February 2010

2/22 The bench & Monday notebook

Lou Piniella, Alan Trammell, GM Jim Hendry and assistant GM Randy Bush met Monday at Fitch Park to discuss the Cubs’ bench and bullpen.

“There’s different ways we can go with our bench,” Piniella said. “We’ve got some decisions to make, whether we go a little more defensive-minded bench or offensive-minded. We’ll see how Spring Training plays itself out.”

The Cubs did talk to Korean pitcher Chan Ho Park, who reached an agreement Monday with the Yankees. Hendry is still looking at trade options but right now, the young pitchers in camp have a shot.

“This gives them a really great opportunity to establish themselves and get themselves in roles,” Piniella said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in the rotation with the [Ted] Lilly situation but possibly one or two of those kids can work into the bullpen situation, too. Then we have the kids like [Justin] Berg, [Jeff] Gray who we got from Oakland, and maybe another young kid who wants to pop up and get in the mix. You hate to get too young but that’s what we have in camp here.”

Those pitchers in the rotation mix include Jeff Samardzija, Tom Gorzelanny, Sean Marshall and Carlos Silva. Rule 5 Draft pick Michael Parisi also could be in the ‘pen.

Rain on Monday forced the Cubs pitchers to throw again in the batting cages. Some of the team went to HoHoKam Park to get their work in.

* The Ricketts family was expected in Mesa on Tuesday for the first full squad workout.

“It’ll be a new start for Cubs baseball,” Piniella said. “I think it’s going to be a really good thing to have a family-owned team. They’re going to care, they’re going to take pride in it. The short conversations I’ve had with Tom Ricketts is he wants to win and that’s what we want to do for him.”

Chairman Tom Ricketts was expected to speak to the players. Piniella also will deliver a message to the team.

“First of all, we’ve got some good talent here,” Piniella said. “Last year, this baseball team finished second in this division with a whole lot of injuries and some problems. I’m proud of the way they hung in there. The message [to the team] is basically, ‘Let’s stay healthy and let’s work hard this spring and let’s tack on another 10 or so wins and give ourselves a chance in postseason again.’ That’s going to be the message.”

* Rudy Jaramillo said he’s encouraging Kosuke Fukudome to communicate with him about hitting, adding “I want more feedback.” The two met Sunday and Jaramillo made a few suggestions. Fukudome applied a few of the tips on Monday.

“I think we’re getting somewhere,” Jaramillo said.

Piniella has seen nothing but positives in the batting cages.

“Rudy’s available, he’s knowledgable about what he’s talking about, he’s had success with hitters,” Piniella said. “He’s got a regimen that the players seem to like. I know when I played, I had a guy like Charlie Lau and I learned as much as I could under his tutelage.”

* Ryan Dempster hosted a few of his teammates on Sunday night to watch the U.S. hockey team play the Canadians in the Winter Olympics, and bet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the outcome. He lost a few bets.

“It’s a lot of peanut butter — trying to figure out who wants crunchy and who wants smooth will be the tough part,” Dempster said.

Dempster’s Canada team lost, 5-3, but the game lived up to the hype.

“That game yesterday was as good a game as I’ve seen in a long time,” Dempster said.

— Carrie Muskat

2/22 Soriano ready to test his knee

Alfonso Soriano says he hasn’t run full speed yet but expects to be 100 percent by Opening Day. The Cubs outfielder reported to Fitch Park Monday, a day before the first full squad workout, to unpack, say hello to old friend Rudy Jaramillo, and give an update on his knee. Soriano had arthroscopic surgery in September and rehabbed this offseason at the team’s academy in the Dominican Republic.

“I’m not running 100 percent,” Soriano said. “That’s why I said I don’t feel 100 percent because I’m not running 100 percent. I’m running 75, 80 percent and I don’t feel anything at all. But when I start running 100 percent, I’ll know how I feel.”

The Cubs medical staff advised Soriano to not run full tilt this winter to avoid any setbacks.

“We’ll see in one week when I test my knee running in the field,” Soriano said. “My knee will tell me how I feel.”

