What Was Cubs Manager Lou Piniella Thinking Last Night?

M. S.Correspondent IMay 26, 2009

Last night, the Chicago Cubs fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field for their eighth straight loss. Ryan Dempster, Chicago’s starting pitcher, was roughed up for six runs in just four innings of work. 
In the bottom half of the fourth inning, Bobby Scales pinch-hit for Dempster and flew out to right field.

That’s where things got interesting.

Relief pitcher Jose Ascanio came in to pitch the top of the fifth inning, where he was due up fourth in the next inning. Ascanio had a rough inning, giving up three straight one-out hits before getting out of the jam.

In the bottom of the fifth, with the Cubs up one, Micah Hoffpauir walked to lead off the inning. Piniella then had Ryan Freel, batting in the seven spot, sacrifice Hoffpauir over to second for the out.

What that says is Piniella had confidence in Aaron Miles and all 204 points of his batting average to get the job done and drive in a run. He was batting a survivable .263 against lefties, but is just 3-for-23 with runners in scoring position this year. 

Five pitches later, Miles was heading back to the bench with a big “K” next to his name in the scorebook.

Next up, relief pitcher Jose Ascanio. Wait, what? During the game, there was a rumor that starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano was supposed to bat, but for whatever reason did not. 


With healthy players Mike Fontenot and Kosuke Fukudome on the bench, Ascanio walked up to the plate for the second at-bat of his career. Two pitches later, Jack Wilson had a can of corn in his shopping basket and the inning was over.

But that’s not the worst part. Coming out to pitch the top of the sixth was lefty Neal Cotts. 

So let’s get this straight, Jose Ascanio was allowed to bat with the a man on second, but did not pitch the next inning.

The ONLY reason a manager with a brain would ever let a relief pitcher even hold a bat would be if they were scheduled to pitch the next inning.

I agree, Ascanio should not have pitched the sixth inning. Cotts was the right man with four of the next five batters in the Pirates’ lineup being lefties. 

Guess what? Don’t let Ascanio hit then!

The fact that Tom Gorzelanny, a lefty, was in the game did not matter either. Fukudome and Fontenot are both left-handed hitters, but I would guess they are both better hitters than Ascanio.

Cotts wound up giving up three runs in the top half of the inning to give the Pirates a 9-7 lead heading into the Cubs’ half of the sixth.

Fast forward to the bottom of the seventh inning with the score now 10-7 Pittsburgh.  The Cubs struck for a run after a two out RBI single by Ryan Freel and, after a Miles hit, the pitcher’s spot was up again.

Pinch-hitting for the Cubs, pitcher Carlos Zambrano. Huh?

Let’s stop for a moment and break down this decision. Zambrano is a career .239 hitter with 17 home runs. He also has 184 whiffs in 553 career plate appearances. 

What that means is Big Z strikes out once every three times he steps to the plate. He also has just six walks in those plate appearances, meaning there was a 92:1 chance that Zambrano would load the bases for leadoff man Alfonso Soriano.

Most of the time Zambrano comes to the plate, he is a starting pitcher batting ninth in a tough lineup. He is going to pretty much get straight fastballs because no pitcher wants to walk the pitcher to get to the leadoff spot. 

But this was a situation with two men on and two men out in a two-run ballgame. A little different, don’t you think?

Once again, Fontenot and Fukudome were still on the bench waiting to be used. Hell, Koyie Hill could have been used if they wanted to roll the dice on that.

Of course, Zambrano struck out to end the seventh and the Cubs went on to lose the game two innings later.

When he comes into the game, Zambrano gets the crowd going and is fun to watch. But when it comes to getting tallies in the win column, Piniella made a couple of flat-out dumb moves last night that may have cost his team their first win in eight tries.