Cubs GM says Piniella’s job is safe

Despite the Chicago Cubs’ disappointing start, GM Jim Hendry says he’s "never given any thought” about replacing manager Lou Piniella.

"I’m absolutely, completely confident in Lou Piniella,” Hendry said before Monday night’s game against Colorado. "I have complete faith in the coaching staff, also. No intention of making any changes at all.”

Chicago reporters asked Hendry about Piniella’s job status because some national media have begun speculating that the manager could be in trouble if the Cubs don’t improve markedly.

Piniella guided Chicago to NL Central titles in his first two seasons but the team went 83-78 last year. The Cubs are only 16-22 this season even though they have played almost exclusively against clubs that had losing records in 2009.

Several players are having career years, but middle-of-the-order batters Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee have struggled, and clutch hits have been rare throughout the lineup. The Cubs, who have baseball’s third-highest payroll at $146.6 million, also have had major bullpen woes.

On Sunday, a frustrated Piniella didn’t name names but said the team’s marquee players had to start performing: "Don’t let names fool you. Production wins.”

"Obviously, we’re not playing up to our capabilities,” Hendry said. "The same guys that are scuffling have done a lot of good things for the Cubs and are certainly capable of turning it around. We’re not here to play the blame game.”

Piniella, who turns 67 in August, is under contract only through this season and has not even said he wants to return in 2011. He has won 1,800 games managing the Yankees, Reds, Mariners, Rays and Cubs, and he led Cincinnati to the 1990 championship. He is winless in six playoff games with the Cubs, who last won the World Series in 1908.

Piniella said he appreciates Hendry’s support and doesn’t care what those outside the organization say about him.

"What do I care about speculation? I’ve been doing this for 23 1/2 years and I’m going to be worried about speculation? I don’t think so,” he said Monday. "No, it doesn’t bother me a bit. People can speculate all they want. The people that matter are the people I work for.”

Asked if he felt he was blameless, Piniella said: "Everybody has a share, and the manager’s not immune. I was hired because they thought I … could get them to win. We’ve had three winning seasons here. This year we’ve gotten off to a slow start. Do I have to share in the responsibility and the blame? Yeah, I do.”

In 2007, Piniella’s Cubs were 7 1/2 games out of first place going into July but still won the division. Heading into Monday, they were 5 1/2 games behind first-place Cincinnati.

"We’ve had some bumps in the road, but we’re only in the middle of May,” Piniella said. "This is not Sept. 15. There’s a lot of time to straighten things out, and that’s what we’re hoping to do.”