Notes: Walker may be nearing return

Notes: Walker may be nearing return

CHICAGO -- If Todd Walker continues to progress, the second baseman will go to Phoenix next week to step up his rehab program and could be back in the Chicago Cubs lineup by May 20.

Walker, who is rehabbing from a sprained left knee injured April 10, said on Saturday he will go to Arizona on Wednesday to work out at the Cubs' extended spring facility. The next step would be to travel with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs for a four-game series at Salt Lake, May 14-17.

"It doesn't hurt when I go side-to-side," Walker said on Saturday, "but it still feels like it could go again."

The Cubs would like to have Walker wear a metal brace on his left knee. They will have to convince him it's necessary.

"They want me to wear this thing," Walker said pulling the device out of his locker, then tossing it back in. "That's not going to happen."

He took grounders on Friday at Wrigley Field and went side-to-side for the first time. He's seeing progress -- and knows how much the Cubs could use some help.

"[Having guys come off the disabled list] is a lot like when you get guys in a trade," Walker said. "You get guys off the DL and it's nothing but good."

The Cubs could use some good news. They've got six players on the disabled list now, including the projected starting middle infield (Walker and Nomar Garciaparra), the original Opening Day starter (Kerry Wood), the closer (Joe Borowski) and key setup man (Chad Fox).

"This is my ninth year in the big leagues and what I've seen here is unexplainable," Walker said of the injuries. "You've got to get healthy. It's been ridiculous here."

Super cuts: How do the players deal with a six-game losing streak? They shave their heads.

Cubs starter Glendon Rusch and reliever Michael Wuertz showed up Saturday with freshly shaven heads -- Wuertz did his himself Saturday morning -- while reliever Mike Remlinger had a super buzz cut. Inspired by the clean-cut look, which Wood started last weekend in Houston, Carlos Zambrano, Will Ohman and Michael Barrett shaved their heads and Todd Wellemeyer got a trim.

"We're trying to get a monkey off our back," said Wuertz, who last shaved his head while pitching in Class A Daytona in 2000.

Jose Macias, who has sported a shaved head all season, applauded his teammates and gave Wuertz a congratulatory handshake.

"It looks good," Macias said.

Not everyone will lose their locks. Not Todd Hollandsworth or Greg Maddux or Dusty Baker.

"I've got too many lumps on my head to get it shaved," said the Cubs manager, who liked the clean-shaven look. "Weird is good. Guys are showing their team unity."

The six-game stretch was the Cubs' longest skid since they lost nine in a row May 8-18, 2002.

Mr. Fix-it: The losing streak has affected Baker in other ways, too.

"I haven't slept for awhile," he said. "You wake up thinking about things, thinking about lineup changes, things you want to say to people, things of encouragement. The guys have been playing hard. It's not like they're not busting it. Nothing lasts forever. They say it's darkest before the dawn and I'm waiting for that sun to come up."

   Joe Borowski  /   P
Born: 05/04/71
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 225 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

Borowski will make at least two more rehab outings for Triple-A Iowa before he is activated. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said Borowski was throwing 86-88 mph, and had a lot of "positive signs." The right-hander's return will definitely give the bullpen a boost.

"We can get guys back into roles they're most comfortable in and best at," Baker said. "We've had to put guys out there in situations where it might not be conducive to them, but they're the best guy available."

Half of the bullpen is experienced, the other half isn't.

"It's a learning process for some of them and a learning process for us on when to use these guys," Baker said.

A perfect example is Wuertz, whom Baker said isn't as effective when he's used several days in a row.

"I think someday [Roberto] Novoa could be in that situation [as a closer]," Baker said. "He has the stuff. We're also at the same time trying to win games, but we're also trying to build our team, too, and [teach] the young guys about championship-caliber baseball and how to do it. Sometimes, it's sad but true, you have to learn by trial and error."

As of now, LaTroy Hawkins is still the Cubs closer. Right?

"I'm not sure, man," Baker said when asked. "I hate to see anybody booed like that or whatever, but he's still the best I've got out there. That's the situation. [On Friday], I thought about using Remlinger, who I might use today because LaTroy isn't available today.

"We've got some other plans here that won't be in effect for a couple more days," he said.

What kind of plans?

"Just plans. You've got to wait a couple days," Baker said.

After Friday's game, Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee said fans should show Hawkins support rather than boo him. Baker agreed.

"It doesn't make it any easier, it makes it tougher," Baker said. "Certainly we have to perform. We all feel terrible for LaTroy. We know he has the stuff. We know he's giving it his all, maybe too much at times. He's one of ours and it's time for the team to rally behind him and give him our love and support."

Minor matters: Left-hander John Koronka gave up six runs on nine hits over six innings in Triple-A Iowa's 9-5 loss to Memphis on Friday. Calvin Murray went 4-for-5 with an RBI, and Micah Hoffpauir was 2-for-3 with two RBIs. ... Rich Hill gave up one run, unearned, on three hits over six innings and struck out eight in Double-A West Tenn's 6-1 win over Mobile in the first game of a doubleheader. Carmen Pignatiello took the loss in the second game, although he gave up two runs on six hits over five innings. Adam Greenberg was 2-for-4 in the nightcap. ... Class A Daytona beat Tampa, 2-1. Carlos Marmol gave up one run, unearned, on two hits over five innings for the win.

On deck: Zambrano will close the Cubs' series against the Phillies on Sunday, making his seventh start of the season. The Cubs open a three-game series against the New York Mets on Monday night, and the starters for that series will be Ryan Dempster on Monday, Maddux on Tuesday and Mark Prior on Wednesday.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.