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Cubs ponder pitching staff options

Cubs ponder pitching staff options

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CHICAGO -- The Cubs head into the All-Star break with 13 pitchers on the roster. When play resumes in the second half, that number will change -- and so could some of the names.

"I don't see why we would need 13 pitchers," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "And if we do, 13 is not going to be enough."

One of the second-half dozen will likely be lefty Scott Eyre, who threw one inning in a rehab outing Friday for Class A Peoria. Eyre, who has been sidelined with a strained groin, will be eligible to be activated after the break, which will mean a change in the relievers. The Cubs currently have two left-handers in the 'pen in Neal Cotts and Sean Marshall.

Michael Wuertz's unexpected demotion to Triple-A Iowa on Friday created a shakeup in the 'pen.

"I think he needs some mound time to get his slider back to where it needs to be," Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Saturday about the right-hander, who was 1-1 with a 3.55 ERA in 37 appearances. "That's his pitch. It hasn't been quite the same lately this year. Overall, it's been hard to figure out. If he gets on the mound and throws enough, he'll probably figure it out."

It wasn't that Wuertz wasn't pitching enough with the Cubs.

"He was getting opportunities, but it wasn't quite the same," Rothschild said. "I think if he can work in an environment where he can try a few different things, it'll come back to him quicker. He's always had a really good slider. It's just a matter of him going out there and throwing a little bit."

One thing the Cubs have been able to do is give their starters some rest. Carlos Zambrano had an unwelcome two-week break when he had to go on the disabled list because of a strained right shoulder.

Jason Marquis went 10 days between starts, and had one of his best outings on Friday after the delay, throwing seven shutout innings against the Giants.

"We've done what we can," Piniella said. "If we have the luxury, we'll skip a guy and put him toward the back end of the rotation. The problem is, like after the break, we've got something like 18 games in a row and you can't do it."

When the Cubs open the second half next Friday at Houston, Ted Lilly will start, followed by All-Stars Zambrano and Ryan Dempster.

Whether or not Kevin Hart will still be with the team in Houston has yet to be determined. He was called up from Iowa for the final four games to take Wuertz's spot in the bullpen. The right-hander is happy to be alive. He survived a line drive off his head June 18 during a start for the Iowa Cubs.

"I threw the pitch, and 'bam-bam'," Hart said. "As soon as I threw the pitch, I knew it was coming."

Hart was able to walk off the field under his own power, and was diagnosed with a Grade 1 concussion. He said it took two or three days before he was allowed to do any activities.

"I took it slow," Hart said. "They didn't let me do a whole lot. I didn't want to miss a start. After five days, I felt I was ready, but I hadn't pitched."

He was unconscious for less than a minute.

"For me it felt like 30, 45 seconds before I realized, wait, I'm still lying on the mound," he said.

In his first start back for Iowa, he had to deal with a couple comebackers. No worries, Hart said.

"The way I look at it, you pitch your whole life, and a lot of guys go 10 years in their careers, and they never have it happen," Hart said. "The percentages of it happening once aren't very good. Twice are less. I turned out all right. I'll continue to get dumber each time."

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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