February 2010

2/25 Samardzija, Cashner get head start

Jeff Samardzija and Andrew Cashner threw live BP on Thursday before the full squad stretch, getting their work in early at Fitch Park. They weren’t the only ones on the field for extra work. Infielders Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theriot, Jeff Baker, Micah Hoffpauir and others did drills with coaches Alan Trammell and Ivan DeJesus.

Jeff Gray, who has been sidelined with a sore groin, did long toss in the outfield. Angel Guzman, slowed after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in January, is close to throwing off a mound.

— Carrie Muskat

2/25 Soriano says knee "surprises" him

Alfonso Soriano’s left knee has passed all the tests so far.

“I’m surprised,” Soriano said Thursday. “I feel much better than [Monday]. That’s a good thing. It’s only the second day and I see the difference.”

He’s not running full tilt yet, but hasn’t felt any pain or discomfort. He is going 100 percent during the outfield drills, has done lateral movements, and says there have been no problems. He also hasn’t had any problems hitting. His winter workouts have paid off.

“I can move around — that’s the only thing I’m doing 100 percent is the fielding and I don’t feel any pain at all,” he said. “No problem.”

The biggest hurdle for Soriano to overcome is mental, not physical.

“I need to trust it more,” Soriano said. “That’s the biggest thing. I think my knee is good but now I have to trust that it’s 100 percent.”

He does some warm up exercises before the Cubs practice. He hasn’t needed any post-workout ice packs.

“I want to forget what happened to my knee last year,” he said. “[Trust] is the hard part. So far, the first two days I feel good.”

The Cubs’ goal this year is to stay healthy. They need Soriano to return to form and hit 30 plus homers and drive in 70 something runs.

“It’s not only me,” Soriano said. “Everybody has to stay healthy. It’s a team; it’s not a basketball team where one guy makes a lot of difference. In baseball, everybody has to do their job to make the team better.”

On Thursday, pitchers Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Silva and Carlos Marmol will be among those throwing live batting practice to hitters like Soriano. That’s always fun.

“It’s very tough in practice like that,” Soriano said. “We have the same uniform, but not the same motivation. We joke around. At this time we can joke — when the season starts, we can’t joke.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/24 Wednesday Cubs notebook

Wednesday was the first day of live batting practice for the Cubs, and 12 pitchers faced hitters during the sessions at Fitch Park. Thursday should be a little more interesting. The pitchers scheduled to throw will include Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Silva, Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster, and Randy Wells. It will be the first look at Silva.

“Silva is a hard worker, there’s no question about it,” Lou Piniella said of the right-hander. “He might be a hard eater — I’m only joking. He comes out here and works hard. I’m not surprised but very encouraged from what I see.”

The pitchers definitely had the edge on Wednesday.

“A few of [the batters] migrated and they became ‘cagey’ hitters today,” Piniella said.

* If something happened to Ryan Theriot, Piniella said he wouldn’t be afraid to call up 19-year-old Starlin Castro.

“First of all, he’s highly touted,” Piniella said of the teen shortstop. “The kid, he’s got a ton of ability, obviously, and I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again, but the good ones come really quick. Age to me is not [a factor]. The player will let you know if he’s ready or not and we’ll see that here in Spring Training. I’ve got to play him, we have to play him to see. If the kid shows he can handle it, and we had an injury at [shortstop], why not?”

* Ted Lilly missed his second day of camp. He’s battling a fever.

— Carrie Muskat

2/24 Sweet Lou tweets

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has his own Twitter account.

“What is Twitter?” Piniella said.

It was described as a social media service in which people send messages that are a couple sentences long.

“Ozzie, he needs more space than that,” Piniella said.

Would Piniella ever twitter?

“No, no, no, no, no,” Piniella said. “First of all, I don’t know how to Twitter. Second of all, I’m not going to learn how to Twitter. I’ve heard of Facebook. It’s on my phone and I see it every once in a while.”

He did use Facebook the other day. Don’t expect any tweets from Sweet Lou.

“I’m really not a Facebook or Twitter guy,” he said. “I’m a prime rib and baked potato. I hate to say that but it’s true. Maybe somebody should teach me.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/24 Decisions, decisions

Mike Fontenot is willing to playing some shortstop this spring. He did it in the Minor Leagues in 2007 and also has taken grounders there during the regular season just to strengthen his throwing arm.

Lou Piniella wants Fontenot to be more comfortable at short to help determine the makeup of the Cubs’ bench.

“We’ve got a lot of people to look at here,” Piniella said. “Either you’re going to want a little more defense or you’re going to want some offense. If Fontenot can play some shortstop, we’ll look to carry a bat. If he can’t, we’ll be able to carry one less bat on the bench.

“The positions on the field are pretty well taken except we’re not exactly sure what we’re going to do at second base,” Piniella said. “If [Ryan] Theriot were to get hurt, which we don’t want obviously, we’ll just put the kid at shortstop and let him play.”

The kid is 19-year-old Starlin Castro.

If the Cubs felt they had enough depth at middle infield with Theriot, Fontenot and Jeff Baker, they could keep an extra bat like Kevin Millar, Chad Tracy, Brad Snyder, Bryan LaHair or someone like that. If the Cubs keep an extra defensive outfielder, a defensive infielder and a backup catcher, then they might need some help offensively off the bench.

“That’s what Spring Training is for and we’ll look at it,” Piniella said of the bench makeup. “No determination has been made.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/24 Mesa update

The Ricketts family and team president Crane Kenney toured the four possible Spring Training sites in Mesa on Tuesday. Kenney said he’s encouraged a deal will get done.

