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bird flippersWhen I see Robert DeNiro in a movie these days I can hardly believe it's the same guy I saw in Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. That's sort of how it was watching Alfonso Soriano go through the motions of his injury rehab assignment in Des Moines today. As if there's any rehabbing this guy.


Welington Castillo was penciled in at DH today for the I-Cubs but he got his catching in before the game by lunging about to stop all the ceremonial first pitches from pint-sized birthday boys and lame-armed luminaries. The only one that got past him was flung by a mascot creature from some non-profit.org.

From atop the left-field wall beckoned the giant glove that homers sometimes land in, wiggling against its moorings in the breeze that slightly relieved the generally welcome heat of summer. The thing's almost as big as the one sported by Tony Campana.

What are we to make of Randy Wells' rehab start this afternoon at a very blustery Principal Park in Des Moines? He was flashing mixed signals.


The booming home run he gave up in the top of the first on which Iowa cf Lou Montanez did not budge was understandable. The batter who struck it was hitting .377 and the wind was blowing out so briskly that the flag pole the ball flew beyond was wobbling visibly.


Wells was workmanlike in the first two frames, requiring 15 pitches in each of them. In the 3rd he seemed to find a groove when he threw only six pitches, all of them strikes. The middle batter in that inning fanned on three pitches. On his way to the dugout to lead off the bottom of the 3rd Wells stopped to chat with the plate ump. There hadn't been any debate about the strike zone; indeed, Wells was clearly in a good mood and smiling. He was still grinning when he trotted back after grounding out. Then he came out for the 4th and proceeded to throw almost as many pitches [32] as he'd thrown prior to that point [36]. He failed to retire any of the first five hitters and only escaped even deeper wounds when the opposing pitcher graciously drilled a dp grounder on the first pitch thrown to him with the bases loaded and still nobody out.


All 68 of Wells' pitches clocked between 80-88, despite that he was quoted in the local gazette this morning to the effect that he was planning to "amp it up" this time out, whatever that meant.


So it's unclear what exactly was accomplished today. The arm wasn't even stretched out much if the plan is to bring Wells back next time through the rotation. I did not see any Chicago brass in the section where they usually sit when in town, so whatever call they make on Wells after this outing will probably be based on debriefings of manager Bill Dancy, pitching coach Mike Mason and Wells himself.


As for the other 2010 Chicago Cub in the lineup, Tyler Colvin finished a wind-blown homer shy of the cycle. I missed his ninth inning triple off a rightie, but saw his first four at-bats, all of which came against a pair of lefties.


In the 1st he fanned on three pitches. In the 3rd he grounded the first pitch through the hole in the right side with Montanez on base. In the 5th he popped to cf on the third pitch after a swinging strike on #1 and taking #2 for a ball. So at that point he had seen seven pitches in three ab's. In the 7th he blooped a soft-serve double the other way on a full count; pitch #7. Hopefully his over-anxiousness has started to subside. My other observation about him was that he didn't look very big in the upper body and shoulders. Didn't he report to camp looking like Charles Atlas in 2010? Now he looks like somebody let the air out of him, although he ran well on his double, when going first to third on a single and, presumably, on the triple that I missed.


Side note: This was the 12th time already that the I-Cubs' pitchers have surrendered in the double digits. Last year that happened 12 times all year. And it's not even hot yet in many of the Pacific Clout League branch cities

retreadsThings are really humming down at the old retread factory!


Todd Wellemeyer returned to the scene of former mediocrity and made one more lackluster start here for old times’ sake on May 5. The next day he reported that he was right on schedule as he rehabbed a sore hip en route back to the big leagues but that was apparently a smoke screen. The day after that he decided to call it a career. Today his spot on the ever fluid roster was taken by Doug Davis who is old enough to run for president should he too decide to shift gears after he makes his I-Cub debut when the team hits the road tomorrow night at Colorado Springs. Good luck in the rarified air of the PCL, Doug. If things don’t go well remember that Iowa’s precinct caucuses are mere months away and there is no clear frontrunner yet among righties. Without knowing much about where you stand when not on the mound, I’m not sure how well a southpaw might do here right now.  


