Notes: Walks anger Zambrano
Piniella not alarmed by free passes, but wants improvement
MESA, Ariz. -- Carlos Zambrano led the National League in walks allowed last season, and it's not a trend he wants to continue in 2007.
The right-hander issued three walks over three innings Wednesday in the Cubs' 9-8 win over the Oakland Athletics, and wasn't happy about it.
"I think I was trying to do too much, and my left shoulder was too open," Zambrano said. "I learned from the experience. If you open your shoulder with your fastball ... the other pitches were working good, so you use the other pitches.
"This was a good day for me," he said. "I learned from this game."
"He wasn't really, really sharp today," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "He wasn't getting on top of the ball as well as he did the first time."
Chicago pitchers walked 10 batters in the game, including two free passes with the bases loaded.
"It was a long afternoon," Piniella said. "It ended very exciting. [Buck] Coats made a heck of a throw from left field."
Coats threw out pinch-runner Charles Thomas at home for the final out.
"I knew I had to get rid of it quick because he was fast," Coats said. "I tried to make an accurate throw, and it turned out for the best."
It was one of the few strikes in the game. Left-handers Scott Eyre and Will Ohman walked two batters each in their outings.
"There's nothing to be concerned about," Piniella said of the walks by the veterans, "but it's something you need to be improve on. It's early in the spring. When these kids get a little stronger and sharper, you'll see better pitching. If not, you'll see a lot more gray hair on my head."
A little tweak: The Cubs are trying to get outfielder Felix Pie to flatten his bat, which will shorten his swing, hopefully help him make contact, and cut down on the strikeouts.
"My swing is a little long, so I'm trying to make it shorter and quick," Pie said Wednesday. "My bat is a little bit flatter, and I have to take more pitches like that and not swing at pitches in the dirt. I feel better, I feel good. I'm working on it."
This isn't the first time a coach has suggested Pie shorten his swing, but it seems to finally be working. At least it did in a recent start when Pie had three hits. The change shouldn't affect his power.
"I don't worry about home runs," Pie said. "I have guys here to hit home runs -- [Alfonso] Soriano, [Aramis] Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Cliff Floyd. I don't worry about that."
Something worked Wednesday when Pie delivered a tie-breaking RBI single in the seventh inning. Whether Pie is ready for the big leagues probably won't be determined until the end of spring. If Soriano can make the move to center field, Jacque Jones will start in right, Matt Murton in left, and Pie will have time to develop.
Pie may offer a reason to stay.
"I don't believe in the fact that rushing people hurts players," Piniella said. "I think if you have the stomach for it and have the mentality for it and have the talent for it, you learn what you need to improve on quickly. Instead of putting your head down and feeling sorry for yourself, you work hard, so when you get back, you're more prepared.
"At the same time, it takes players sometimes a couple two or three trips to feel comfortable in a Major League environment -- and how do you get them that experience?" he said. "It also depends on the need. If you have options, you can think about it and talk about it and discuss it and look at the alternative. Sometimes the need makes the decision more than anything else."
Numbers game: Right now, Ryan Theriot is the designated utility infielder. He started at shortstop Wednesday, and will see some playing time at third this spring. Theriot also may be the only utility infielder on the final 25-man roster.
"I've never managed a team where we've only carried one, but we'll see," Piniella said. "We would probably be better suited if we could carry 11 pitchers. I don't know if we can do that either. Let's see what happens towards the middle or end of Spring Training."
If the Cubs could go with 11 pitchers, then Piniella could have an extra backup infielder on the roster. It depends on the health of the starting pitchers, and the health of the bullpen.
Name game: Yes, "Rocky" is Cubs pitcher Rocky Cherry's real first name.
"The funny story is that my dad's name is Pat and my uncle's name is Jan," Cherry said. "They're both names that could be girl's names. When they grew up they got pretty tough because people were making fun of them. When I was born, my uncle's idea was, 'Let's name him something tough,' like that song 'A Boy Named Sue.' That's what they named me, and that's what on the birth certificate."
Cherry, 27, admits he didn't like it at first.
"I've heard every joke from 'Yo, Adrian,' to 'Rocky Balboa' to 'Rocky and Bullwinkle' -- you name it, I've heard it," he said. "I enjoy it now, and it's a good name for my personality."
Rocky Cherry sounds like an ice cream flavor.
"I've heard that one, too," he said. "I've heard some other ones that I probably can't mention."
If Cherry is shagging in the outfield and stands next to Pie, it's "Cherry Pie." Or, he could stand next to Kerry Wood. You get the idea.
Right now, he'd like to get noticed for his pitching. Last season at Double-A West Tenn, Cherry was 4-1 with a 2.22 ERA in 31 games and two saves. He is coming back from Tommy John ligament transplant surgery on his right elbow in 2005. This spring, he has pitched in three games, totaling 3 1/3 innings, and has not allowed a run. He's given up two hits while striking out five.
On Tuesday, first baseman Micah Hoffpauir, a late addition to the Cubs' spring roster, hit a walk-off homer in the ninth inning. Like Hoffpauir, Cherry knows every outing counts if he wants to make an impression on the Cubs staff.
"In the first five days, I threw three times, and I can't ask for anything more than that," he said. "I want to get out there as much as I can and show them I can stay healthy and I can pitch when they need me to and I can get outs."
Tickets: Starting Wednesday, fans can register on cubs.com for the opportunity to purchase up to six Dugout, Bullpen or Bleacher Box tickets for one regular-season Cubs game at Wrigley Field. The deadline to register is Sunday at 3 p.m. CT.
Extra bases: Cliff Floyd remains on target to play this weekend. Piniella said Floyd is close to "90 percent" ready. ... Third baseman Scott Moore, who received a cortisone shot in his right shoulder over the weekend, played catch for the second straight day Wednesday and was able to hit in the batting cage. ... Left-hander Sean Marshall threw 30 pitches in his first batting practice session this spring Wednesday. Marshall, slowed because of his shoulder, said it went well. "I feel like I'm game ready," he said. "My arm feels good and strong." ... The Cubs' spring games Friday, Saturday and Monday will be televised on Comcast Sports Net.
On deck: The Cubs travel to Peoria, Ariz., Thursday to face an familiar name. Greg Maddux, now pitching for the San Diego Padres, is slated to start against the Cubs and Wade Miller, who will be making his second spring start. In 20 career regular season starts against the Cubs, Maddux has an 11-3 record and 2.38 ERA. Kerry Wood also was on the list to make his second spring appearance in relief. The game starts at 2:05 p.m. CT.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.