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Paul Sullivan had a piece in the Tribune on the Fourth of July that noted the heavy lifting being done in Chicago by players who started the season in Iowa. It got me to thinking...

Pending any roster impact that Geovany Soto's obliqueness might have, over half of the Cubs' current 25 man roster came to the NL Central via the PCL American North. Granted, not all of the baker's dozen were original signees of the organization, but each of the 13 have logged significant time in Des Moines on their ways up.

Collectively, you'd have to say that they've contributed more than their fair share to this point of a teeter-totter season. Put another way, the Cubs are getting more than their money's worth from this bunch. If the same could be said for the rest of the bloated payroll, well...

Please stand when I call your name. Hold your applause until the whole group has been recognized:

The Iowa Cubs haven't scored since practically before Sam Fuld got married and that was over a week ago here in Des Moines. While Fuld's big league honeymoon continues his ex-mates have been one-upping the C-Cubs in offensive futility.

Last night the team dropped its second straight 1-0 tilt, and this one went 14 innings. Post-game fireworks displays scheduled for the next two nights may have to wake up the expected large crowds if the silly between innings sideshows can't keep them alert.

Josh Hamilton's in town but the Okey City Redhawks didn't take batting practice last night [glad I got to the park early for that]. Neither did the home team. Hey, after more than two dozen zeroes were hung on the scoreboard, I can see why neither team felt the need to do some pregame hitting.

Hamilton went 1-7 as the leadoff DH. Tonight he'll play CF. I wonder what the Cubs did with the 50k they got for doing the Reds the courtesy of snatching Hamilton in the '06 Rule V and routing him to Cincy. The guy's been out for a couple months with a torn stomach muscle and still matches up pretty well with our man from the Pacific Rim in HR's & RBI's, though The Fuker does a much better pirouette coming out of the box. 

Freshly demoted Jose Ascanio started last night as the organization's majors/minors/rotation/bullpen cha-cha featuring he and Samardzija [Little Z?] plays on. If he was angry at all he took it out on the Redhawks. In the first three innings Ascanio fanned seven, four of 'em looking. Apparently the plate ump was the only one who could see the ball since the pitcher was in the sun and the batters in the shadows for the first few frames. Plus, Ascanio was repeatedly registering 97 on the scoreboard radar screen, the highest number I can remember seeing posted there. It's usually thought to be 2-3 mph slow.

In the 4th he tired visibly so I finally got a chance to see Darwin Barney and his touted glove go to work. First impressions were mixed. He just did get a fleet runner on his first chance, a routine grounder to short. The next batter bounced one over the mound which Barney scooped up and then threw wide of the bag. The play was scored an infield hit but wasn't particularly impressive for someone whose glove is supposed to be their calling card. Later in the inning he made a nice dig and just late tag on a steal of second before nearly sneaking in behind the runner and picking him off of the base he'd just swiped. Suddenly Barney was getting almost as much action as the catcher.

At the plate he went 1-5 in his Triple A debut. He gets bonus points because the song they play when he bats is "Gimme Some Lovin."

In contrast to Ascanio's dart and flame throwing display were the two perfect innings of work turned in by none other than El Duque. The left leg kick isn't quite as high these days but it's still fun to watch the guy pitch. He tossed everything but the kitchen sink up there, none of it faster than 85. One especially lethargic offering finally reached the hitting area putt-putting along @ 53 mph. It was taken for a strike.

Let me just tell you that last night was a beautiful one here with temps in the 70's and a northwest breeze perfuming the whole ballpark with aromas wafting from the grills on the main concourse. The sausages went very well with the goose eggs.

Finally, remember Mitch Atkins? He took Tuesday's 1-0 loss, going the route. The start before that he took a no-hitter into the 8th. For the year he still carries a 5-8 log with a 6.14 ERA. But over his last five starts he's thrown 34 innings, allowing only 23 hits while walking four and fanning 26 to the tune of a 2.38 ERA. Guess he's back from wherever he was all spring.

Oh yeah, Neal Cotts was disabled with elbow trouble and Guzman's supposed to toss the first two innings tomorrow night...MW

No official word yet as to whether or not the mysterious "fuzz machine" made the trip from Des Moines to Chicago along with Von [when there's somethin' wrong in the neighborhood who you gonna call?] Joshua. The unorthodox device is a pitching machine contraption that somehow both accelerates and decelerates a batter's swing, according to Carrie Muskat's expose earlier in the season. If Joshua couldn't get it through security at Des Moines International he may have just rented a car, thrown it in the trunk and headed east.

