Cubs hand ninth-inning job to Gregg
Team's third closer is 5-for-5 in save opportunities since joining team
CHICAGO -- The Cubs are no longer going with a closer by committee. Kevin Gregg has won the job.
Gregg is 5-for-5 in save situations since he joined the Cubs on April 15. The right-hander was in the Dodgers' Spring Training camp, then was released on April 3. He signed with the Cubs on April 14.
"The problems we had, it was a great, great pickup, and he's ran with it and done a heck of a job," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Gregg, who has replaced Carlos Marmol, who was replaced by Kyuji Fujikawa. "[Gregg] is a veteran guy who doesn't panic. He's been in those situations before. Those last three outs aren't made for everybody. He throws strikes and has some life on his fastball. He can work both sides of the plate, that's the good thing about it."
Marmol began the season as the Cubs' closer but was removed after the first week of games. Fujikawa took over, but he went on the disabled list April 13 with a strained right forearm. Fujikawa was to make his second Minor League rehab outing on Wednesday and rejoin the Cubs in Washington this weekend.
So, is Gregg the Cubs' closer?
"He seems to be," Sveum said. "Gregg's our closer. That's pretty much the way it is right now. He's obviously earned it, and there's a bigger sample out there now to know that."
Gregg, who closed for the Cubs in 2009, was the Orioles' closer in '11, but he lost the job last season to Jim Johnson.
Happ's injury very 'scary' for Villanueva
CHICAGO -- Carlos Villanueva remembers a game in New York last September when J.A. Happ broke his right foot, yet continued to pitch on it. The two pitchers were teammates on the Blue Jays, and Happ's gutsy effort then impressed Villanueva.
On Tuesday, Villanueva, now with the Cubs, cringed as most everyone did when they saw replays of Happ getting drilled by a line drive off the head by the Rays' Desmond Jennings. Happ was released from a St. Petersburg hospital Wednesday after sustaining a head contusion and a laceration to his left ear.
"It was devastating, and I felt horrible yesterday," Villanueva said. "You never want to see that happen to anybody, but having known him -- I've never seen that live, and I've never had it happen to somebody who is close to me. It's a moment as a pitcher, you never want to see it happen. What's to stop it from happening to one of us? You think that way, even though you don't want to, but the mind goes there."
Villanueva, who notched his fifth quality start on Wednesday in the Cubs' 5-4 loss to the Cardinals, did contact some of his former Blue Jays teammates to check on Happ's status and got encouraging news. That doesn't make it any easier on pitchers.
"It's scary, it really is," Villanueva said. "I know there's a lot of talk out there about the gear and protective stuff. Hopefully, they'll come up with something that won't affect us pitching. It's still such a fast game. What happens if the ball comes directly at your face? You can't pitch with a mask on. It just comes down to luck of the draw.
"We stand behind our brothers, because we're all brothers. It doesn't matter if you're a hitter or pitcher, you kind of root for the guy and I know everybody's thoughts are with him and his family. The encouraging thing is, he's out of the hospital, and hopefully, he has a fast recovery."
Barney, Sveum put in some private hitting time
CHICAGO -- Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney, stuck in an 0-for-21 skid, took time Wednesday to hit the ball hard.
Manager Dale Sveum and Barney had an early hitting session at Wrigley Field in which the Cubs manager wanted his infielder to try to relax.
"It was nice to bring him out today and let him hit and not think about any mechanics, and get a mindset about hitting the ball as hard as he can," Sveum said. "There were no mechanics going on out there."
Sveum and Barney spent time together in Arizona for one week to work on the second baseman's swing, but whatever they did at that time has been "abandoned," the manager said. The goal on Wednesday was to take some "brand new white balls and hit them as far as you can," Sveum said.
Barney was batting .147 with a .275 on-base percentage.
"It's confidence as much as anything," Sveum said of the second baseman's problems, "and understanding your job is to hit the ball hard and not try to do something with it every at-bat, just get a good pitch and hit it hard instead of trying to hit it to this field or that field or whatever. That was [the goal Wednesday]: to have one mindset, hit the ball as hard as you can."
Cubs fight breast cancer on 'Pink Out' day
CHICAGO -- Wednesday was "Pink Out" day at Wrigley Field, with the Cubs distributing pink caps to fans in the bleachers to raise awareness for breast cancer.
Proceeds from Wednesday's 50/50 raffle were to benefit mammograms for under/uninsured women through Advocate Health Care's Charitable Foundation. A pink ribbon was on one of the outfield doors, and ushers wore pink hats.
Linda Christensen, diagnosed with breast cancer on Nov. 1, 2011, during a routine mammogram, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. She was treated at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, and on Nov. 1, 2012, doctors said she was clear of cancer. The anthem was sung by 40 members of the "Sing to Live" community chorus, comprised of singers whose lives have been touched by breast cancer. Three breast cancer survivors -- Victoria Leyva-Amick, Sheila Eramus and Gina Zilz -- led the singing of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch, as well.
Ally Fairfield was selected as the honorary bat girl, part of Major League Baseball's "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" campaign. Fairfield was diagnosed with Stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma, an aggressive breast cancer, at the age of 23. She's undergone numerous surgeries, a bilatera mastecomy, chemotherapy treatments and radiation treatments.
"No matter what I'm going through, how much pain I'm in, or how sick I am, I know that somewhere out there is someone who is worse off than I am, and whatever it is I am going through, I know I can overcome it," she wrote. "Having a positive attitude has helped me tremendously throughout my journey."
A huge Cubs fan, Fairfield is particularly fond of Chicago first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who also is a cancer survivor.
On Mother's Day this Sunday, Major League Baseball teams will use pink bats to raise awareness for breast cancer. The Cubs will be in Washington that day to play the Nationals.
• Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced an ordinance at Wednesday's city council meeting which would allow the Cubs to play 40 night games a season and an additional 11 more if Major League Baseball requests the change.
The Cubs currently play 30 night games, and they have asked for more as part of the Wrigley Field renovation plan.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cubs would schedule 35 of the 40 dates, and the other five would be held in reserve for night games dictated by MLB or its national television contract. Playoff games, rescheduled games and the All-Star Game would not count among the 40 games.
The Cubs also want four concerts per season and six 3:05 p.m. CT starts on Fridays.
• Alfonso Soriano, 37, did not start Wednesday as the Cubs took advantage of an off-day Thursday to give the veteran a breather.
"You try to give him these kind of days off," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "He seems to perform better after the days off. Whether you feel good or not, your legs are getting pretty beat up and tired when you get to that age."
• The Cubs briefly considered giving Travis Wood an extra day after he threw a season-high 114 pitches Tuesday, but Sveum said the rotation will stay in order. Wood has thrown seven straight quality starts, and his next start will be Monday, when the Cubs open a six-game homestand against the Rockies.
• Kyuji Fujikawa threw 16 pitches and allowed one hit over two innings in his second rehab outing Wednesday. The Japanese right-hander entered in the seventh for Double-A Tennessee against Birmingham and retired the side in order, needing just six pitches. In the eighth, he gave up a leadoff single, then picked off the baserunner. Of his 16 total pitches, 10 were strikes.
The reliever has been on the disabled list since April 13 with a strained right forearm. He's expected to join the Cubs this weekend in Washington to face the Nationals.
• The Cubs announced after the game Wednesday that third baseman Ian Stewart had cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Iowa. Stewart now is no longer on the 40-man roster. He missed all of Spring Training after suffering a strained left quad in an intrasquad game on Feb. 21, and in 13 games with Iowa, he was 4-for-44 with one double.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.