Homestand #2 wound up this afternoon with Ramon Ortiz getting cuffed up to the tune of 13 hits in six IP - so much for what I said last week about his serviceability.


Also, in case you missed it but do care, as I did and do, Max Ramirez was released last week.


It’s starting to look like there’s a detour on I-80 between Iowa and Chicago that routes through Tennessee. Des Moines is about 150 miles closer as the crow drives, but I’m not sure you can get there from here if you’re a ballplayer in the Cubs’ organization this year.


Random bits: 1] Keith Moreland’s honeymoon is over. If he has a spare personality back home in Texas I suggest he have it shipped it to him ASAP. 2] Project ≤ three million update = 32K on Mother’s Day vs. a division rival? Plenty of tickets still available for upcoming Cardinal series? I’m taking the under…


 

According to the Cubs' media guide, Todd Wellemeyer was the NL Pitcher-of-the-Month in May of 2008 for the St. Louis Cardinals. This afternoon in Des Moines he wasn't up to being the Iowa Cubs' pitcher-of-the-day as he labored through three & two thirds innings of a reclamation project that may or may not wind up with him back in the big leagues.


Wellemeyer offered about six dozen pitches, about half of them strikes. A greater portion than that looked and clocked like breaking balls despite that his spotted fastball was ringing up in the low 90's. Maybe those were what he was determined to work on. He gave up eight hits and four runs while both walking and fanning a couple. Both walks came in the fourth when his body language appeared to go from indifferent to frustrated or tired.


Not having paid much attention to him since he left the Cub organization, I'd forgotten how raw-boned Wellemeyer looks. He's listed at 6'2" and 215, but he looks bigger than that; very wide across the shoulders. His windup is full and lengthy with lots of moving parts. I leave it to the anatomists to decide if that makes rehab of a hip injury more complicated. Welington Castillo caught him today, my first chance to see him behind the plate since he joined the club, and he had no chance to throw out either of the base thieves who ran on him. It's fair to say that Wellemeyer is not here to work on holding runners close. By the way, I looked around to see if Jim Hendry was on hand to scout Wellemeyer but did not see him.


Wellemeyer told the local paper last night that he's been measured for the World Series ring he's owed for his contribution to last year's San Francisco Giants. He's just waiting for it to catch up to him for presentation. Based on what I saw today, if I were him I wouldn't have it shipped to Chicago.


Ramon Ortiz, on the other hand, has been looking serviceable. Not Gorzellanyesque, mind you, but serviceable.

banana splitThe Cubs and Padres split. The Cardinals and Nationals split. The I-Cubs and Isotopes split. Look, up in the standings - it's a Dairy Queen! It's a gymnastics meet! It's a doubleheader...


The best thing to be said about the April weather in the upper Midwest is that it's good for pitchers. All four starters in yesterday's twinbill in Des Moines recorded quality starts. This in a league where the I-Cubs' 6.57 staff ERA in the first two weeks isn't even the PCL's worst and five entire teams have batting averages north of .300. Albuquerque's John Ely came within one out of throwing that franchise's first no-hitter in game two [note: PCL doubleheaders consist of a pair of seven-inning games].


Tonight's turnstile promo for the I-Cubs is more practical than most. They're passing out stocking caps to the first 1,500 fans. I suspect there will be plenty of leftovers.


Some of these playing conditions are like showing up at an arena for basketball to discover that they left the rink out from last night's hockey game - and then proceeding as scheduled! The only thing worse than crappy weather is indoor baseball.


Come on ivy!


Otherwise, could Project .500 be any more on pace? There is a definite pattern emerging here. But who knew that a share of first place would be part of the deal?! Actually calling the Central a division right now is a misnomer; there's precious little division at all...

It’s not supposed to be like this.