What will likely be the hardest part of Soriano’s rehab will be the mental part. He has to  trust that his leg is healthy.

“I say in my mind I’m 80 percent but that’s because I’m not doing anything like playing in the field,” he said. “When I test it, I hope my knee feels better than I think. I think it’s 85 percent. Maybe when I test it, it’s 100 percent.”

“He’s ready to go,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of the left fielder. “He says his knee hasn’t bothered him.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/22 Four missing from Cubs camp

The Cubs are still missing four players from camp: Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee and Starlin Castro. Monday is reporting day, and the four simply have to check in with the team to say they’re in Arizona. The first full squad workout will be Tuesday.

The team isn’t concerned that Castro, the super hyped 19-year-old shortstop, isn’t in Mesa. He had a long season in 2009, playing for Class A Daytona, Double-A Tennessee, then the Arizona Fall League. He finished up with eight games for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Republic from Nov. 24-Dec. 2. Former Cubs outfielder Moises Alou was the Escogido team’s GM. Castro finally slowed down, going 4-for-22.

— Carrie Muskat

2/22 Oh, Canada

It was a tough morning Monday for the Canadian players on the Cubs following the U.S. hockey team’s 5-3 win in the Olympics over Canada. Chris Robinson, a catcher from London, Ontario, watched the game with some Canadian friends from other baseball teams training in Arizona.

“We didn’t want to go to work on Monday,” he said.

Pitcher Vince Perkins, born in Victoria, British Columbia, was razzed as soon as he walked into the clubhouse at Fitch Park Monday.

Robinson played for the Canadian baseball team in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, calling it an “awesome experience.” He does have a hockey upbringing — who doesn’t in Canada? — having played for 15 years.

“I used to joke I was a backwards Canadian,” Robinson said. “I used to play hockey to stay in shape for baseball.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/22 Tickets available for AZ games

If you haven’t made plans to come to Arizona for Spring Training, you might want to reconsider. There are tickets available. Cactus League president Robert Brinton said he expects attendance to be down this spring, partly because of economy.

“Overall, the economic impact is more than $300 million every year and that’s a significant factor for our state,” Brinton told Phoenix radio station, KTAR. “The economy is having an effect but ticket sales are starting to come through which indicates that fans are maybe holding onto their money a little longer. But when it comes right down to it, we’re still going to see good attendance at Spring Training games.”

There’s a new team in Arizona with the addition of the Cincinnati Reds, who will share a facility in Goodyear with the Cleveland Indians. The Cubs begin games on March 4, playing host to Oakland at HoHoKam Park.

— Carrie Muskat


2/21 Leadoff man & Sunday notebook

Both Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome have said they’d like to be the Cubs’ leadoff man. Lou Piniella said Sunday he’ll rotate both in the top spot this spring. He’d like to tab one player for the job.

“One thing for sure, we don’t have anybody here who will steal 40 bases,” Piniella said. “If Theriot develops a nice swing where he’s staying inside the ball good and hitting the ball behind the runner, that’s a nice option in the two-hole. … We’ll see. We’ll see who’s taking more pitches, who’s more selective, what the on-base percentages are.

“There are so many variables to this thing it gets a little too complicated,” he said. “We’ll try to simplify it and get as constant as we can with it. Spring Training will let us know.”

* Sunday’s rain prompted the Cubs pitchers to get their throwing work done indoors — sort of. They stayed on schedule by throwing in the partially covered batting cages. Some of the fastballs sure sounded good because of the echo in the metal-roof covered cage.

“I would pay a catcher to make that mitt pop as much as possible, I can tell you that,” Piniella said. “We’ve got some nice arms there. Inside, boy, that sound — it makes your fastball look about three or four miles an hour faster.”

* Ted Lilly is continuing his rehab and switching to more bike work than running to avoid aggravating his right knee.

“We’ve just got to be careful with him and bring him along slowly and not rush him and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” Piniella said of the lefty.

* Angel Guzman is a few weeks away from actually throwing. He’s slowed following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last month.

“He’s a big piece of our bullpen right now, too,” Piniella said.

