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Notes: Rotation among NL's elite

Notes: Rotation among NL's elite

CHICAGO -- One year ago, the Cubs used 15 different starting pitchers. This season, they've needed seven.

"Obviously, guys are staying healthy and guys are producing," said Jason Marquis, one of the seven, whose next start is Saturday in the second game of the weekend series against Houston.

Here's a positive note: The Cubs starters are 52-40, a .565 winning percentage. That's No. 1 in the National League and fourth in all of baseball.

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The current quintet works hard between starts, and Marquis said he and Ted Lilly share ideas with lefties Sean Marshall and Rich Hill in hopes of teaching the youngsters how to prepare.

"We all came from different places, and I learned a lot about [conditioning] from being in the Atlanta organization," said Marquis, who was tutored by Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. "You watched what they did to prepare, not only physically but mentally. Hopefully, we can set an example for Marshall and Hill to follow."

Actually, Marquis credited Milwaukee starter Jeff Suppan with offering the best tips. The two were teammates together in St. Louis.

"The one guy I learned the most from as far as taking care of yourself is Jeff Suppan, as far as staying within the limits of your own body, listening to your own body and making sure you do eveything with proper mechanics and technique to limit your chances of injury," Marquis said. "Everybody has the risk of being hurt, no matter how hard you train. You try to minimize the percentages."

The last time the Cubs relied on seven starting pitchers was in 2004, when Maddux, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Clement, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Glendon Rusch and Sergio Mitre carried the workload. This year, Wade Miller and Angel Guzman each made three starts; the rest have been handled by the current five.

Marquis, Hill, Zambrano, Lilly and Marshall are key components, especially Zambrano. He went 0-for-August, but Cubs manager Lou Piniella said he doesn't feel a need to talk to the right-hander.

"I read his comments, and I liked his comments -- 'You'll see him.' That's it," Piniella said.

What will it take for the Cubs to stay on top in the final month?

"The thing you always need -- pitching, pitching, pitching, pitching," Chicago second baseman Mark DeRosa said. "Bottom line, when it comes down to nitty-gritty time, it always comes down to who pitches the best game. I have all the confidence in the world in our bullpen and starting staff."

Marquis is 4-3 with a 5.43 ERA since the All-Star break, a significant improvement from one year ago when he was 3-10 with a 6.72 ERA.

"Last year, I struggled the last two months of the season," Marquis said. "We still have a lot of baseball left, and hopefully I can turn it into a special second half."

Power outage: The Cubs entered Thursday's game ranked 14th in home runs with 104. That's not the number Piniella is interested in.

"I'm interested in wins," Piniella said. "If they come via the home run ball, they come via the home run ball. If they come via small ball, it doesn't matter to me.

"At the end of the year, they're not going to judge us on how many home runs we hit or didn't hit, they're going to judge us on how many games we won or didn't win," he said. "All I care about are wins.

"The capabilities are here to hit them in bunches," he said. "Hopefully, that'll be the case, and if not, we'll try to win any way we can."

What the Cubs need is timely hitting. They were 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position Wednesday against Milwaukee.

"Everybody gets their one hit, and it's kind of a meaningless hit," DeRosa said of the offensive struggles. "We have to find a way to put some runners on the bases and hopefully get some timely hitting."

For the record: The Cubs will call up three or four players on Saturday, when teams are allowed to expand their rosters beyond 25. They are expected to add between six and eight players for the final month. Among the candidates are Geovany Soto, Ronny Cedeno, Carmen Pignatiello and Rocky Cherry.

However, just because a player isn't on the 25-man roster doesn't mean he isn't eligible for postseason play. Teams are allowed an inventory of everybody in their system, including players on the 60-day disabled list. As long as a player is in the Cubs organization, he's eligible.

If the Cubs add someone from outside the organization after Sept. 1, he would not be eligible for the postseason roster.

Roster moves: The Cubs made two roster moves Thursday. They sent outfielder Buck Coats to the Cincinnati Reds for a player to be named. The Cubs also announced the Tigers claimed left-handed reliever Clay Rapada off waivers to complete the Aug. 23 trade in which Chicago obtained outfielder Craig Monroe and cash considerations.

Monroe made his third start Thursday.

"We got Monroe in here to hit, and we're giving him that opportunity," Piniella said.

The Cubs still have to receive a player from Pittsburgh to complete the July 19 deal for shortstop Cesar Izturis.

Extra bases: Minor League hitting coordinator Dave Keller joined the Cubs on Thursday, and spent some extra time in the batting cage with Felix Pie and Matt Murton. ... Double-A Tennessee manager Pat Listach and Triple-A Iowa pitching coach Mike Harkey will join the Cubs after their teams' seasons are completed. Minor League trainers Justin Sharpe and Matt Johnson also will join the big league team. ... If Angel Pagan feels better, he'll go on a rehab assignment to Class A Peoria. Pagan is on the disabled list with colitis and took batting practice for the first time Wednesday.

Minor matters: Jeff Samardzija gave up two earned runs on five hits over seven innings in Tennessee's 5-4 loss to Chattanooga on Wednesday. The Smokies made three errors in the game. Tyler Colvin hit a solo homer. ... Les Walrond threw six shutout innings in Iowa's 3-1 win over Memphis. Eric Patterson had three hits. ... Joel Santo gave up eight runs on seven hits and five walks over four innings in Class A Daytona's 11-0 loss to St. Lucie. ... Robert Hernandez threw six shutout innings in Peoria's 5-0 win over Kane County. ... Zach Ashwood threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings in Class A Boise's 9-0 win over Spokane. Kyler Burke hit a three-run homer.

Congratulations to Soto, who was named 2007 Most Valuable Player in the Pacific Coast League. He's the first catcher to win the honor since Sandy Alomar Jr. did so in back-to-back years in 1988 and '89. The Iowa catcher leads the league with 106 RBIs and a .650 slugging percentage and is second with a .353 batting average. He has 31 doubles in 108 games.

"He's had a real nice year," Piniella said. "He's a good-looking young catcher. He's somebody who can grow in this organization. He's hit the ball well and hit left-handed pitching especially well. He's hit the ball with some power, driven in runs. He doesn't get all that many cheap hits. I liked what I saw this spring. He handled our pitching staff well."

Also, Tennessee has added Sean Gallagher and Kevin Hart to the active roster from Iowa. The moves are not considered demotions, but both pitchers will be able to help the Smokies in the playoffs and stay on a regular pitching schedule.

On deck: Marshall will open the Cubs' three-game series against Wandy Rodriguez and the Astros on Friday. The Cubs lefty is 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA in five August starts and is coming off a win over Arizona. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 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.

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