First your Opening Day/Night gets rained out. Then the following day/night is cold and windy, but dry, so you go through the ceremonial motions with no one there to watch and clap. Player introductions with some guys just staying in the dugout and others shivering and huddling together along the baselines like penguins. A video tribute to Bob Feller on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the only Opening Day no-no in big league history to go along with the Bob Feller bandanas handed out at the turnstiles that folks are using as windbreaks on their cheeks, looking like stagecoach robbers. The silly hat-head contest atop the home dugout that’s supposed to be decided by the applause-o-meter except it’s out-of-order; no power. Saturday night there were probably more people in the skyboxes than the stands. Then the game had barely started when Tony Campana, who looks about as batboyish as his predecessor, Sam Fuld, used to before he donned a cape and became ManRam’s replacement, lofted a blooper to left-center leading off the bottom of the first. Memphis’ left and center fielders, Andrew Brown and Shane Robinson, respectively, collided in pursuit of it - no skid marks; full-tilt. Poor bastards; 15-20 minutes later they were both scraped off the turf and ambulanced to the hospital with concussions [Robinson also sustained some facial fractures] and the players and fans re-thawed and resumed. Eventually the I-Cubs prevailed, long after I’d taken my media guides and gone home.

It is a cold, miserable day in Des Moines. The steady rain may change to snow by the time the Iowa Cubs are scheduled to open their home season at 7:05 tonight versus the Memphis Redbirds, the team that caught them at the tape last Labor Day and squeezed past into the PCL playoffs. Ironically, that change in the form of precipitation might increase the chances of the game being played. Just in case the game tonight gets called I had a couple of hot dogs for lunch.


The I-Cubs beat the Isotopes on getaway day yesterday in Albuquerque, 10-6, behind five RBI from holdover Bobby Scales to split their season-opening road swing through Texas and New Mexico at 4-4. At the plate Tony Campana, Lou Montanez and Scales are off to hot starts. Fernando Perez has drawn eight walks and swiped three bases and Bryan LaHair has already knocked in nine runs. There hasn't yet been much pitching to which any of those responsible would sign their names. Chris Carpenter has fanned eight and walked but two so far in five innings spread over three appearances.


Here's alink to a new feature at the I-Cub website this year that's a nice one-stop daily clearinghouse for media reports: http://iowa.cubs.milb.com/news/page.jsp?ymd=20110317&content_id=16994120&vkey=news_t451&fext=.jsp&sid=t451


No doubt there are better days ahead weather-wise and this club deserves some breaks in that department. Last year the team was 4th out of 16 in the PCL in attendance despite that Des Moines is 14th in the league in population.


Weather relenting, J.R. Mathes starts for Iowa tonight. It feels like he's been here as long as Wakefield's been in Boston, maybe longer if you asked him.

logoThe season hasn’t even started and the door is already revolving.


The weather today in Des Moines is passable but the Iowa Cubs are opening the 2011 season on the road at Round Rock, TX. Thomas Diamond is supposed to oppose Express southpaw Michael Kirkman, the #6 prospect in the Ranger system who takes the mound tonight with these creds: 2010 PCL Pitcher of the Year [13-3 with a 3.09 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 131 innings for Oklahoma City]. He also won two PCL Pitcher of the Week awards and led the PCL with an .813 winning percentage. Kirkman made his Major League debut on Aug. 24, 2010, against the Baltimore Orioles, striking out the first three hitters he faced and was named the 2010 Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year.


carlos y carlosLast year I traveled to Chicago over the Memorial Day weekend to see the Cubs and Cardinals do battle. My companion was a neighbor friend who also happens to be a Redbird fan.

I discovered too far out of town to turn back that I’d forgotten the tickets for the Friday afternoon game. Luckily we overcame that absentmindedness at the Wrigley Field ticket window when I was able to verify that I had indeed purchased the seats in question and duplicate tickets were issued. But that snafu on top of the clogged vehicular traffic in downtown Chicago and the really clogged human traffic on the CTA Red Line left us barely enough time to scramble into position down in the right field corner ahead of the first pitch.

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