Iowa Cubs update

Dear Randy -

You could do a lot worse.

I bet you didn't know that Forbes Magazine ranked Des Moines the #1 city in America for young professionals. And you gotta be the only one around here pulling down $2.7M per annum. You should get out more and explore. That's probably advice you're not used to getting but since you may be here for a while...

There was a big, bad moon rising tonight over Principal Park about the time New Orleans' Luke Montz boomed a Randy Wells s(t)inker through the teeth of the brisk zephyr blowing in off the Des Moines River to break a 1-1 tie and launch the visitors to a 7-3 series-evening win.

Denied the walk-off RBI by his once-burned, twice-shy skipper, Anthony Rizzo instead scampered across with the game's only tally in the bottom of the 9th tonight at Principal Park to give the I-Cubs a 1-0 win over New Orleans.

Slowly, the infiltration has begun.

Marlon Byrd’s banishment from the nest cleared the way for Tony Campana’s
temporary custody of the roster spot reserved for Brett Jackson. If Soriano’s
reinvention as a singles hitter who doesn’t even manage many of those goes on,
how long might it be until LaHair takes his team-leading [no, it’s not saying
much] slugging totals to the outfield and defers to Raker Rizzo, the scourge of
PCL pitchers, at first base? We shall see.

In the meantime, today at Principal Park the Cubs-in waiting
wrapped up a four-game set with their Cardinal counterparts from Memphis, dropping a 4-0 yawner in front of a sun splashed crowd that couldn't have cared less. On
the mound for the Redbirds was their prized pitching prospect, Shelby Miller.
Miller’s stumbled a bit out of the PCL gate so far but remains highly touted [#8 prospect in baseball per BA last time I looked] and eagerly awaited in St. Lou as shadows lengthen on the careers of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.

Round Rock hasn't had any trouble getting into the jet stream above Principal Park. The Express have belted four homers in two games including a back-to-back pair Friday night off of Casey Coleman that were the difference in the 4-3 contest. But the home team remains homerless, having split the first half of a four-game set to open the season.

Tuesday night I endured a local school board meeting. It comes with the territory of my day job. I sat glassy-eyed in the gallery, my mind drifting ahead 48 hours at which point I would be sitting in the stands on Opening Night at Principal Park, cracking open peanut shells instead of stifling yawns.

looney logoThe weather on closing day was as perfect as it had been inclement on Opening Night. A full house was still trickling in at a leisurely holiday pace into the third inning. Enough came to nudge the season turnstile meter past the half million mark for the seventh time in the last eight seasons despite a last-place team that lost more games than it won for the first time since 2005 [for the record, the home slate was well above sea level at 40-31] and the loss of three dates, most recently on the Saturday night of a holiday weekend on the final home stand. Oddly, the franchise ended up setting an attendance record for a three-game series over the weekend, thanks in part to a rainout that nobody wished for.

The first hint that it was not a normal night at Principal Park came when the national anthem was whistled.

headshot


The street that runs behind the right-center field wall of Principal Park in Des Moines is no Sheffield Avenue. Ballhawks do not roost there nor are there rooftops from which knotholers eavesdrop on the ballgames. Beyond it runs the Des Moines River which has been known occasionally to swell up and invade the playing field.

team logoAnd we thought his range was limited! Sayonara, Bobby, and thanks for the memories.

Before yesterday the last time I saw Randy Wells start a big league game he failed to retire a batter, though he may have broken a sweat. By that low standard his outing versus the earnest young Royals of Kansas City was, I suppose, an improvement. After the first five hitters he faced hit safely and the sixth was walked, Wells' remarkable streak of futility with yours truly in attendance had reached the depth of a dozen consecutive batsmen. Might he again retire having retired no one? No, he persisted and slogged into the 7th, though it turned out that the game was already lost by the time he got around to recording an out. The sorry Wells appears more beleagured than big leaguer these days, and so, for that matter does the team he works for.


If there were highlights from yesterday's daytrip to KC for any Cub fans in attendance, and there were thousands of us, they were these:


*Of the three balls I saw the visitors swat into the seats while watching more than a half hour of batting practice, two were swatted by Marlon Byrd. I'll check him out against live, professional pitching tomorrow afternoon here in Des Moines.


*Reed Johnson, despite three strikeouts at the plate, also banged a double off the wall in the middle of what passed for a Cub rally and also made a pair of sparkling grabs in center field, one of them a do or die diver. He always seems to make a contribution when in the lineup.


*Geo Soto was all over the game; homering, doubling, plate-blocking, down-gunning. It would be nice if he made one or more of those occasional features a habit!


*Chris Carpenter posted triple digits several times on the scoreboard speedometer. Unfortunately, his stuff looks more imposing there, to the fans, than it apparently yet does to big league hitters. He may become a serviceable piece down the road.


Randomly, I saw LaHair and Castillo go back-to-back Friday night in Des Moines and they did it again yesterday while I was on the road. LaHair is now leading the PCL in homers and hitting .350+. Ho-hum...

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.

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