March 2010

3/31 Zambrano ready to go

Carlos Zambrano made his final spring start and says he’s ready for the regular season. He tuned up by throwing four innings against the Angels at HoHoKam Park but was outdueled as Jered Weaver struck out nine over five innings in a 11-0 victory.

“He’s thrown the ball well here in camp, he’s nice and healthy, he’s been stretched out really well,” Lou Piniella said of Zambrano. “He’s ready to go. We’re pleased. He’s been working hard on his breaking ball and thrown some changeups and he’s had good life on his fastball.”

Every spring, Zambrano says he’s more mature, he’s going to settle down and keep his emotions in check.

“He tells me he’s changed,” Piniella said.

Does he believe his pitcher?

“To me that means there might be a little slippage at times,” Piniella said. “Let’s not expect perfection. I see a guy who is really focused and has really worked hard and he’s been under good control.”

Zambrano, who is coming off a disappointing 9-7 season, is focused on 200-plus innings. He’s topped that figure five times in his career.

“That’s the goal for this year,” he said. “A month ago, Greg Maddux came to me and told me to put in my mind 215 innings, 220 innings, and that’s what I want to do. I want to throw more than 220 innings and build my arm strength.”

Maddux, an assistant to Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, has been available for Zambrano and all the other pitchers.

“Thank God he’s here and helped not only me but anybody who needs some tips or needs to chat with him,” Zambrano said.

One thing the right-hander wasn’t able to accomplish this spring was to drop another five pounds. He reported about 15 pounds lighter and looking very trim.

“I have to keep myself in better shape during the season,” Zambrano said. “That’s another challenge that I have. I think so far I’ve been mentally prepared and mentally ready to enter the season with a much better weight. Like Larry [Rothschild, pitching coach] told me the other day, ‘You just have to keep yourself in shape and you will be good.’”

– Carrie Muskat

3/31 Fuld & Hoffpauir both disappointed

Both Sam Fuld and Micah Hoffpauir were disappointed in their springs and also at the news that both were headed back to Triple-A Iowa.

“I obviously didn’t play as well as I hoped or expected,” Fuld said Wednesday. “Where I continue to need to improve myself is with the bat. It’s disappointing the way I hit. It’s not the first time I’ve started off slow. In terms of confidence, I’m not too worried. I’m sure I’ll bounce bcak fine. It’s a long season.”

Fuld has always come through for the team when called on.

“Spring Training is tricky,” he said. “You usually don’t get a ton of at-bats, it’s a pretty small sample size. There’s nothing you can do about that. In a way, it’s a lot like coming off the bench during the season. You have to make the most of your opportunities as limited as they may be.”

So, he’ll be ready when Piniella calls?

“Exactly. I will,” he said.

Hoffpauir had gotten a head start this offseason, working with Rudy Jaramillo in Texas. He made some changes to his swing and felt he was doing better in recent games.

“I came here this spring with every expectation of making this team and that didn’t happen,” Hoffpauir said. “I’ll go to Triple-A and see what happens and I hope to get a callup soon and take care of business then.”

Did he feel he had good spring?

“Absolutely not,” Hoffpauir said. “The adjustments we made I think are going to work in the long run. It’s something I didn’t feel absolutely comfortable with the first part of spring. For about 15, 30 at-bats, I didn’t feel like I was where I needed to be. [Jaramillo] and I sat down and talked about it and I started to feel a lot better at the plate with a couple slight modications from what we’ve done and I started to feel better at the plate. I thought I was in contention for that last roster spot.

“I believe there’s  reason for everything and somebody has a plan for me somewhere and I’ll put my nose to the grindstone and get after it and hopefully good things will happen and maybe showcase for some other team. We’ll see what happens.”

– Carrie Muskat

3/31Cubs to honor Billy Williams

The Cubs will honor Hall of Famer Billy Williams with a statue of the left fielder, to be unveiled Sept. 7 outside Wrigley Field. New owner Tom Ricketts told Williams and his wife Shirley on Tuesday night at a team function. The location is yet to be determined, but it may be temporary. One of the plans connected to the so-called Triangle building to be constructed along Clark Street includes a pedestrian walkway. Williams’ statue could be located close to left field with Banks’ statue remaining near Clark and Addison streets.

“”It’s a great tribute,” Williams said Wednesday.

The statue will be engraved with Williams’ nickname, “Sweet Swinging.”

“It’s a great tribute and his legacy will live on forever,” Lou Piniella said. “A statue of Billy on one side and Ernie on the other, it doesn’t get any better than that. It’s well deserved and a well thought gesture by the Ricketts family.”

It’s nice to see that one of the first moves by the Ricketts is to honor the past.

“They said they were fans,” Piniella said. “This is a gesture in that direction.”

– Carrie Muskat

3/30 Lilly pitches & pledges

Ted Lilly threw 45 pitches over three scoreless innings in a Minor League game on Tuesday, his second start this spring. Next step will be a 60-pitch outing. The lefty is coming back from arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder and if there are no setbacks, should be ready to join the rotation by the third week in April.

Lilly also is pitching in to help Ryan Dempster raise money for his foundation. Lilly is donating $10 for every strikeout and $1,000 for every win this season to the Ryan and Jenny Dempster Family Foundation. The organization was created in help battle DiGeorge syndrome, which the Dempster’s daughter, Riley, has. Riley will celebrate her first birthday on Thursday.

Go to dempsterfamilyfoundation.org for more info.

– Carrie Muskat

3/30 Colvin's pass list

Tyler Colvin will have plenty of family and friends for the Cubs’ opening series. A Georgia native, the outfielder said Tuesday he needs about 20 tickets for Opening Day. He’s got a few pals planning on showing up. One of the first people Colvin called with the news that he’d made the team was his grandfather.

“He was just really proud of me — said, ‘You deserved it, you worked hard,’ gave me the whole spiel,” Colvin said.

Colvin is expected to give the three regular outfielders a break, and get two to three starts a week. Can Lou Piniella give the outfielder enough playing time?

“Lou writes the lineup every day, Lou treats the veteran players with respect,” Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. “Let’s hope it becomes a problem.”

Which it will be if all are playing well.

– Carrie Muskat

3/30 Tracy ready to go

In the end, it was Chad Tracy’s ability to play third, the fact he bats left-handed and that he’s an experienced pinch-hitter that swayed the Cubs.

“You never know what to think,” said Tracy, who found out he made the Cubs’ 25-man roster before Tuesday’s game. “Your nerves are a little high, a little on edge. Now, hopefully, I can settle down.”

Tracy has been in the Diamondbacks’ system until this year and was a non-roster invitee in the Cubs’ camp.

“I’ve never been in this situation before,” he said about trying to win a spot on the Opening Day roster. “As a kid, you’re doing the whole big league camp thing and you don’t expect to make the team. There’s expectations as you progress in your career. It’s a little different. I wasn’t used to these emotions and getting stressed.”

How would he assess his spring?

“I’m not going to say it went really well,” said Tracy, who was batting .243. “I had some good at-bats, some bad at-bats. I proved I could play third base again which is one of the reasons I’m still around here now. Hopefully, they have faith I can play either corner and help the team.”

Tracy has primarily played third this spring but will start at first on Wednesday in Maryvale in one of the Cubs’ split squad games. A career .302 pinch-hitter, Tracy does have experience coming off the bench.

“I’m not going to act like I know the secrets to pinch hitting,” Tracy said. “There is something to having the experience and to have seen some of the guys coming out of the bullpen in the National League. I’ve said it all along, it’s one of the toughest jobs in the big leagues. The biggest thing is being prepared and knowing what these guys do. The key is being aggressive and going up there and finding your pitch early enough to where he can’t get to his stuff where he can get you out. You have to battle. You try not to let him get you before you get him.”

The Cubs broke camp last year without a legitimate backup at third and it hurt them when Aramis Ramirez missed two months because of a separated shoulder. Ramirez has played 11 games this spring. He’s been slowed by a sore right tricep, although he did start on Tuesday.

– Carrie Muskat

3/30 Tracy in, Millar out

The Cubs decided they needed a left-handed bat and someone who could backup at third over a right-handed bat, and picked Chad Tracy over Kevin Millar for the final roster spot. Micah Hoffpauir and Sam Fuld were both optioned to Triple-A Iowa.

“He brings intangibles to the table but so do the rest of them,” GM Jim Hendry said of Millar. “He knew before camp started that it was kind of a long shot.”

Hendry met one on one with Millar to give him the news.

