave up four runs on six hits and three walks over six innings while striking out three in Iowa's 5-1 loss to Round Rock.

"Let's just wait and see," Piniella said.

Welcome back, Part II: First baseman Derrek Lee returned to the lineup, starting for the first time since May 13. He'd been sidelined with neck spasms, and made a grand appearance Saturday against the White Sox, slugging a pinch-hit grand slam in the 11-6 win. On Tuesday, Lee said he was about "80 percent."

"Honestly, Saturday was the best I felt," he said. "I don't know if it was the warm weather or what it was. Saturday I felt really good. [Today] it's not as good as Saturday, but it's not bad at all.

"I think the injury has healed," he said. "Maybe the activity I'm doing now, it's responding to that."

Lee, who held onto the lead in the National League in hitting with a .394 average, said he didn't expect to be tentative on the bases to avoid aggravating his neck.

"I just got in a funny position or something," he said of the injury, which happened while sliding into a base. "I don't expect it to happen again. It's a freak thing. I don't think it'll happen again."

With Lee back, Alfonso Soriano was moved back to the leadoff spot. Soriano is a career .292 hitter in the leadoff spot, while he's hit .161 batting second and .260 batting third.

"That's where he's done his best work," Piniella said.

Soriano was batting third to fill in during Lee's absence and went 5-for-28 (.179). He was batting .306 (38-for-124) as the leadoff batter.

"I'm not feeling like a third hitter," Soriano said. "I hit third because we didn't have anybody to hit third on the team.

"I like batting first, especially if I feel good with my legs," he said. "If he wants to move me to make the team better, it's fine with me."

Piniella admitted he does like the idea of Ryan Theriot batting leadoff.

"I do," Piniella said. "You look at [Soriano's] lifetime numbers, and lifetime numbers tell you that he belongs in the No. 1 hole."

Quote of the day: "I might go coach third base tonight." -- Piniella said when asked if he had any more surprises in store

South of the border: Last year, Hill, Marshall and Les Walrond started games on Sept. 16, Sept. 18, Sept. 20, Sept. 22, and Sept. 26. That's the last time the Cubs had three southpaws on the roster and in the rotation at the same time.

The last time three left-handers were in the rotation for a significant amount of time was in 1985. In July of that year, the Cubs had Larry Gura, Steve Trout and Steve Engel. Gura was replaced by Ray Fontenot, and from Aug. 20, 1985, to Sept. 19, 1985, Trout, Engel and Fontenot each got at least five starts. Collectively, they started 18 of 31 games during that span. Trout and Fontenot pitched after that stretch but Engel made his last start on Sept. 15.

Extra bases: Mark Prior, who has been rehabbing his right shoulder in San Diego, was in Birmingham, Ala., this week to get a checkup. ... The Cubs will honor Ernie Banks with a statue, to be erected at Wrigley Field by Opening Day 2008. "This is truly a tremendous honor," Banks said. "The Cubs mean everything to me." The location of the statue has yet to be determined.

Minor matters: Jeff Samardzija gave up seven runs on nine hits over 1 2/3 innings in Daytona's 11-3 loss to Sarasota. He's now 0-3 with a 5.18 ERA. ... Micah Hoffpauir hit a two-out RBI double in Iowa's loss to Round Rock. He has 40 RBIs this season, tops in the Pacific Coast League. ... Sean Gallagher gave up two runs on four hits over five innings in Double-A Tennessee's 4-3 win over Mississippi. Jake Fox was named Southern League Offensive Player of the Week after batting .571 (16-for-28) with three doubles, one triple, four homers, five RBIs and a 1.138 slugging percentage. ... Lansing beat Class A Peoria 4-3. Russ Canzler had three hits.

On deck: Marshall will make his 2007 debut Wednesday against San Diego. Marshall was 6-9 with a 5.59 ERA last season with the Cubs in 24 starts. The game will be broadcast on WGN TV.

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