The Sun-Times has a piece this morning about "three Cubs to watch." In that spirit, here are three I-Cubs who currently bear a little closer watching:

He doesn't exactly pack 'em in like Wood and Prior used to.

A crowd of about 7,000 gathered last night at Principal Park. Some portion of it was there for the express purpose of watching Rich Harden tune up for his return to the big leagues this weekend.

I watched Harden warm up in the bullpen before he took the mound. From less than 10 feet away he sure doesn't look the 6'1" or the 195 # attributed to him in the media guide.

The other thing I noticed right away was that his pant legs went all the way to his shoetops. The rest of the team tucks 'em below the knee, knickers style. I'm guessing he paid for the fashion privilege with a post-game clubhouse spread before catching the first plane out of town.

He retired the first six batters he faced on only 22 pitches without topping 90 mph. The second inning required only eight.

In the 3rd his velocity rose noticeably and he struggled a bit. I'm not alleging  cause & effect there - just reporting.

Granted, any lineup that undergoes a triple crown-ectomy is gonna be sore. But Jake Fox's promotion to Chicago leaves the Iowa Cubs really hurting.

The team hadn't even homered in Fox's last six games on the roster. After yesterday's doubleheader split and today's 9-1 matinee loss to the Sacramento River Cats on getaway day the dubious streak is at nine and counting as the team heads south for a road trip versus its divisional rivals in Memphis and Nashville.

Fox left town with 17 homers.

Today's lineup had 10 [14 if you count the four hit on behalf of the Tennessee Smokies]. And that included a DH!

A pitcher with 10 strikeouts in 22 innings+ fanned nine I-Cubs this afternoon in seven frames. At one point Dana Eveland whiffed five straight.

The defensive effort was lowlighted by Jason Dubois in left field. In the top of the 3rd he camped under a fly ball off the bat of Eric Patterson, straddling the foul line. It appeared that the ball bounced off of his noggin into the seats behind the Iowa bullpen for a ground rule two-base error! Scowling and scuffing at the chalk like a golfer tapping an imaginary spike mark after missing a gimme, Dubois returned to his post. Patterson stole 3rd on the first pitch before scoring on a sacrifice fly to, you guessed it, Dubois, who made the play of the game with a leaping catch while banging against the wall.

You just never know what you're gonna see at the old ballpark.

GOTTA HAVE HART DEPT. - Kevin Hart continued to rebound from a poor start to his season with four more scoreless innings in yesterday's nightcap. It was his second straight impressive start after 16 appearances out of the bullpen. For the year Hart has now fanned 33 in 28 innings while walking only nine...MW

Taking a cue from his counterpart in the big leagues, Iowa Cub manager Bobby Dickerson held a pre-game meeting yesterday in the team's clubhouse at Principal Park in Des Moines. The team had made 10 errors in its previous three games.

After the meeting the troops went out and made three more in the process of losing 5-3 to the Sacramento Rivercats.

The battle of capital cities was also a battle of pitching prospects as former Cub Sean Gallagher opposed current hotshot Jeff Samardzija.

Gallagher rationed 89 pitches over seven strong innings to get the win. Samardzija labored while throwing 102 in just four plus and took the loss.

Jake Fox did manage to extend his hitting streak to 17 games with a single in his last at-bat, but be advised that he's also gone a season-long six game stretch without homering. He was also brushed by a pitch for the eighth time, another of the many categories in which he leads the league.

Samardzija is clearly working on stuff other than his fastball. After the first inning he seemed to start most batters with some kind of breaking pitch. All told he threw first pitch strikes to 15 of the 24 hitters he faced, but the Rivercats reached him for eight hits in his short, pitchy stint.

In the Sacramento 3rd, he came a little undone after CF Sam Fuld approached a routine single like it was a rattlesnake for a two-base error. Samardzija issued a four-pitch walk and then wild-pitched a run home, cussing his way back to the mound in his best Zambrano impression after the ump called the runner safe on a close play at the plate.

Between the starting pitchers and I-Cub reliever Vince Perkins the scoreboard radar gun was registering in the mid to upper 90's throughout. Perkins comes near the century mark.

Jeremy Blevins, the chip that brought us Jason Kendall a couple years back, relieved Gallagher in the 8th and surrendered a run in less than an inning; right in keeping with his ERA of nearly seven.

Leading off for the Rivercats and playing CF was Eric Patterson who managed two hits and a run scored. Patterson also swiped his 19th base in 23 tries. I-Cub catcher Chris Robinson leads PCL catchers in fielding percentage but he, Mark Johnson and Jake Fox have combined to catch only seven out of 48 base stealers this year. The Cub organization doesn't seem to put much premium on either efficient pitch counts [how many years running have they led the NL in strikeouts?] or the holding of runners.

