MESA, Ariz. (AP) -Early in spring training, Lou Piniella fretted about a pitching staff filled with unknowns. Now, with the exhibition season down to the final days, the Chicago Cubs manager is smiling about the arms at his disposal.
``Two new starters in the rotation, six new pitchers in the bullpen ... that's impressive what we've done,' Piniella said. ``The big thing I see this spring is we're throwing strikes - and it's showing. You've got to be pleased with the way things have gone so far.'
The latest example: Randy Wells allowed one run in 5 2-3 innings and three relievers pitched shutout ball Monday in an 8-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
The Cubs' 4.11 ERA is the sixth-best in the majors this spring and their pitchers rank first with 197 strikeouts. Chicago starters have recorded a 1.95 ERA in the last 15 games. All this without Ted Lilly, the team's lone All-Star in 2009, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
Starter Ryan Dempster has a 1.69 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 21 1-3 innings. Carlos Zambrano is at 3.15 and new starter Tom Gorzelanny 3.07. Two of the new relievers, Esmailin Caridad and James Russell, haven't allowed a run. Sean Marshall's ERA is 1.38. Justin Berg's is 1.13.
A year ago, Wells was pitching in relief and was bound for Triple-A, where he spent the first month. He got called up when Zambrano got hurt and never went back down, leading the team with a 3.05 ERA and tying Lilly's club-high 12 victories.
Now in his eighth professional season, the 27-year-old right-hander finally is going north with the Cubs out of spring training.
``It will be kind of weird getting on a charter jet instead of a commercial one to Albuquerque or something,' Wells said. ``I'm just itching to go and itching to be better than last year.'
Wells received plenty of offensive support. Marlon Byrd and Mike Fontenot hit two-run homers and Jeff Baker added a solo shot. Tyler Colvin, a rookie surprise who forced his way onto the 25-man roster by being one of baseball's top hitters all spring, drove in two runs. He's batting .455.
The Reds dropped their fifth straight game, and manager Dusty Baker said: ``We got beat up pretty good.'
Justin Lehr, whose four-hit shutout at Wrigley Field last Aug. 5 started the Cubs on a 4-12 skid from which they never recovered, was the best of seven Cincinnati pitchers. He fanned three in two hitless innings but is a long shot to make the team despite his 3.14 spring ERA.
NOTES: Lilly is scheduled to throw 45 pitches in a minor league game Tuesday. He then would be on an every-fifth-day schedule in which he would throw 60, 75 and 90 pitches in rehab starts. If all goes well, he'd come off the DL and be able to start for the Cubs as early as April 19. ... Piniella said Carlos Silva would be the No. 4 starter and Gorzelanny No. 5. The one who performs better will stay in the rotation once Lilly returns. ... Reds No. 4 starter Homer Bailey pitched against a Dodgers minor league team Monday, allowing five runs on five hits and three walks in five innings.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved