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Retreads Borbon, Sweeney looking for long-term home with Cubs

Julio BorbScott Barry Tyler Flowers

Julio Borbon, Scott Barry, Tyler Flowers

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Updated: June 30, 2013 6:47AM

A7-0 victory Monday over the White Sox in Game 1 of the Crosstown Series offered ever-skeptical Cubs fans a tantalizing glimpse of the future.

Jeff Samardzija was overpowering in a complete-game two-hitter. Anthony Rizzo stroked a double and a triple and drove in two runs. Starlin Castro had two hits, a walk, a stolen base and two runs scored. The Cubs played errorless ball in one of their sharper performances of the season.

Samardzija (28), Rizzo (23) and Castro (23) have been identified as core players, essential pieces to a Cubs turnaround that needs to be well under way by, say, 2015, when esteemed prospects — such as Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora — are projected to be Wrigley Field-ready or close.

But a core needs more. In Boston, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer had a knack for turning retreads into useful pieces: David Ortiz, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Dave Roberts. They don’t mind using 2013 as an audition season for some older — but not yet old — hands seeking a fresh start.

Julio Borbon delivered the decisive blow Monday, a two-run homer into the right-field seats off Jose Quintana. The laser-beam shot allowed Samardzija to pitch from a comfort zone with a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning.

“That lefty-on-lefty homer was huge,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.

Borbon, 27, is an intriguing reclamation project. A first-round draft pick of the Texas Rangers in 2007, he never quite got there as a regular center fielder, hitting .284 with seven homers and 40 steals in 215 games in parts of three seasons. The Cubs grabbed him after Texas designated him for assignment this spring.

“This is a great opportunity for me with what they’re trying to do here,” Borbon said. “We’ve got a lot of outfielders, so I’ve got to take advantage of the playing time I get.”

Before the Cubs faced Quintana on Monday, pitching coach Chris Bosio offered Borbon a work-up of how opposing pitchers were likely to go after him, based on scouting reports. The conclusion: Beware of sliders away. When Quintana threw a slider that got too much of the plate, Borbon crushed it. He was back in the lineup against a tougher left-hander, Chris Sale, on Tuesday and singled in his second at-bat but was picked off first after telegraphing his intent to run before the game was called because of rain.

“He’s done a nice job,” Sveum said. “He’s got some bunt hits, stolen some bases, and he catches the ball. He has the ability to be an every-day player in the big leagues.”

Ryan Sweeney was an every-day player in just one of his previous five big-league seasons, hitting .293 in 134 games with the Oakland Athletics in 2009. A second-round pick of the White Sox in 2003, Sweeney was one of several young outfielders the Sox saw as successors to the aging ’05 championship trio of Scott Podsednik, Aaron Rowand and Jermaine Dye.

But Sweeney went to Oakland in the Nick Swisher deal before the ’08 season, then to Boston in a trade for Josh Reddick after four seasons with the A’s. Injuries limited him to 63 games last season, and he sought his release rather than accept a demotion to
Class AAA after spring training.

“I didn’t want to be an insurance policy, waiting for someone to get hurt,” Sweeney said. “I signed with the Cubs because this was the best opportunity for me.”

He was summoned to Wrigley after hitting .337 in 23 games at Iowa. Despite good size and a smooth, fluid stroke, Sweeney never has hit for power. He has 15 homers in 552 big-league games, never more than six in a season.

“I did some things with my swing in Iowa that I think will help. I hit six in, like, 91 at-bats down there,” he said.

“You never know in this game. I just turned 28. I haven’t given up on being an every-day player — get 500 at-bats and know you’re going to be in there every day. I’ve still got some years left.”

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