Cubs push back Harden, juggle starters for playoffs

Updated: September 22, 2008, 10:40 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- The Chicago Cubs adjusted their pitching rotation this week to prepare for the first round of the playoffs.

The NL Central champions pushed Rich Harden back a couple of days to Thursday and bumped Ted Lilly to the weekend series at Milwaukee. That means Chicago's top four starters, Carlos Zambrano, Harden, Ryan Dempster and Lilly, each will get one tuneup start before the regular season ends.

"We're starting to get ourselves rearranged for postseason," manager Lou Piniella said, adding that the oft-injured Harden feels good.

Left-hander Sean Marshall will get the ball Tuesday night against the New York Mets instead of Harden, who will go in Lilly's spot Thursday at Shea Stadium. Zambrano goes Wednesday, and Dempster's turn comes up again Friday against the Brewers.

Piniella said Monday he'll use a four-man rotation in the postseason. But he wouldn't commit to a starter for Game 1 of the division series Oct. 1 at Wrigley Field, at least partly because Chicago's opponent hasn't been determined yet.

It could very well be the Mets, who lost 9-5 to the Cubs in the opener of a four-game series Monday night. New York's wild-card lead over Milwaukee slipped to one game, but the Mets would play Chicago in the first round if they hang on.

Piniella plans to announce his playoff rotation this weekend. The Cubs clinched their second consecutive NL Central title Saturday and with the win Monday wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

"Also, we'd like to go into the postseason with some momentum," Piniella said.

The Cubs didn't alter Zambrano's schedule. Piniella said the big right-hander needs work after missing two turns recently with a sore shoulder. Zambrano pitched a no-hitter against the Houston Astros in Milwaukee on Sept. 14, then was chased by St. Louis after only 1 2/3 innings Friday -- his shortest outing in two years.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.