Roenicke shuffles his outfield cards
Roenicke made not one, not two, but three outfield maneuvers for the game Wednesday against the Chicago Cubs and right-hander Ryan Dempster.
Roenicke had planned to give rightfielder Corey Hart a rest after undergoing knee surgery in spring training, but he also sat leftfielder Ryan Braun because he was “a little bit tight in the chest area.”
Roenicke gave Norichika Aoki his first major-league start in left field and inserted Nyjer Morgan in right. That prompted him to play Carlos Gomez, who normally doesn’t start against right-handed pitchers, in center.
Roenicke said catcher Jonathan Lucroy also was experiencing some slight chest / ribcage tightness, the result of a small collision sliding into second base earlier in the season.
Roenicke made it clear that either Braun or Lucroy could have played had he so desired.
“They’re fine, they can play but we wanted to give guys off a day somewhere, and we thought today was a good day to do it,” Roenicke explained.
Inserting George Kottaras at catcher proved to be huge because it was his two-run homer in the seventh off Dempster that decided the game, 2-1.
As for the chest-area tightness, Roenicke attributed it somewhat to the frigid conditions of the first few games against the Cubs.
“I think cold weather, trying to go out there and do the things you’re doing,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of torquing going on when your body’s really not loose.”
It was a good day to rest Hart because he is a .195 hitter against Dempster. However, Morgan was 0 for 15 against Dempster with eight strikeouts, not the kind of matchup a manager normally utilizes.
“I normally wouldn’t do that very often,” said Roenicke. “I don’t think Nyjer would ever have numbers like that against anyone else. So, the odds are that he’s going to get to him. He’s due.”
Morgan went 0 for 2 with a sacrifice against Dempster, but one of his outs was a shot at first baseman Bryan LaHair that was turned into a double play.
Aoki showed no outward signs of nervousness or anxiousness as he prepared for his first start in the majors. It didn’t seem to faze him that he was replacing the reigning NL MVP.
“That stuff happens,” said Aoki. “So, it’s not surprising.”
Aoki then went out and had four good at-bats, seeing a total of 29 pitches while going 1 for 3 with a walk. His unique ability to foul off pitches and keep at-bats alive was evident in spring training.
“Ron always talks about making the pitcher throw a lot of pitches and make it tough on him,” Aoki said through translator Kosuke Inaji. “I was able to do that today.
“I’m not really sure (why he is so adept at following off pitches) but even in Japan I always concentrated on getting on base and that might have contributed to that.”
As for experiencing Wrigley Field for the first time, Aoki said, “I feel that this is what it was like to play baseball 100 years ago. I’m glad I can experience that.”
K-Rod’s first save
On days when closer John Axford was not available in the second half of last season due to a heavy workload, save opportunities didn’t materialize for Francisco Rodriguez. The one time it did, he had to leave the game with a slight leg injury.
That changed Tuesday night when Rodriguez was used to nail down the final two outs of a 7-4 victory over the Cubs. Axford had thrown 56 pitches over the previous two games and Roenicke was not going to use him.
“It’s nice when you have those two guys and somebody is down for the day, and you know you don’t have to worry about it,” said Roenicke.
“Last year, there were times right before we got Frankie and you mentioned something to (Takashi) Saito about (possibly closing) and he said, ‘No, I don’t think I want to do that.’”
‘To find guys that want to do it, and feel comfortable doing it, that’s good we have the two guys.
“I’m sure if I asked (Jose) Veras he’d have no problems doing it, either. I feel really good with him. He’s going to be big for us this year.”
It was Veras’ inability to get through the ninth inning unscathed that prompted Roenicke to summon Rodriguez, however. He allowed a leadoff homer to Geovany Soto and was pulled after issuing a one-out walk.
Axford was back in action Wednesday and extended his club record to 45 consecutive regular-season saves in the 2-1 victory.