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Cubs manager Dale Sveum making the grade with GM Jed Hoyer

The Cubs' StarlCastro fails bethrow Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero plate seventh inning. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

The Cubs' Starlin Castro fails to beat the throw to Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero at the plate in the seventh inning. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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TODAY

Diamondbacks
at Cubs

The facts: 1:20 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM.

The starters: Trevor Cahill
(7-7, 3.64 ERA) vs. Matt Garza (4-7, 4.32).

Updated: August 17, 2012 6:56AM



This won’t be a playoff season for the Cubs, but it already has been a test for manager Dale Sveum.

His boss thinks Sveum has passed his toughest tests to date.

‘‘We like what we see from Dale going into the future,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer said. ‘‘We made our bed in May and June [going 20-34], so we won’t change our [trade] plans. But it doesn’t mean we’re not happy with how we’ve been playing of late.

‘‘It’s good to see clean games. The defense is better and the pitching. The vibe around the team in the clubhouse is positive. I give Dale a lot of credit.’’

Hoyer said Sveum has remained positive around the players from the bad early months through now as their play has improved.

‘‘He has stayed the same person,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘It bodes well for the future.’’

Right position

Sveum credited the Cubs’ improved defense to the players’ work commitment and to them buying into his formula of positioning defenders according to where an opposing hitter will hit the majority of the time.

‘‘The players and the pitchers have said, ‘Wow, this really works,’ ’’ Sveum said. ‘‘It’s a few less steps to the ball, so you’ll be a little better fielder.’’

He said second baseman Darwin Barney and shortstop Starlin Castro are turning double plays efficiently and Anthony Rizzo ‘‘is a calming guy at first.’’ The outfielders have done well, he said, especially an improved Alfonso Soriano in left.

‘‘He’s done a great job on his [sore] legs,’’ Sveum said.

The Cubs have turned at least one double play in each of the last nine games, including three Saturday. Their last such stretch was in July 1994.

Piling up pitching

The Cubs stockpiled pitching in the June draft, with 17 hurlers among their 29 signed draftees. But Hoyer admitted it would be some time before this crop can be expected to contribute.

‘‘Given the number of pitchers we picked, you won’t see them for several years, but it’s about having a number of good drafts and getting people signed,’’ he said.

Major League Baseball instituted a new system of signing draftees this year, imposing a July  13 deadline.

‘‘It’s a good feeling to have signed so many because we’re not used to going to a deadline,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘It was a learning process for everyone.’’

Top selection Albert Almora is a high school outfielder from Hialeah, Fla.

In a pinch

Reed Johnson started in center field Saturday and had a bunt single and a double, but his value has come more as a pinch hitter. He leads the majors with 11 pinch hits.

‘‘It’s one of the hardest things to do,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘It’s hard enough trying to hit every day, but he is one of the top guys in baseball [off the bench]. He’s another guy who comes to work every day at an older age who tried to make himself a better player.’’



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