Notes: Miller on inside track for No. 5
Solid spring performance has righty ahead of Prior, Guzman
MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs manager Lou Piniella wants to wait until each of the projected starters makes one more turn before designating the fifth starter for the regular season, but Wade Miller has the edge.
"Is Miller the frontrunner?," Piniella said Saturday. "Yes, he is. He's throwing the ball well. I've been pleased with what I've seen. Let's give everybody one more turn."
In three starts so far, Miller has given up four runs on 13 hits and four walks over nine innings. The right-hander will make his next start on Monday against Seattle at HoHoKam Park.
The other candidates include Mark Prior, who will start Thursday against San Diego, and Angel Guzman, who could pitch in relief on Wednesday. Guzman gave up five runs on seven hits and one walk over 3 1/3 innings on Friday against the Chicago White Sox.
"There were some good things," Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said of Guzman's outing. "You've got to put hitters away. He had opportunities. It could have been a better linescore for him, but you still have to put those hitters away. An 0-2 hit and a 1-2 hit at the end, those were situations when he could have put them away."
Guzman saw a photo of his delivery on the Internet and said that he might need to make some changes to make sure he isn't tipping his pitches. What was encouraging was that the young right-hander threw strikes. Of his 66 pitches, 51 were strikes, and he threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of the 18 batters he faced.
Game plan: Rich Hill went five innings on Saturday, the longest outing by a Cubs starter this spring, and he has not walked a batter in 10 innings over three starts.
"That's the name of the game -- attack and stay on the aggressive side and put the pressure on the hitter and make him swing the bat," Hill said.
Hill is not thinking about walks. He's thinking about strikes.
"I make it a conscious effort to go after the hitters, period," Hill said. "I don't think, 'Don't walk.' I think, 'Make the action happen with the first three pitches. Just attack the hitter. Keep it simple. Get ahead, stay ahead.'"
Hill made two bad pitches in the game. One hit Kevin Kouzmanoff in the second inning, and the second was launched over the left-field fence by Jose Cruz Jr. for his third spring homer.
"I wasn't so frustrated with the home run as I was hitting Kouzmanoff," he said.
That was the only problem as far as Piniella was concerned. Derrek Lee hit a three-run homer in the first to give the Cubs a 3-1 lead, and Hill hit Kouzmanoff to lead off the second. Cruz followed with his home run.
"I know it's Spring Training, but you'd like to see your team shut down the opposition after you score," Piniella said.
Hill will stay in Arizona rather than go to Cincinnati so that he can pitch in a Minor League game on April 1. That way, he stays on track for his start on April 6 at Milwaukee.
"Today was a great step forward," Hill said. "I threw all four pitches. To me, they were above average -- good changeup, slider, fastball, curve. Everything was right there."
To do list: Cubs relievers can look forward to a little more work in the final two weeks of Spring Training. Piniella wants the pitchers to each go at least two innings in one game and throw in consecutive games at some point.
Piniella needs to get a feel for the relievers in order to find out who performs better with inherited runners and who does better starting an inning.
"From a pitching standpoint, we have everything here in place to have a real nice staff," Piniella said. "I've got no concerns whatsoever."
Well, maybe one. Left-hander Neal Cotts has given up runs in each of his five outings, including Saturday's game, when he was charged with two runs on two hits and one walk.
"I think a couple nice outings for him will help him mentally," Piniella said. "I asked him today, 'How many words have you said today?' and he said four words back to me. He's a very quiet kid."
It is tough to evaluate pitching in Arizona.
"The sky, the way the ball carries, the hard infields -- it's tougher," Piniella said. "It's a tougher place to pitch, there's no question about it. This is a veteran staff I have here. Keep them healthy, keep them pitching, and let them get their work in. This is not a staff where we're evaluating the young pitching. I do like two or three of our young pitchers a lot. Whether there's room for them or not is the question."
Michael Wuertz made his first Cactus League appearance on Friday, and Roberto Novoa pitched for the second time, and both are a little behind the other relievers.
Play it again: Cubs pitcher Will Ohman is a devoted fan of "American Idol." What would he sing if he auditioned for the show?
"'Ring of Fire' by Johnny Cash," he said. "I get that baritone thing there."
"Simon [Cowell]. He doesn't sugarcoat," Ohman said. "He actually tells people when they stink."
What's the biggest travesty in "American Idol" history?
"Chris Daughtry not winning," Ohman said.
Does he TiVo the show?
"I usually TiVo it because, regardless of good performance or bad performance, I'm a nerd and I sit there with my computer, and if I hear a song I don't have, I'll purchase it in the middle of the show," he said.
And Ohman already has 9,200 songs on his iPod. If he was a judge, what advice would he give?
"Pick a decent song," he said.
His sleeper pick of this year's contestants?
"Jordin Sparks," Ohman said of the Glendale, Ariz., singer.
But who will sell the most records?
"That bee-bop guy -- Blake [Lewis]," he said.
Extra bases: The plan is to get starters to throw at least 100 pitches in their next-to-last start, then back off and throw 50-60 in their final spring start. ... On Monday, Sean Gallagher and Sean Marshall will both pitch in Maryvale against the Brewers. It will be Marshall's first spring game. He's been slowed with fatigue in his left shoulder. ... Angel Pagan, who had some soreness on his right side, tested his left-handed swing on Saturday for the first time. A switch-hitter, he had been limited to a right-handed swing. ... The Cubs wore green caps on Saturday in honor of St. Patrick's Day. The game against the Padres drew a sellout crowd of 12,764, marking the fourth time the Cubs have topped 12,000 at a spring home game.
On deck: The Cubs will travel to Tempe on Sunday to play the Angels at 3:05 p.m. CT. Carlos Zambrano will make his fourth spring start. So far, Zambrano has given up two earned runs on six hits and five walks over nine innings, while striking out 12. John Lackey is scheduled to start for the Angels.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.