This should be quite the opener at Wrigley Field.
Chicago and Milwaukee are dealing with some early challenges heading into the first game of the season at the Cubs' longtime home on Monday.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum announced Sunday that Kyuji Fujikawa would take over as closer after Carlos Marmol blew a save opportunity in Saturday night's 6-5 loss in Atlanta. Fujikawa finished a 3-1 victory over Pittsburgh on opening day, but Chicago had only one other victory on the six-game road trip.
The Cubs lost 5-1 to the Braves in the series finale after Jeff Samardzija set a career high with 13 strikeouts, but gave up four runs and four walks in 5 2-3 innings."We're a better team at home," said Sveum, looking forward to the first game at the cozy neighborhood ballpark. "Most teams are better teams at home. We proved it last year. Even with a tough year, we were only a couple of games under .500 at home last year. You're more comfortable."
The Brewers' opening homestand was so bad they were looking forward to getting away for a while.
Ryan Braun has missed three consecutive games due to spasms on the right side of his neck, and shortstop Jean Segura was pulled from Sunday's 8-7 loss to Arizona because of a bruised left quadriceps. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez went on the disabled list Saturday with a sprained left knee, and first baseman Corey Hart is expected to miss the first month of the season recovering from right knee surgery."To start a season, this is tough," manager Ron Roenicke said. "You don't expect to have this many injuries early. And when you do, it is hard to figure out how you cover everything."
Milwaukee has dropped five in a row since it beat Colorado 5-4 in 10 innings on opening day. The starting rotation has struggled, and Roenicke has his own problems at closer.
But Braun and Segura both could play against the Cubs, and the Brewers remain confident after beginning the season with high hopes for contending in the division and returning to the playoffs.Right-hander Marco Estrada , set to start for Milwaukee against Edwin Jackson on Monday, said there were "a lot of positives" in the Brewers' latest loss. "Try to build off of them and bring it into tomorrow's game. We know we have a tough road trip ahead of us. We are going to take it the same, one game at a time, try to win that first game and then try to win the series," he said.
If Braun returns to the lineup, it would be his first road game since his name surfaced in records from the now-defunct Biogenesis of America LLC clinic that allegedly provided banned substances to several players.
After his name was connected to the clinic, Braun issued a statement in which he said he used the clinic's operator, Anthony Bosch, as a consultant in appealing his previous positive test that was overturned.
He could receive an icy welcome when he is introduced at Wrigley Field on Monday, but he is the best player on one of the Cubs' division rivals so it may just be more of the same."The good thing is it doesn't faze him at all," Estrada said. "He was good last year and he had probably an even better year than 2011. So he's a great hitter, goes about the game the right way."
While the Cubs are coming off another lackluster road trip, there could be a bit of positive news to announce as they return to iconic home.
The city of Chicago and the Ricketts family that owns the team appear to be close to an agreement for a $500 million overhaul of Wrigley Field. It's expected to be completed by Monday.
That long-awaited deal could add another element to what's sure to be a festive atmosphere for the home opener."It's the first time in a couple of years we've started on the road, so I think it will be a good buzz around Chicago," second baseman Darwin Barney said. "Opening days are pretty special. It's one of the things you miss not being able to be out there, but I think it will good for the fans to see the club we have and go out there and try to get things going."
Associated Press writer George Henry in Atlanta contributed to this report.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
|April 07, 2013||Jean Segura||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised left quad|
|April 06, 2013||Aramis Ramirez||15-Day DL||Left knee sprain|
|April 05, 2013||Ryan Braun||Day-to-Day||Neck spasms|
|March 25, 2013||Mark Rogers||15-Day DL||Right shoulder instability|
|March 22, 2013||Taylor Green||15-Day DL||Left hip labral injury|
|March 22, 2013||Corey Hart||15-Day DL||Recovery from right knee surgery|
|March 31, 2013||Scott Baker||60-Day DL||Strained right elbow|
|March 31, 2013||Darwin Barney||15-Day DL||Left knee laceration|
|March 27, 2013||Arodys Vizcaino||60-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|March 22, 2013||Ian Stewart||15-Day DL||Strained left quad|
|March 22, 2013||Matt Garza||15-Day DL||Strained left lat|
|March 03, 2013||Matt Garza||Day-to-Day||Strained left lat|
CHICAGO (AP) -- Marco Estrada walked out to warm up and saw the wind blowing straight out at Wrigley Field, a rare sight for an April date at the iconic neighborhood ballpark.
