Hendry offers support to Piniella

CHICAGO -- Cubs general manager Jim Hendry told a group of reporters on Monday that he never has considered replacing manager Lou Piniella or any of his coaching staff.

Hendry said he has the utmost respect for Piniella and his staff, and although everyone connected with the Cubs is disappointed with the 16-22 record, Hendry said it's not a reflection on the manager or coaches.

"Nobody's happy how we're playing," Hendry said. "But at the same time you have to avoid the unnecessary finger-pointing and the blame game. And that's something I'm not going to be a part of doing with the manager and the coaching staff."

Piniella, who is in the last year of his contract, was happy to hear Hendry's remarks.

"I'm appreciative of that," Piniella said. "I've always said I don't like talking about my situation. My job is to win baseball games, and that's exactly what I'm trying to do. We've gotten off to a slow start. I've said all along we're going to get better.

"Jim and I have worked closely together. You go through some tough times and you go through some good times in this business. Nobody is immune from struggling."

The Cubs are in fourth place in the NL Central, 5 1/2 games behind Cincinnati, entering Monday's games, but Hendry isn't panicking yet.

"We all think we're good enough to have a much better record," Hendry said. "That being said, things can turn around in a hurry. St. Louis, as good as they've played early, are having a rough streak too. We're hoping we can have one of those good streaks for a couple weeks and inch up the ladder a little bit.

"I have a lot of faith in the players that have done so well for us for so long, like Derrek [Lee] and Aramis [Ramirez]. A good hot streak from those two guys would go a long way for us winning more games."

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 Ramirez and 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, 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 23½ 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 7½ games out of first place going into July but still won the division. Heading into Monday, they were 5½ 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."

Bruce Levine covers baseball for ESPNChicago.com. Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.