Chicago Cubs

Epstein wants movement on Wrigley Field improvements

PITTSBURGH – Theo Epstein believes it’s time for the Cubs to start moving in the right direction, but he said Monday that involves making improvements to Wrigley Field.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts had imposed an April 1 deadline for a deal to be in place. Ricketts did not travel to Pittsburgh with the team, electing to stay in Chicago to try to work out a deal on what would be a five-year improvement pan.

Ricketts has said he is willing to invest $500 million into renovating the historic ballpark. Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, said before Monday’s 3-1 win over the Pirates that he talks with Ricketts and team business president Crane Kenney a couple of times a week. He’s not, however, on the “front lines” of the discussions between the Cubs and the rooftop owners.

“I think it’s fundamentally important to get to the next level as an organization,” Epstein said Monday. “We have a baseball plan and we have a business plan, and they’re timed to sync up with one another, they’re interdependent.

“If we don’t get our Wrigley renovation done in a timely manner and done the right way, then we can’t accomplish our business objectives and that will certainly get in the way of us ultimately accomplishing our baseball objectives, so it’s very important.”

Closing time: Carlos Marmol’s debut lasted all of four hitters after he entered the game in the bottom of the ninth inning after starter Jeff Samardzija was effective and efficient in eight innings. After striking out Garrett Jones, Marmol hit a batter, allowed an RBI single and then walked Gaby Sanchez to put the tying runs on base.

Relievers James Russell and Kyuji Fujikawa closed out the win, mopping up for Marmol. But despite Marmol’s struggles, manager Dale Sveum doesn’t plan to make any changes.

“He’s still the closer,” Sveum said. “We’re not making any changes or anything like that. He just didn’t have it today.”

Marmol said after Monday’s game he feels good and that Monday’s showing won’t rattle his confidence. He admitted being “a little surprised” when Sveum pulled him after only one-third of an inning.

“That’s what it is – you have to throw strikes whether it’s a close game or whatever,” Marmol said. “The good part is that we won today.”

Going deep: First baseman Anthony Rizzo delivered the biggest offensive blow for the Cubs with a 438-foot home run on the first pitch he saw from Pirates starter A.J. Burnett. The two-run shot, which splashed into the Allegheny River after clearing the right center bleachers, was not only the first of the season, but the first of the spring.

Rizzo went homerless during spring training. He said his power slump drew ridicule from his teammates. He said afterward that he didn’t remember the pitch or where the ball went.

“I just kind of blacked out,” Rizzo said. “It was just one of those things where the game sped up, it’s Opening Day. A lot of emotions and you’re just trying to keep your composure. It was a good feeling.”

Extra hits: The Cubs placed second baseman Darwin Barney on the 15-day disabled list after he suffered a deep cut on his knee while trying to track down a foul ball in Houston. Barney said he made contact with a concrete slab on the wall and didn’t know how serious the gash was until he returned to the clubhouse. Sveum wouldn’t commit to a replacement for Barney, saying he’ll “wing it.” Brent Lillibridge and Alberto Gonzalez made appearances at second Monday... Edwin Jackson makes his regular-season debut Wednesday after an off-day today...The Cubs won despite striking out 15 times – including 10 times against starter A.J. Burnett – and going 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position.

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