It was an unfortunate development for the right-hander, but he made it work in a big way for the Milwaukee Brewers .
Estrada pitched seven effective innings and doubled home a run Monday, helping the Brewers stop a five-game slide with a 7-4 victory over Chicago in the first game of the season at the Cubs' longtime home.
"I just kept telling myself just leave the pitches down, especially the changeup," he said. "As long as I don't leave balls up, I should be OK. Especially because, you know, I'm a bit of a pop-fly pitcher and I knew in this park with that wind it could be trouble."
Estrada allowed two runs and five hits while bouncing back from a lackluster season debut against Colorado. The right-hander also drove in Alex Gonzalez with a drive into the gap in right-center during Milwaukee's two-run seventh.
Norichika Aoki collected three more hits and Ryan Braun had a successful return to the lineup as the Brewers won for the first time since opening day. Aoki had a career-high four hits in Milwaukee's 8-7 loss to Arizona on Sunday and is batting .588 (10 for 17) in his last four games.
"It's just nice to win," Braun said. "We needed to win."
Welington Castillo belted a two-run homer for Chicago, which has dropped four in a row and five of six. Edwin Jackson was hit hard in his first home game since he signed a $52 million, four-year contract over the winter, surrendering five runs and eight hits in six innings.
The Cubs rallied for two runs in the ninth and had the bases loaded when Dave Sappelt struck out. Starlin Castro then hit a fly ball deep to right, but the shifting wind held it up and Aoki brought it in on the warning track.
"Yeah, I had a bad feeling when we got things going there," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "We had nobody out and with those guys coming up, that wind shift was going to obviously have a factor in the game both ways, and it did."
Jim Henderson picked up his first save of the season in his first opportunity since he replaced John Axford in the closer's role.
Braun, who missed Milwaukee's weekend sweep by Arizona due to spasms on the right side of his neck, went 3 for 4 with two doubles before he was replaced by Logan Schafer in the eighth inning. The 2011 NL MVP has at least one hit in each of his four games this season.
It was Braun's first road game since his name surfaced in records from the now-defunct Biogenesis of America LLC clinic alleged to have provided banned substances to several players. After his name was connected to the clinic, he issued a statement in which he said he used the clinic's operator, Anthony Bosch, as a consultant in appealing a positive drug test that was overturned last year.
Braun was lustily booed by the crowd of 40,083, but he is the best player on one of Chicago's division rivals. And the fans hardly seemed to notice he was at the plate after they got done jeering struggling reliever Carlos Marmol when he came on to pitch the eighth.
"Yeah, I don't think they've ever cheered for me here," Braun said with a grin. "Not too much different than it's ever been in the past."
The day began with a tarp over the infield as showers rolled through the area, but the grey clouds soon gave way to sunshine for an unusually warm opener at the 99-year-old ballpark. Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams each threw out a ceremonial first pitch, and Ernie Banks led the crowd in the singing of the "Take Me Out to The Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch.
As soon as Jenkins and Williams left the field, the Brewers jumped all over Jackson (0-2).
With runners on first and second and two down, Jonathan Lucroy and Alex Gonzalez had consecutive walks to force home a run. Martin Maldonado then delivered a bases-clearing double into the right-field corner, lifting Milwaukee to a 4-0 lead.
The Brewers added another run in the second when Aoki reached on a leadoff double and scored on Braun's one-out double to center.
"I just have to do a better job of executing and executing pitches when I put myself in the position to get out of a jam," Jackson said.
That was more than enough for Estrada (1-0), who struck out six and walked one. He was coming off a no-decision against the Rockies, when he allowed four runs and nine hits in five innings.
NOTES: Milwaukee placed LHP Chris Narveson on the 15-day disabled list after the game with a sprained left middle finger. It will make a corresponding roster move on Tuesday and manager Ron Roenicke indicated it would be a position player since the Brewers had 13 pitchers on the roster. ... Roenicke said he hopes the struggling Axford will be able to return to the closer spot at some point. ... Brewers SS Jean Segura was sidelined by a bruised left quadriceps. He is day to day. ... Cubs LHP Travis Wood faces RHP Wily Peralta in the second game of the series on Tuesday night.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap