In Monday's home opener against the Rockies, Lilly worked 6 2/3 innings of hitless ball as the Cubs won 4-0. Lilly is the type of pitcher who needs all three of his main pitches -- fastball, curveball and changeup -- to be effective at the same time. That wasn't the case last week. Lilly left balls up in the zone, and they were hit a long way.
"When he gets a little better snap on his breaking ball, gets a little more arm speed to his changeup, gets a little more deceptive, and at the same time, he gets a little bit more of a ride on his fastball, that's when he's at his best," said manager Lou Piniella. "He's not that far away from there."
Lilly was with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, and he had some catching up to do with the Cubs. He also started slowly last season, going 1-4 with a 6.46 ERA in April.
"I had a lot of work to do on the side after my last start," Lilly said. "The thing I'm keeping in mind at this point is I have a lot of work to do."
Lilly is the No. 3 starter behind Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster.
--LF Alfonso Soriano has hit safely in seven of the first eight games, going 10-for-32 (.313). Four walks have helped Soriano compile an on-base percentage of .389. He leads the team with four home runs. All winter, there was talk in the Chicago media about moving Soriano out of the leadoff spot. Piniella has never had any intention of doing that, and the quick start has helped keep that talk quiet.
--RHP Kevin Gregg won't be working more than one inning in his role as closer, especially in cold weather. Piniella has said Gregg's knee tightens when he pitches or warms up and then sits down. Gregg underwent knee surgery in the offseason.
"It's four months from pretty major knee surgery," said Gregg. "It wasn't reconstruction or anything, but it was a pretty major one."
Gregg is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA. In four innings, he has allowed six hits and five walks.
--SS Ryan Theriot failed to get a hit Monday for the first time this season. However, he laid down a sacrifice bunt in the eighth inning after Soriano singled to lead off. RF Kosuke Fukudome followed with an RBI single. Theriot is 11-for-24 (.458) this season.
--Lilly has taken no-hitters into the seventh inning in three of his last five starts. In addition to Monday, Lilly did it twice last September. Lilly retired 20 of the first 21 Rockies he faced.
--RHP Aaron Heilman has worked five games in relief without giving up a run. He got a talking-to by Piniella on the mound Monday. The message? Throw strikes.
"I told him he's got good stuff; trust it," Piniella said. "Go after the hitters. Be aggressive. Be aggressive in the strike zone. Good things will happen for you. That was the message, and I mean it. He's got a good arm and has got some nice sink on the ball."
--Fukudome moved from center field to right field for Monday's home opener. He also batted third because 3B Aramis Ramirez and RF Milton Bradley were out of the lineup with minor injuries. Fukudome singled home a run and walked three times. He's batting .417 with an on-base percentage of .533. He said over the weekend he's stronger physically and feeling more confident and comfortable in his second year in the major leagues after starring in Japan.
--OF Reed Johnson has been getting playing time with Bradley out. He made a catch at the wall Sunday to rob Milwaukee's Prince Fielder of a homer. He's also a key part of the Cubs' "smaller-ball" attack when the conditions don't favor power hitting.
"We showed (Monday) we can do the little things," Johnson said. "We've got enough guys in the lineup that can do the little things, as far as moving guys over when the conditions really aren't favorable for offense. We've got a smart enough group and a veteran group."
--The Sports XChange
IOWA 14, ALBUQUERQUE 7 (CLASS AAA)
At Albuquerque, N.M., the Cubs (4-2) struck for 11 runs and 13 hits in their first four innings en route to the victory Tuesday. Iowa tallied a season-high 20 hits total in the game. LF So Taguchi and 1B Jake Fox each picked up a season-high four hits. Fox hit two home runs and drove in five runs. RHP Mitch Atkins started and yielded seven runs and eight hits in four innings. He struck out six batters in a no-decision. RHP Greg Reinhard (1-0) pitched two scoreless innings in relief for the win.
DUNEDIN 8, DAYTONA 6 (CLASS HIGH-A)
At Daytona Beach, the Cubs (3-2) battled back from a 5-0 deficit Tuesday but came up short. 1B Russ Canzler picked up two hits to pace the offense, and he extended his hit streak to four games to open the season. CF Drew Rundle and C Robinson Chirinos each added two-run singles. LHP James Leverton started and allowed five runs and six hits in 3 2/3 innings in a no-decision. RHP Craig Muschko (0-1) suffered the loss in relief, allowing two runs in two innings.
PEORIA 5, DAYTON 4 – GAME 1 (CLASS-A)
At Peoria, the Chiefs took the opener of a doubleheader with a four-run third inning. CF Tony Campana picked up a season-high three hits atop the order and stole two bases. 2B Ryan Flaherty added two hits and drove in a pair of runs, and LF Nelson Perez hit a two-run home run. The Chiefs used three pitchers, with RHP Mike Perconte (1-0) tossing three shutout innings for the victory in relief.
PEORIA 5, DAYTON 4 – GAME 2
The Chiefs (3-2) overcame a 2-0 first-inning deficit. Campana and Perez finished with two hits apiece. Peoria used five pitchers in the victory, with RHP Kevin Kreier (1-0) picking up the win by tossing three scoreless innings.
Right-hander Rich Harden was a mystery man for the Cubs on Wednesday in a 5-2 loss to the Rockies…