February 2009

U-S-A, U-S-A

Ted Lilly will make his only Cactus League tuneup Friday in Surprise against the Rangers. The Cubs’ lefty will leave on Sunday to join Team USA in Clearwater, Fla., to prep for the World Baseball Classic. Lou Piniella admitted Thursday he was a little concerned that Lilly will throw too hard too soon in the event. Piniella and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have talked to Lilly.

“You get in a competitive situation and you throw all caution to the wind,” Piniella said.

Lilly will pitch in an exhibition game in Florida before the World Baseball Classic begins, and was scheduled to start Team USA’s third game.

“We can monitor pitch counts here,” Piniella said. “Over there, according to what we’ve been told, it’s 75 pitches [limit] and that’s a lot of pitches to throw this early in the Spring Training cycle. It takes us into the fifth start to get to 75 pitches in spring.”

Lilly is scheduled to go two innings Friday.

— Carrie Muskat

Pitching probables

Carlos Zambrano had an early workout Thursday against hitters at HoHoKam Park, and was penciled in to start Monday for the Cubs against Arizona. Ryan Dempster is scheduled to start Sunday against San Diego in Peoria. And the Padres could counter with Jake Peavy.

Newcomer Aaron Heilman will start Saturday against the White Sox.

Thursday’s Cubs lineup: CF Joey Gathright, 2B Aaron Miles, RF Milton Bradley, 3B Aramis Ramirez, LF Micah Hoffpauir, 1B Jake Fox, C Paul Bako, SS Darwin Barney and P Sean Marshall.

— Carrie Muskat

Big wheels

If you’re an early riser in the Mesa area, you might get a glimpse of Cubs manager Lou Piniella and coach Matt Sinatro riding bikes along the canals near HoHoKam Park. The two have been getting their morning exercise with 45-minute morning rides. We’re not sure if either has a bell on his bike, so if you’re running or walking on the trails, look out.

— Carrie Muskat

Proud papa

Cubs special assistant Ivan DeJesus was just like any other proud father on Wednesday as he watched his son, Ivan DeJesus Jr., play in a Cactus League game. It was the first time the father had seen his son, an infielder with the Los Angeles Dodgers, in a Major League uniform in a game, and it had an impact on Dad.

“I want him to go all the way,” the Cubs’ coach said. “That’s what he wants to do.”

The younger DeJesus batted .324 in 128 games last season for Jacksonville in the Southern League. He used to hang out in big league clubhouses with his father when he was 5 years old. Now, he’s 21.

The elder DeJesus was standing at the end of the Cubs dugout at HoHoKam Park when his son entered the game in the seventh inning to play shortstop. He did reach base in the ninth on a fielder’s choice, but didn’t score and the Cubs won, 5-3.

The two will meet up again this spring. But Wednesday was a brief, special moment.

“It was nice,” DeJesus said. “It’s another chapter of my life.”

— Carrie Muskat

Hop to it

Alfonso Soriano reached base in both of his at-bats Wednesday, hitting a single in the first and drawing a walk in the third. He also made the first catch of the game, snaring Juan Pierre’s line drive to left. Soriano didn’t do a full hop but a half hop when he caught the ball. “That ball was in the sun a little bit,” Soriano said. “I wanted to make sure I could see it. It was a little tough [to see].”

Soriano swiped 40 bases in 2006 but hasn’t stoen more than 19 each of his two seasons with the Cubs. He said he needed a couple weeks in Arizona before he got his running game going.

The big hit of the day was Micah Hoffpauir’s grand slam in the fifth.

— Carrie Muskat

Happy birthday

Not only is it a perfect day for baseball in Mesa, but it’s also Ron Santo’s 69th birthday and Bob Brenly’s 55th. Santo had to work, the first of 11 games on WGN Radio.

Did you know the Cubs and Dodgers have split their first 2,024 regular season meetings since their first game in 1890. Each team has won 1,012 games in the series.

— Carrie Muskat

Play ball

Here’s the Cubs’ lineup for the first Cactus League game Wednesday vs. the Dodgers: LF Alfonso Soriano, SS Ryan Theriot, 1B Derrek Lee, DH Micah Hoffpauir, C Geovany Soto, 2B Mike Fontenot, CF Reed Johnson, RF Richie Robnett, 3B Bobby Scales.

Also, the Venezuelan team is listing Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano as part of their World Baseball Classic team but Big Z is not going. “No, I’m staying here,” Zambrano said Wednesday.

Soriano has been running well this spring. When Lou Piniella was asked if Soriano could steal 40 bases again, he said, no, but didn’t think 30, 35 was out of the question.

— Carrie Muskat

Tuesday early quick hits

Ryan Dempster says his neck is fine, and he could start a Cactus League game next week, possibly Tuesday. Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Dempster had been slowed four, five days, but the right-hander did throw 50 pitches on Monday and on Tuesday, said all was well.

The Cubs had an early simulated game Tuesday at Fitch Park.

— Carrie Muskat

To DH or not to DH, that's the question

Spring Training is obviously more relaxed than the regular season, but Lou Piniella doesn’t want to take that too far. Apparently, quite a few of the American League managers who are playing at HoHoKam Park have asked if they can use the designated hitter and not have their pitchers hit. That includes White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, whose team plays the Cubs on Saturday in Mesa.

Piniella wants the Cubs pitchers to get some at-bats, get in the habit of running the bases, and bunt. So far, he’s been agreeable to the DH, but he also joked that he told pitching coach Larry Rothschild to call the managers for the Cubs’ road games at AL parks and say the Cubs want to let their pitchers hit.

“You’d like to think that you give yourself a competitive balance,” Piniella says. “You don’t want to just go out there and play. Sooner or later, you have to start worrying about winning some baseball games.”

— Carrie Muskat


Monday quick hits

Carlos Marmol has said no to the World Baseball Classic. Marmol says he couldn’t sleep Sunday night, trying to make a decision about whether to pitch or not for the Dominican Republic. Cubs manager Lou Piniella and Marmol talked for awhile in the outfield on Monday at Fitch Park. Piniella said: “I told him it was his decision and we would support him either way.”

In other camp news:

  • Ryan Dempster is slowed by a stiff neck, and has not been throwing to hitters.
  • Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly tuned up with good sessions vs. hitters on Monday.
  • The Cubs sold 2.68 million tickets over the weekend for the 2009 regular season. The forecast for Day 1 on Friday had been 450,000, but they topped that and sold 509,000. There are still tickets available at Wrigley Field.
  • Monday was the last day at Fitch Park. They will practice on Tuesday at HoHoKam Stadium, just down Center Street. There will be no intrasquad game prior to the start of Cactus League play Wednesday.
  • The Cubs will be taking four to five regulars on the two-game trip to Las Vegas, March 4-5. The games are being televised on WGN TV.
  • Piniella has finished one of Tony Dungy’s books and is working on a second one. He’s got plenty of time to read this spring.

— Carrie Muskat