* Monday is reporting date and the first full squad workout will be Tuesday at Fitch Park. Only four position players are missing: Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Starlin Castro. Owner Tom Ricketts was expected in camp as well on Tuesday.

* Belated congrats to Hiro Aoyama, Kosuke Fukudome’s interpreter, who ran in the Chicago Marathon last October and finished in 3 hours 24 minutes 41 seconds. He finished 3,151st. Next year, though, Aoyama doesn’t want to run in the Chicago race.

“If I’m running in the Chicago marathon [this year], that’s a bad thing for the Chicago Cubs because we’re supposed to be in the playoffs then,” he said.

— Carrie Muskat


2/20 Cubs' Saturday notes

The pitchers were able to get their second bullpen sessions in on Saturday before the rains came. Among those who threw at Fitch Park were Carlos Zambrano, Randy Wells, Jeff Samardzija, Andrew Cashner, John Gaub, Carlos Silva, Sean Marshall, Tom Gorzelanny, Ryan Dempster, Rafael Dolis, Esmailin Caridad, Justin Berg, Carlos Marmol and John Grabow.

Other notes:

* Piniella was asked how he’ll decide who will be the starting second baseman between Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker.

“We’ll let ’em compete,” Piniella said. “Baker last year did a real nice job and Fontenot had a really good first year. We’ll see how it shakes out this spring. I’m comfortable with either of them.”

* The team will take it easy with Xavier Nady as he continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery. He’ll be getting a lot of time as the designated hitter to get his bat ready.

* Piniella has tried to downplay his status but Saturday, a national baseball writer asked the Cubs manager about this possibly being his last year.

“I’m going to do the best I can, that’s all I can do,” Piniella said. “We’re going to prepare this team as well as we possibly can this spring and have the best team we possibly can and go from there.”

— Carrie Muskat 

2/20 Leadoff man

In January, Lou Piniella said he didn’t expect any controversy this spring. However, there could be a little battle as to who will be the Cubs’ leadoff man.

Ryan Theriot would like to bat first.

“There’s a niche in this game for guys who [lead off] and do it well,” Theriot said. “Every good team has one of those guys. If that’s the role I’m in, great. I would love to do that. That’s something I think I could excel in for sure.”

Kosuke Fukudome, who arrived Saturday at Fitch Park, was asked where he’d like to hit, first or second.

“If I can pick, then I would like to be the first to bat,” he said, through his interpreter.

— Carrie Muskat

2/20 Theriot on Starlin Castro

The talk this offseason has been whether or not young Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro is ready for the big leagues. Ryan Theriot’s heard it. If Castro is that good, Theriot could be playing second base.

“As it is now, I am the shortstop and I have been for three years,” Theriot said Saturday. I feel I’ve done a good job and he’s going to have to come get it.”

Will Theriot help Castro?

“For me, it’s exciting to know there’s somebody coming like that who can help this team win,” Theriot said. “If [Castro] does what he’s supposed to do, and does what everyone says he can do, I think everyone in this clubhouse is excited and happy for that. And I enjoy second base. Second base is fun.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/20 Theriot arrives after arb hearing

Ryan Theriot arrived at Fitch Park Saturday, eager to get in the batting cage, and said there were no hard feelings between him and the Cubs after losing his arbitration case. Theriot will still receive a significant bonus compared to what he made last year. In 2009, the shortstop was paid $500,000; this year, he’ll make $2.6 million.

“The process itself was very informative,” Theriot said. “It’s a different look at everything, kind of how the numbers go. [It was] long, boring. It’s over now and I’m glad it’s over and we can put that all behind us and get ready to win a pennant this year.”

Sometimes these sessions can be adversarial. After all, the team is trying to prove why the player isn’t worth the money.

“To be honest with you, it wasn’t bad,” Theriot said. “It was a lot of facts from both sides. My focus now is just to come in here and win. It was very interesting, for sure.”

The shortstop said the experience didn’t affect his friendship with GM Jim Hendry.

“It’s part of the game,” Theriot said. “I think Jim’s been fair to me for along time. Those friendships go farther than anything else.”

— Carrie Muskat