“Kevin was great,” Hendry said. “He’s a pro. I think he knew that I agonized over [the decision]. He’s a guy you’d always want in your organization. I’m not here to say he’s done [playing]. He knows down the road he’s a potential employee here. He’d be a great coach. He’s a tremendous human being and helped some guys here even though he’s not getting on the plane Saturday.”

With the Cubs trimming their roster this quickly, Millar may be able to catch on with another team.

The Cubs bench is much different from a year ago and much more experienced. They now have Tracy, Xavier Nady, Jeff Baker, Koyie Hill and rookie Tyler Colvin.

– Carrie Muskat

3/30 Millar waits for word

The Cubs were expected to make their final roster move on Tuesday and Kevin Millar can only wait. He, Chad Tracy, Micah Hoffpauir and Sam Fuld were still in camp, waiting to see who got the last spot on the bench.

Millar knows he has the reputation of being popular in the clubhouse and blended in well with the team.

“That’s the thing – you get labeled, ‘Oh, he’s a great clubhouse guy,’” Millar said Tuesday. “I’m going to give you a tough at-bat late in the game. You’re a threat. Anybody who can hit a home run is considered a threat off the bench. I’m a threat off the bench. I wanted to give Lou some flexibility. ‘Hey, he can go to left.’ If Soriano blew out, am I going to play 60 games in left? No, that’s not my job. You’d call a left fielder up. But if there’s a doubleheader, you go out to left, or a double switch, you go to third base. Those are the things you want to bring. We know I can play first.

“There’s things that I can do to help the club other than being the dancing bear and trying to get everybody to eat together. We forget about that side of it. I’ve had a lot of at-bats in the big league.”

He admits he’s been pressing at the plate a little. This is the second straight season in which he hasn’t found out if he’s made a team until the last week.

“It’s a miserable feeling from the players’ side,” Millar said. “You hear, ‘Well, relax, don’t worry about it, don’t press.’ You’re human. I’m 38 years old and have almost 5,000 at-bats in the big leagues. You’re still going to try to press to do well. That’s the human factor. It’s your career.”

– Carrie Muskat

3/29 The roster, walks & runs

The Cubs are expected to trim the roster to 25 on Tuesday.

“Then we’ll be set to go,” Lou Piniella said.

There are four players — Chad Tracy, Kevin Millar, Micah Hoffpauir and Sam Fuld — battling for one spot. Millar is the only right-handed hitter in the group and he was hitting .242. He pinch-hit on Monday and popped up to the shortstop. Tracy was hitting .243 and can play third base if the Cubs want a backup there. He also has a career .302 average as a pinch-hitter. Hoffpauir was hitting .239 this spring and can play first and some outfield. Fuld, who can play all three outfield spots, was hitting .147.

“We’ve talked about it over and over again,” Piniella said. “Everybody brings a little something different to the equation. I think we have a pretty good idea but we’ll wait until tomorrow.”

* Tyler Colvin now is batting .455 after going 1-for-4 on Monday and driving in two runs. But he hasn’t drawn a single walk this spring.

“He hasn’t swung and missed that much,” Piniella said.

It will be interesting to see who makes the adjustments first — other teams or Colvin.

“If he continues to hit and the scouts start going over the fact that ‘Hey, this young man is swinging the bat so let’s be a little careful,’ then the walks will start coming,” Piniella said. “Right now, they’re just pitching to him.”

* Lefty James Russell, who will be one of three rookies in the bullpen, hasn’t given up a run this spring in 11 innings over nine games.

* Expect Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez back in the lineup on Tuesday.

– Carrie Muskat

3/29 Wells likes positive vibe

Randy Wells has a good feeling about the Cubs this year. Let’s start with Marlon Byrd.

“He’s awesome,” Wells said of the outfielder. “He doesn’t shut up. He’s always positive. I don’t think I’ve heard a negative comment come out of his mouth in Spring Training. Being a young guy, looking how he treats everybody. … I don’t think there’s a guy in this clubhouse who thinks they’re better than anybody or higher than anybody. It was the same feeling with the ’08 team. You see guys like Mark DeRosa and Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly, and you think, ‘Oh my, God,’ and then they’re ripping on you like you’ve known them for 20 years. It’s the same feeling this year and it’s fun to be here.”

Wells was getting to the ballpark around 7 a.m. each day.

“I was one of the last guys,” he said.

“Everybody’s excited to come to the ballpark to get to work,” he said. “[At] 6:30, you park your car and there’s balls flying in the cage already.”

– Carrie Muskat

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