OTHER ODDITIES: After Richie Robnett tripled in a run in the bottom of the 2nd Dickerson ordered a squeeze bunt on consecutive pitches; both were popped foul and glanced off the glove of Sacramento's diving third baseman...eerie similarity: even though it was almost completely rebuilt as recently as 1992, Principal Park has chunks of concrete falling off just like Wrigley Field! Three small areas of the place have been closed to the public for the duration of the homestand which ends on Thursday...Fox was out from here to Chicago trying to go 1st to 3rd on a single to right - it appeared that the bad idea was Dickerson's in the 3rd base coaching box...Fox has now played 29 games @ 1B, two @ DH, one @ 3B, one in LF, and two @ catcher...Dickerson loves to bunt - in Sunday's game the team loaded the bases on three straight and yesterday's attempted squeeze[s] came after two successes earlier in the week...MW

Two things of note from the Iowa Cubs' road win in Salt Lake City yesterday:

1. Jake Fox played catcher after a game at 3B earlier on the trip. Is his versatility on display for potential trade suitors?

2. Kevin Hart threw three innings of perfect relief highlighted by five strikeouts in easily his most encouraging outing of the season.

In more routine news, Fox also slammed his 17th homer of the year, drove in four more runs and was named the PCL Player of the Week for last week. Ho-hum...MW

The Iowa Cubs dropped the opener of a four game set in Colorado Springs by a score of 16-15 on Tuesday. They've won the next two by tallies of 18-4 and 17-4. 50 runs on 66[!] hits will getcha two out of three every time. Apparently there's no humidor at Security Service Field.

Jake Fox is back up to .420 with 107 total bases and 28 extra base hits in 30 games.

Lefty swinging Brad Snyder has poked five of his 11 HR's off of southpaws.

The I-Cubs started the series with a very respectable team BA of .273 and have still managed to jack it all the way up to .296 in three days!

Jeff Samardzija started last night and went four innings, giving up two runs on six hits with no walks and three strikeouts. Both runs came in the first. All told Samardzija threw 67 pitches, 45 of them strikes. He also stroked two hits of his own.

After tonight's series finale [featuring a fireworks promo - seriously] pitting Mitch Atkins against retread Josh Fogg, the team heads to Salt Lake City, another of the PCL's rareified launching pads. By the time the road trip ends the trainees may be hitting at a .300 clip as a team.

On a personal note, this writer's book [Far From the Trees: The Troubled Sons of an American Neighborhood; Outskirts Press], mentioned in this space during the offseason when it released in December, has today been named a finalist in the Indie Book Awards category of Regional Non-Fiction. Feel free to judge the book strictly on the basis of the front and back covers. I think you'll appreciate them both, if nothing in between. The book's available online @ Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And please forgive the shameless self-promotion. Rob said I could...MW

Just back from Principal Park where emergency starter Greg Reinhard tossed four hitless, shutout innings and left the game with a 4-0 lead over Memphis and Cardinal prospect P.J. Walters [who made his MLB debut on April 17th against the Cubs at Wrigley].

By the time Walters, whose middle name doesn't start with J, left the game he'd managed Memphis' only hit, a single in the 6th off of Vince Perkins.

Brad Snyder touched P.J. for a three-run homer in the 4th, the game's big blow so far.

Memphis' lone run was unearned as a result of Jake [5 for his last 25] Fox's first error of the season at first base.

Reinhard retired the lineup in order the first time through before walking Jon Jay to leadoff the 4th. Jay was later erased on a strike 'em out/ throw 'em out DP to end the inning and Reinhard left having faced the minimum 12 batters while needing only 41 pitches to get a dozen outs. Besides walking Jay, he fanned three.

In the top of the 3rd, I thought of Harry Caray when Sam Fuld, "tied a record held by many," when he made all three PO's in the inning. Fuld also swiped two bases after scoring four runs yesterday and making a running over-the-shoulder basket catch in left-center to boot.

 I wish I could've stayed for the end of the last game of the homestand. It's a beautiful day here in Des Moines and school buses were lined up outside of the ballpark like charters on Waveland Avenue.

One last thing: how does Kyle Reynolds get booted up from Tennessee to Iowa after starting the year 5-57 in Double A? He hit the ball hard three times for outs today and made a sparkling play at 3B to get a fielder's choice in the 5th; must just be hittin' in tough luck wherever he goes...MW

I had a nice chat before Jeff Samardzija's return engagement in Des Moines Saturday night with I-Cub pitching coach Mike Mason. We talked about Jose Ascanio's pitch counts, Samardzija's repertoire, the organization's pitcher pecking order and the effect, if any, of yo-yoing between the bullpen in Chicago and the rotation in Des Moines on young arms and minds.