On Friday, Arizona legislators plan to meet with the Cactus League teams to discuss the proposed surcharge on Spring Training tickets which will help pay for the Cubs’ new stadium. Kenney has encouraged the teams to come up with alternatives.

“The state and the city will figure out how to finance this,” Kenney told WGN Radio’s David Kaplan. “We’re supportive of any measure that helps us get a facility, a world class one, and we’ve been led to believe by everyone from [Senator] John McCain, who I had lunch with last week, on down that this will get done and we’re going to have a few bumps in the road like lots of legislation but we’re pretty confident.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/23 Cubs Tuesday notebook

Expect to see Mike Fontenot at shortstop a little this spring. It’s not that Fontenot is challenging Ryan Theriot for the job with the Cubs but Lou Piniella wants players who are versatile. Heading into camp, Fontenot and Jeff Baker are the candidates for the starting second base job.

“We’re not going to put anybody else in that mix,” Piniella said. “Baker did a real nice job when he came over last year. Does he have the inside track? I’d say it’s just dead even now and let ’em battle out. Fontenot needs to get back to where he swings the bat like he did the first year. One little advantage in Fontenot’s favor is the fact that he’s left-handed and we’re a lot right-handed lineup-wise. We’ll see. It’ll either be Baker or Fontenot in the lineup.”

Will the Cubs test Theriot at second base? No, Piniella said.

“We will put Fontenot at times at shortstop,” Piniella said. “We’ll see how he handles the shortstop position and not to play regularly but just to backup. Theriot will stay at shortstop.”

* Derrek Lee was happy to be reunited with his former Florida teammate, Kevin Millar.

“He’s probably the funniest guy I know,” Lee said. “I woke up this morning looking forward to seeing him. He’s a fun guy and he’ll make a difference in here.”

* Kosuke Fukudome showed some power in batting practice on Tuesday.

“He’s talked to Rudy [Jaramillo] a little bit about changing his mechanics hitting-wise,” Piniella said. “He’s made a couple adjustments and is stroking the ball well. He’s keeping his upper and lower body in a little more, shortening his stride so he’s not lunging forward. He looks good, he really does.”

Did Fukudome do more weight training this offseason to be hitting balls out of the park?

“It was the wind,” Fukudome said.

— Carrie Muskat

2/23 Tom Ricketts address players

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts met with the players and staff prior to Tuesday’s first full squad workout at Fitch Park. It was his first address as the Cubs owner.

“There were two messages,” Ricketts said. “One is, it’s a family ownership now and we want everyone to feel like they’re part of the family. The second message is we’re very excited to get the season started. We feel we had a terrific offseason and we have great players and great coaches and we should have a great year.”

Ricketts said he could sense the serious commitment by players, many of whom showed up early in camp. Some of the players have said it’s nice to have an actual person to communicate with as far as the team owner goes.

“Well, I pride myself on being an ‘actual person,'” Ricketts said, smiling. “One of the messages is we’re around and if there’s anything we can be doing better, let us know. The fans will see us, too. We are fans and we’ll be part of the fabric at Wrigley this year. We’ll be around and accessible to both the players, fans and the coaches.”

Among the challenges he faces is Wrigley Field, saying the ballpark “needs a lot of love.” Crews have begun work on rennovating the restrooms and the concourse and fans will see changes this year.

While in Mesa, Ricketts planned to tour some of the potential Spring Training sites. As far as the proposed ticket surcharge for Cactus League games to help pay for a new spring stadium, Ricketts said he’ll leave that to legislators.

“I’m not going to talk about any of that,” Ricketts said. “We’re very confident we’ll get a solution that works for everybody down here.”

How many Cubs games will he attend during the regular season?

“As many as my wife will let me,” Ricketts said.

He does sound like a Cubs fan. It’s been a dream season already for the Ricketts family, who took control in October. What if the Cubs won the World Series in the family’s first year of ownership?

“Obviously, that would be off the charts,” Ricketts said.

— Carrie Muskat

2/23 The Ricketts arrive; Lee ready to go

The Cubs’ new owners, the Ricketts family, arrived at Fitch Park Tuesday and were to address the players before the first full squad workout.

“I think it’ll help, someone you can identify with and speak to,” Derrek Lee said of having a face for the ownership. “They’ll be around and I already had a chance to speak with them at the Convention and they were asking questions and it was nice. I think it’ll help, I think it’ll make a difference.”

What will make a difference for the Cubs is having everybody on the field healthy and contributing.

“You’ve got all the cliches and sayings and this and that, and the bottom line is we have to get it done on the field,” Lee said. “Pressure or no pressure, we just have to play better. I think we have a veteran team and guys who know how to play the game. We’re not going to let anything on the outside affect us. We just have to stay healthy and go out there and play the way we know how.”

This is the last year of Lee’s contract but he says he hasn’t thought about his future.

“I’m not going to approach them,” Lee said. “I just want to go play.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/23 Ramirez says he's 100 percent

Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez says he’s 100 percent healthy coming into Spring Training.

He rehabbed his shoulder Monday through Friday for two hours every morning in the Dominican Republic and never thought about having surgery done. “Everything went the way I expected,” he said of his rehab. “I’m good to go.” Ramirez separated his shoulder in May making a diving play and missed two months.

He said the Cubs players did some soul searching this offseason.

“Everybody knows who they are, everybody knows who the guys are who didn’t perform the way they wanted to,” Ramirez said. “You see a difference this year. You see a different attitude. You see it with [Geovany] Soto coming in 40 pounds lighter, all the guys who were here early working out. It’s a different attitude. We’re going to be OK.”

What do the Cubs have to do this year?

“That’s the key — just staying on the field,” Ramirez said. “We know we have a good team — we just have to believe in ourselves.”

— Carrie Muskat