MILWAUKEE -- Scott Baker will make his third and final start of the season on Friday, and is hoping he can convince a team, possibly the Cubs, that he's ready for 2014.
Baker has spent this year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, which he had in April 2012. He expected to be pitching for the Cubs sooner than September, but wasn't able to return as quickly as he'd hoped. In his first two starts for the Cubs, he's totaled 55 pitches and 75 pitches, respectively.
"Knowing it's my last start, I'd like it to go well," Baker said Thursday. "Of course, I'd like to progress from the last couple where it was 55 pitches, and then 75 or so. To kind of almost be back to a normal pitch count would be great."
His goal is to show that he's not only healthy, but reliable, and he can make every start.
"Just going out there in itself is important," he said. "It already is positive, the fact that I'm going out there."
It's been a long season, which has included eight Minor League starts. In his two big league outings, he's given up one run over 11 innings. Friday will be his first career start against the Braves, and his family will be present for the outing. Baker is pumped.
"I don't care what you do to prepare for a Major League start, whether it's Minor League games or simulated games, there's just no duplicating a Major League start," he said. "After that first start, it was only 55 pitches, but I had normal soreness [the day after]. I felt like that was a good sign.
"After the second one, it was a little better," he said. "I felt at this point in the season, as much as I'm ready to have a good, normal, productive offseason, I feel I'm getting stronger. I think that's a good sign. We'll just have to see where it lands me. I do feel like I'm not as much of a question mark as maybe I was going into this season. I feel better about going into next season."
Baker signed a one-year, $5.5 million contract with the Cubs, and he does not have an option for 2014.
Castillo to be examined Friday for knee soreness
MILWAUKEE -- Cubs catcher Welington Castillo had to leave Thursday's 5-1 win over the Brewers in the sixth inning because of a sore right knee, and he isn't sure if he will be able to play in the team's final nine games.
Castillo led off the sixth inning with a groundout to Milwaukee shortstop Jeff Bianchi and grabbed his right hamstring as he ran down the line. Castillo then slowly walked back to the dugout. The team announced he was pulled because of right knee soreness.
"I felt some sharp pain," Castillo said. "I don't know what happened. I was running hard and tried to beat the throw and felt some sharp pain."
He will be examined on Friday in Chicago.
"I want to finish the season hard," Castillo said. "I feel my body this year is in really good shape, good health. Stuff happens, and you go and give 100 percent, and that kind of stuff can happen."
Was he a little worried?
"Yeah, because I want to finish strong," Castillo said. "The doctor will decide what to do [Friday]."
J.C. Boscan replaced Castillo in the lineup in the bottom of the inning.
Castillo, in his first season as the Cubs regular catcher, has done well lately, going 9-for-29 on the 11-game road trip, which ended Thursday, with four home runs, a double and seven RBIs.
Barney takes accountability for 2013 play
MILWAUKEE -- The Cubs lost 101 games in Dale Sveum's first season as manager and entered Thursday's game with 89 losses and 10 games to play. The front office has said it will not evaluate Sveum on the basis of wins and losses. But an evaluation is underway.
"In a season like this, it's hard to blame anybody," Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney said. "We're all accountable for our own actions and our play on the field.
"It is a business, and any time a team has this kind of a season, there's obviously going to be evaluations," he said. "That's not to say [Sveum] did a bad job or any of us think he did a bad job -- I stand behind Dale. It's just an evaluation, and we'll see how it goes."
Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, will meet with Sveum and the coaching staff on Sept. 30 in Chicago after the regular season ends.
"I think a lot of us stand behind Dale and think he's the right fit for this team," Barney said. "That's obviously not our call. Everybody's being evaluated now -- it's top to bottom. It's how can we make this better and turn this around."
It's been a difficult year for Barney at the plate. The second baseman could win his second straight Gold Glove Award, but was batting .208 on the season and 4-for-30 on the current road trip entering play Thursday.
"Offensively, I can't blame anyone but myself," Barney said. "People provide insight from when they played or the type of player they were. Unfortunately for me, I listen to a lot of people. The age-old saying in baseball is: No one knows himself better than you, and what got you here is what will keep you here."
"I think it just gets to the point where you can't blame anyone but yourself for [struggles]," he said. "I think everyone has done nothing more than cared."
Sveum aims to test Strop at closer in final stretch
MILWAUKEE -- Kevin Gregg has been invaluable to the Cubs in 2013, stepping in to notch his third career season with 30-plus saves. But Chicago has decided to look ahead and will use right-hander Pedro Strop in save situations in the final games.
Strop, acquired from the Orioles in the Scott Feldman trade, was 0-for-3 in save opportunities this season and has 15 holds.
"I'll try to get him an opportunity," manager Dale Sveum said Thursday of Strop.
The switch is not a reflection of Gregg's performance. But Gregg will be a free agent after this season. Strop will be entering his first arbitration year.
"Kevin's done far and above the call of duty," Sveum said. "He's done one heck of a job. It's going to be an opportunity [for Strop]. We want to see what he does in that role. Kevin has been one of the better closers in all of baseball. God knows where we'd be without him."
Gregg is 32-for-37 in save opportunities with a 2.95 ERA, and he began the season 12-for-12 in saves. He was released by the Dodgers after Spring Training and signed a Minor League contract with the Cubs on April 5. Carlos Marmol began the season as the Cubs' closer, but he was replaced after the first week by Kyuji Fujikawa, who was eventually sidelined because of elbow problems and needed Tommy John surgery. Marmol was dealt to the Dodgers in July.
Prospect Baez will sit out Fall League to rest
MILWAUKEE -- Cubs top prospect Javier Baez will not play in the Arizona Fall League so the shortstop can rest for the 2014 season, general manager Jed Hoyer said Thursday.
"He's emotionally and physically drained after the season," Hoyer said. "We have no problem with [him missing the AFL]."
Baez was one of four Cubs prospects headed to the Arizona Fall League, and he would have joined this year's first-round pick Kris Bryant, outfielder Albert Almora -- the Cubs' No. 1 selection in 2012 -- and Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler on the Mesa Solar Sox.
Almora and Soler both missed time in the Minor Leagues this year because of injury, while Baez started at Class A Daytona and moved up to Double-A Tennessee. The 20-year-old shortstop was named the Cubs' Minor League Player of the Year after batting .282 with 37 home runs and 111 RBIs in 130 games in his second pro season. He will be honored on Saturday at Wrigley Field along with Kyle Hendricks, who was named Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
"The last thing we want him to do is go there and risk injury," Hoyer said. "He had a full season, he had a great season, and I feel we'll see him in Arizona working out."
The Cubs may add another player to the Mesa Solar Sox roster.
Chicago also announced Thursday that pitcher Arodys Vizcaino will not play in the Arizona Fall League, either. Vizcaino, acquired in July 2012 in the deal that sent Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to the Braves, has yet to pitch for the Cubs because he has been rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The right-hander will participate in the Cubs' instructional league, which gets underway next week in Mesa, Ariz., instead of the AFL.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.