Ascanio was the first order of business. It took him until his 6th start to record a win, despite a 1.01 ERA, because his pitch count leash was still so short. After a high-water mark of 81 two starts ago, he'd been pulled after 76 last time out even though he fanned the side in the 4th and 5th, his last two innings of work. Why wasn't he allowed to come out for the 6th?

"He was still closing in winter ball," Mason noted. "When the decision was made in camp to start him this year, the plan was to give him a couple starts at each pitch count level - 60, 70, 80 - as he went along and see how he handled it. The other day we figured why trot him out for the 6th just to pull him after half a dozen more pitches."

Mason had lots more to say about Ascanio before Chad Fox's elbow came undone again later that same night in Milwaukee. I asked him if the organization saw Jose as a pleasant surprise at this point.

"Pleasant is a huge understatement. He's done way better than expected," he grinned. "All along the thought was that the [Chicago] Cubs' 6th starter would come from the organization, but nobody thought 'Hosie' was the guy. Well, he's the 6th starter now. He's passed Atkins."

What about Samardzija? Passed him too?

"Ascanio is a four pitch guy. He throws a curve, a slider and a change-up that's his best offspeed pitch," Mason said. "Jeff and I are talking about him working to develop a curveball to go with his fastball and split." Apparently Samardzija's change-up isn't the complement yet to his high-nineties heat that Ascanio's is to his.

"'Hosie' used to start with Atlanta through Double A," Mason recounted. "Then he went to relief, but he's been throwing multiple pitches longer than Jeff. Jeff's attitude coming back here is great and he understands what he's got to work on."

Later that night of course, Mason's ranking of the trio of proteges in his care was borne out when Ascanio was summoned to the big leagues in the wake of Fox's latest, and maybe last, breakdown.

Yesterday Atkins responded to his snub with probably his best start of the year in pitching the team to a 9-2 win over Memphis. After a rocky start he settled down to last seven innings, the last six of them scoreless.

I asked Mason about Jeff Stevens, who appears to be the best early dividend of the DeRosa trade, although he won't be filling in at 3rd for Aramis Ramirez as DeRosa could capably have done. Stevens still has a non-existent ERA, having allowed only four hits in 14 innings. Batters are 4-45 against him for a BAA of .088, 3rd best right now in professional baseball among pitchers who've thrown at least 10 innings.

"Jeff's been very good, but he's young and he knows he wouldn't get by in the big leagues with essentially one pitch like he is here right now," said Mason. "Down the line if the bullpen keeps struggling in Chicago, I suppose they might give him a shot, but right now there's probably guys ahead of him." Mason named Kevin Hart as one of those, despite his uneven pattern so far this spring.

What about guys like Ascanio and Samardzija ping-ponging between short relief and starting?

"That's a bigger issue in terms of mental preparation than physical." according to Mason. "And even the physical part might be more with the legs than the arm because you just don't run as much if you're in the pen as you do if you're starting every five days. You have to have a different approach with your legs and your head as much as your arm if you know you might pitch any day you come to the ballpark."

I asked Mason if he mostly carries out orders from above or if he has latitude in how he works with his pitchers at the Triple A level.

"I talk with Larry [Rothschild] all the time, and he might say, like with Jeff [Samardzija], 'he's gotta develop secondary pitches,' but it's up to me what pitches we work on. That's why Jeff and I are talkin' about maybe workin' on a curveball for him. They give me assignments, but it's up to me how I work on them." he explained.

Given the ongoing bullpen turmoil in Chicago it doesn't appear Mason's workload will let up any time soon.

OTHERWISE: Greg Reinhard will start in today's noon matinee in the wake of Ascanio's call-up. In 18 innings out of the bullpen he's compiled a 0.49 ERA with 26 strikeouts and only five BB's...the PCL American North is a nice parallel to the NL Central with Iowa [16-13], Memphis [17-11] and Nashville [17-14] jockeying in the standings like their counterparts in Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee...Jake Fox has been day-to-day since catching some broken bat shrapnel on Friday night and taking a few stitches to close a leg wound. He's expected back in the lineup today...catcher Chris Robinson is not only hitting .394, he's also swiped five bases! For what it's worth, he's only nabbed 2/15 stealing against him...couldn't help but notice that the redhead is till red hot. Matt Murton is hitting .411 at Colorado Springs. Sometimes we take our stats with a grain of salt in the PCL...MW

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