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updated: 7/6/2011 12:12 PM

Cubs' farm arms bringing mixed forecast

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  • Ramon Ortiz was the 10th different pitcher to start a game for the Cubs this season.

    Ramon Ortiz was the 10th different pitcher to start a game for the Cubs this season.
    Associated Press


Regular readers of the Daily Herald baseball blog, Chicago's Inside Pitch, are familiar with our minor-league reports, which we call "Farm and Fleita," in honor of Oneri Fleita, the Cubs' farm director.

Today, we take "Farm and Fleita" to the newspaper.

There's a lot going on in the Cubs' minor-league system, so let's get to it.

All of the news about Cubs' minor-league pitchers isn't bad. It only seems that way.

But Monday night, left-hander Austin Kirk tossed a 9-inning no-hitter for Class A Peoria in a 2-0 victory over Clinton. Kirk threw 101 pitches and struck out 10 while walking only two.

"I don't know what to think," he told writer Kevin Capie of the Peoria Journal Star. "I'm pretty stoked. I can't believe this actually happened. I never thought about it until the seventh, and I looked up and saw they didn't have any hits. I thought maybe if I kept my pitch count down, I could finish this."

Kirk turned 21 on May 22. He was a third-round draft choice in 2009 out of Owasso (Okla.) High School. Owasso High turned out a first-rounder this year, with Baltimore taking right-hander Dylan Bundy with the fourth pick overall.

The bad news:

We mentioned the bad news above. Hayden Simpson, last year's No. 1 pick for the Cubs, has been demoted from Peoria to Rookie League ball in Mesa. Simpson was just 1-6 with a 5.72 ERA for Peoria. In 61⅓ innings pitched, he gave up 76 hits while walking 27 and striking out 46.

The 6-foot, 170-pound Simpson, out of Southern Arkansas, did not pitch in pro ball last year because he was felled by a bad case of mononucleosis. Cubs people tell me his stuff was coming up short this season and that he looked out of gas.

So they'll let Simpson regroup in Mesa. Fleita told me he repeated the plan to Simpson that he laid out at the beginning of the year: to stay healthy, to learn what it takes to pitch a full season in pro ball and to come out of it still enjoying the game.

It's a major setback to be sure, but sending Simpson to Mesa was the right thing to do.

The Cubs also got bad news this year when rising prospect Rob Whitenack had his season end at Class AA Tennessee as he underwent Tommy John surgery. Trey McNutt, also at Tennessee, has been on the DL this year with blister problems and a rib injury.

What a relief:

The Cubs have a couple of relievers moving quickly through the system: right-hander Kevin Rhoderick and lefty Jeff Beliveau. Rhoderick has moved up to Tennessee in his first full pro season. Between Class A Daytona and Tennessee, Rhoderick entered Tuesday 6-0 with a 1.54 ERA. In 46⅔ innings, he had given up 24 hits while walking 21 and striking out 54.

The 22-year-old Rhoderick was a ninth-rounder last year out of Oregon State.

"He's a fastball-slider guy," Fleita said. "We get to spring training, and he commands two pitches. He's been a reliever by trade, so it's been an easy transition for him. He's got good stuff."

Beliveau, 24, was an 18th-rounder in 2008 out of Florida Atlantic. He, too, made the jump from Daytona to Tennessee in-season this year. His combined numbers entering Tuesday were 3-1 with an 0.99 ERA. In 45⅔ innings, he had given up 27 hits while walking 11 and striking out 60.

"His numbers have always been good, but now, he's commanding real well," Fleita said. "He's pitching to the bottom of the strike zone, which really allows you to put together a lot of success. Hitters don't see him real good. They don't square him up. They don't center him up at all."

With the Cubs having called Ramon Ortiz and Casey Coleman up to the big club, they've promoted right-hander Nick Struck to Class AAA to start Tuesday night.

A 39th-rounder in 2009 out of Mt. Hood Community College in Oregon, Struck is pitching for his third team this year. At Daytona and Tennessee, he combined to go 7-3 with a 2.96 ERA with 73 strikeouts and just 22 walks in 85 innings.

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