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updated: 5/10/2012 5:04 PM

How Listach gets Cubs fielders in the right place

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  • Cubs infielders say they have a lot of confidence in the way bench coach Pat Listach places them for hitters or puts them into overshifts for defensive purposes.

    Cubs infielders say they have a lot of confidence in the way bench coach Pat Listach places them for hitters or puts them into overshifts for defensive purposes.
    Associated Press/file


Maybe a handful of people in the ballpark saw it and thought nothing of it.

The TV cameras may or may not have caught it.

After Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney was in the right spot to field a groundball and turn it into an out this week, he gave a little nod and a point with his glove toward the dugout and bench coach Pat Listach.

Barney was acknowledging that Listach had him perfectly positioned. Message transmitted, message received as Listach saw the gesture.

"It's happened a few times where he's looked down at his (chart) and kind of gets a feel for it and moves us a step or two here or there," Barney said. "When they hit a line drive right to you in those situations … we're all on the same team.

"Listach is in there putting in the hours, watching the film of the groundballs these are hitting. We go on that system and look up his last 100 groundballs to second base, and he knows where they're hit hard, and so do we. So I think it's satisfying for him and us."

In our take of Wednesday's Cubs victory, I talked at length about the Cubs shifting and over-shifting at times on defense.

The Cubs have done a lot this year to give themselves a better chance of turning outs with their infield defense, and Listach is a big part of that.

The former major-league infielder might get to the ballpark for a 7 p.m. game at 11 a.m. to go over videos and charts on the hitters the Cubs will face that night.

Of course, there's more to it than simply shifting and over-shifting, both of which have paid off more often than not. Manager Dale Sveum has said more than once that he'll bank on those shifts working 90 percent of the time and live with the results the other 10.

Everybody has to do their part, including pitchers, who must pitch hitters in such a way that they'll hit a ball into the shift.

Another thing you might notice is the Cubs don't play "double-play depth" in double-play situations. They'll play the infield back and try to cut off the hard-hit ball. Still, at other times, you'll also see the second baseman playing close to the first baseman and the shortstop positioned closer to the third baseman in the hole.

"He watches a lot of video, where guys are hitting balls on the ground," Barney said of Listach. "But primarily, he's looking at where they're hitting their hard groundballs. Cassie (shortstop Starlin Castro) might move around a little bit, so we bank on the fact that when they hit those soft groundballs into those spots, we can get there.

"But we want to defend against the hard-hit groundballs. Listach has been doing a real good job of that. He's always been on top of that. I'm looking in there every pitch in case he sends us something. He's been doing a good job of that, and it's been paying off."

And it's been an interesting thing to watch, too.

Bullpen machinations:

Thursday's off-day came at a good time for a busy Cubs bullpen, particularly Dale Sveum's key guys of Shawn Camp, James Russell and Rafael Dolis.

The bullpen situation is one worth monitoring. Camp, Russell and Dolis are the only three relievers who seem to have Sveum's full trust right now, but he can't run them out there every game.

Closer Carlos Marmol is in limbo, having lost his ninth-inning job. He may or may not regain that job, and Sveum is looking for spots to use him.

Kerry Wood is coming off shoulder fatigue, and his outing Tuesday night caused him to throw his cap and glove into the stands and cuss at a reporter.

Sveum hasn't used Michael Bowden since Saturday, and rookie Lendy Castillo is a Rule 5 draft pick who hadn't pitched above Class A ball until this year and who must remain in the big leagues all year if the Cubs want to keep him. Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio has tried to keep Castillo fresh with mound sessions in between appearances.

Russell has stepped up as a leader, not to mention as a lefty who can get out right-handers.

"It all started in spring training," Russell said. "We kind of harped on getting more movement and something I could get more groundballs on. You look at the two years, I've been more of a flyball pitcher. Basically, it's been focused on being more down in the zone and trying a little two-seamer sinker to get some groundballs. It's really helped against righties."

Back to Milwaukee:

It should be a big weekend for Dale Sveum as the Cubs play their first series of the year this weekend in Milwaukee, where Sveum played and coached.

"Just like when they (the Brewers) came here, it's just another series," Sveum said. "Yeah, I got a lot of memories there and a lot of friends and everything like that. When the games start, you don't really think about anything like that. You're just thinking about winning the game and managing a baseball game.

"Obviously, I know then very well. But you're just managing a game. It's no different."

Sveum was popular in Milwaukee, and no doubt he'll have a good number of Milwaukee media members to entertain before Friday night's series opener.

Not-so-hot corners:

The third basemen of both the Cubs and Brewers are trying to get it going.

The Cubs' Ian Stewart fell back to .194 with an 0-for-3 game Wednesday. His on-base percentage is .265 and the slugging percentage is at .330 with 3 homers and 11 RBI. Stewart has hit into some hard outs as his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) suggests. BABIP takes out home runs and strikeouts and looks at what happens when a hitter puts the ball into play. The league average usually settles in at around .300, and Stewart is at .227. So maybe his luck is due to change.

Former Cubs player Aramis Ramirez is at .219/.266/.386 with 2 homers and 17 RBI (and a BABIP of .245). Maybe the sight of his old team and the climate-controlled environs of Miller Park will get Ramirez going this weekend.

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