Notes: Dempster's return delayed

Notes: Dempster's return delayed

PITTSBURGH -- Before Friday's game, Cubs manager Lou Piniella said he wanted Ryan Dempster to pitch in a Minor League game during the All-Star break so the closer would be ready when the second half starts.

Not so fast.

Dempster will be shut down after experiencing some discomfort in his left oblique during a side session on Friday at PNC Park. He is not expected to be activated on July 13.

"He threw today and it wasn't good," Piniella said after Friday's game, an 8-4 loss to Pittsburgh. "He's not going to be able to throw at all during the All-Star break. I don't think he'll even be ready for next Friday. It'll be within a few days of that."

The injury was expected to take three weeks to heal. Dempster was placed on the disabled list June 23.

"I'm just not going to do anything until Thursday," Dempster said. "I'll put my uniform on and cheer my teammates, and that's it.

"I don't feel it long tossing, and I don't feel it flat ground," he said. "I just felt it off the mound, about 10 pitches in. That's progress. I couldn't even play catch a week ago."

The Cubs will be careful.

"We'll play it slow and get it right," Dempster said.

With Dempster on the sideline, the Cubs have been able to see the other relievers in late-inning situations.

"We had an idea with [Bob] Howry," Piniella said of the right-hander, who has assumed the closer role. "[Carlos] Marmol, that was good experience for him, and [Will] Ohman, also. We've got some choices. We were able to bring up a kid like [Billy] Petrick, and I like him a lot, too. We've got the makings of a real nice bullpen here."

Plus, Angel Guzman is beginning to throw at extended Spring Training in Mesa, Ariz., and Kerry Wood may be a factor at the end of July.

Roster move: The Cubs are still expected to open the second half with a little different roster, and a key decision will be whether Felix Pie is better suited in the role he's in now or if he needs to get more at-bats in the Minor Leagues.

And the deciding factor could be Jacque Jones.

Pie was batting .217 in 47 games, and 19-for-89 in his last 29 games, but he hasn't been starting regularly in center. Even with Dempster's status uncertain, the Cubs want to get back to 12 pitchers.

"I love the kid," Piniella said Friday of Pie. "The thing is, we're at where we started the season."

At the start of the season, the Cubs were in a bind because Alfonso Soriano needed to switch from center to left field. Jones played center, and there was a logjam in right.

Piniella met with Jones during the series in Washington to talk about getting the outfielder back on track.

"My conversation with him the other day was, 'You can have a real nice second half,'" Piniella said of Jones. "He plays center field well. I've got [Angel] Pagan out there. Pie can help us every day. It's just a question of whether the organization wants him helping this way or getting more at-bats."

If Jones swings the bat well, he'll get more playing time.

"We'll give him a chance," Piniella said of Jones, who was batting .232.

The Cubs now have four left-handed hitting outfielders in Jones, Pie, Cliff Floyd and Daryle Ward. Mark DeRosa started in right on Friday against Pittsburgh lefty Paul Maholm.

"It's going to have to sort itself out here during the break," Piniella said.

Piniella also has been working with Pie, and added a little tap step in his swing.

"In [batting practice], it seems like he's taking better swings," Piniella said. "In fairness to him, he probably needs some at-bats at game speed. Jones had a nice day last night, Ward swung the bat, too. All of a sudden we have a lot of left-hand hitters."

During the last homestand, Piniella was firm about Pie's status, saying the rookie outfielder was staying with the big league team. Could the Cubs reconsider that?

"We haven't discussed it," Piniella said. "That subject has not come up. we're going to need a roster spot for a 12th pitcher."

Aches and pains: Floyd will be limited to pinch-hitting duties this weekend because he hyperextended his right elbow. The injury was not from his crash into the outfield wall in Washington.

Piniella said the injury is "slight, nothing serious," but bothers him when he extends his arm. Floyd said he may get a cortisone shot this weekend, and then take advantage of the All-Star break to rest.

The veteran outfielder is heading into the break feeling fairly healthy.

"I want to be able to play a lot and I want to be able to contribute, but I thought [Piniella] did a great job of using me," Floyd said. "Of course, I'd like to play more, and with the way the team is playing now, you take what you can get and take advantage of what you've got. I'm very happy with the way things have turned around here, and I just want to contribute and give our fans something to cheer about."

The Cubs entered the weekend series against Pittsburgh 21-10 in their last 31 games, the best record in baseball since June 3.

"Winning makes a lot of things easier," Floyd said. "The one thing winning does for you is make everybody want to be healthy. Everyone is on the same page. Everybody comes here laughing and having a good time. It eliminates all the mess that was going on here."

Floyd plans to spend the All-Star break with his children and his father, who is doing well after undergoing heart surgery. His father's kidney did fail, and he's back on dialysis.

"Right now, he's weak but doing well," Floyd said. "Hopefully, we can lift his spirits up."

Cornelius Floyd got a big boost, spirit-wise, when he was allowed to watch a Cubs game from one of the Wrigley Field suites. Give credit to the hospital staff for making it happen.

"I want to thank everybody for the prayers," Floyd said. "It's amazing what he's been through, and what he's come out of. Without everybody's prayers and help, I don't think he'd do as well as he's doing."

Extra bases: Ward could start in right field on Saturday for the Cubs. ... Piniella mentioned on Thursday that he knew President Bush and had dinner with him this year. The event included Tim McCarver, David Wright, Trevor Hoffman and Vernon Wells. Plus, Piniella knew Bush when he was owner of the Texas Rangers, and remembers the president used to throw batting practice. "We're not buddies," Piniella said. ... Sean Gallagher, called up Thursday, has had a busy 30 hours. He's made five flights, going from Albuquerque to St. Louis, St. Louis to Des Moines, Des Moines to St. Louis to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., then Dulles to Pittsburgh. ... The Cubs have changed the starting times for two games in July to accommodate ESPN. The July 16 game vs. San Francisco and the July 30 game vs. Philadelphia both will begin at 6:05 p.m. CT at Wrigley Field.

Minor matters: Matt Murton, Buck Coats, Geovany Soto and Josh Kroeger each homered to help Triple-A Iowa end an eight-game losing streak with a 9-2 win over New Orleans on Thursday. ... Kevin Hart threw six shutout innings to help Double-A Tennessee beat Huntsville, 8-0, on Thursday. Matt Craig, Jake Fox, and Tyler Colvin each homered. ... Jeff Samardzija gave up one run on six hits over six innings in Class A Daytona's 4-1 win over St. Lucie on Thursday in the first game of a doubleheader. Samardzija now is 5-2 with a 5.27 ERA. Daytona lost the second game, 2-1, despite Chris Amador's solo homer. ... Marco Carrillo gave up three runs on three hits over 5 2/3 innings in Class A Peoria's 7-3 win over Kane County.

Welcome aboard: The Cubs have signed 26 players from the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, including second pick Josh Donaldson from Auburn University. Donaldson hit a two-out solo homer in the ninth to help Boise beat Everett, 8-7, on Thursday.

In addition to the 25 names listed in Thursday's notebook, Jeffrey Rea of Mississippi State, the 18th-round pick, also has signed.

On deck: Lefty Ted Lilly will make his last start before the break Saturday against the Pirates. He's 3-0 with a 3.54 ERA in his last four starts. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. CT, and the game will be broadcast on WGN.

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