March 2010

3/26 Location is everything for Russell

If James Russell makes it to the Cubs’ Opening Day roster, give Micah Hoffpauir an assist. When the Cubs moved from Fitch Park to HoHoKam Park, Hoffpauir told the young reliever to pay attention to where his locker was located.

“He said, ‘Look at who you’re between — you have to try extra hard,'” Russell said.

Usually, young players are inserted between the veterans. Russell’s locker is between Derrek Lee and Koyie Hill. Bobby Scales beat the odds when he was in Boston. He was stationed between Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkillis. Chris Robinson knew he wasn’t going to stay long in the big league camp with the Tigers. His whole row was sent down at one time. Lee and Hill haven’t said anything to Russell.

“I’d be more than happy to share half of my locker,” Russell said.

He watched on Friday as coaches told seven players they were being assigned to the Minor League camp. Among them was Russell’s buddy, John Gaub. The two pitchers like to talk hockey. Gaub is from Minnesota and Russell follows the Dallas Stars, who used to be the Minnesota North Stars.

Hoffpauir also helped Russell another way. The lefty pitcher is wearing No. 76 this spring, which was Hoffpauir’s number in his first camp.

— Carrie Muskat

3/26 Samardzija ready to roll

Jeff Samardzija admits he’s a little stubborn and he would prefer to start than pitch in relief. But the right-hander accepted the news that he will be in the bullpen on Opening Day with the Cubs.

“Obviously, we had goals that we wanted to do and set for spring,” Samardzija said Friday. “It’s a change of plans. I’m actually excited. It’ll be good to go out there and get in the game today [in relief]. We’ll work to make this ‘pen the way we want it.”

Samardzija said he understood the decision was made to benefit the team.

“We just want to win games,” Samardzija said. “[Piniella] felt that would be the best way for me to help this team out and that’s what we’ll do.”

He was successful in the bullpen in 2008, appearing in 26 games and compiling a 2.28 ERA that year.

“There’s still a lot to learn about being in the pen,” said Samardzija, who has picked up tips from Kerry Wood, Bob Howry and Kevin Gregg.

Plus, Piniella told Samardzija this doesn’t mean he’ll never start in the Majors again.

“Again, we go back to my stubborn side,” Samardzija said. “Trust me, I’m just a competitive guy and everything we talk about starting just has to do with me being a competitive guy and I get my mind set on things. You have to be like that. If you don’t have that edge in professional sports or have an idea of where you want to be, then things are going to slip by. I just want to win a lot of baseball games. It doesn’t matter what position you’re playing or if you’re a starter or reliever or closer, if you’re winning a lot of ballgames, you’re having a lot of fun.”

Would he be better off in the Minors, starting on a regular basis?

“There’s way more to be learned throwing every other day in the bullpen [in the big leagues] then there is in Triple-A,” Samardzija said. “I’ve done that. I’ve done well down there. Mike Mason is a great pitching coach and I love working with him and he’s done a lot of things for me. Where I’m at now, it’s not so much that but being on the mound in big league games. What you learn up here is second to none.”

The competition for the two spots in the rotation came down to Samardzija, Carlos Silva, Tom Gorzelanny and Sean Marshall. Who would Samardzija pick?

“Greg Maddux and anyone else he wanted to pick,” Samardzija said.

— Carrie Muskat


3/26 Russell will wait and see

James Russell is going to wait and see how spring camp winds up before making any plans. It appears the lefty has made the Cubs’ bullpen. He combined to go 5-6 with a 4.03 ERA at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa last season, making 12 starts.

“I won’t believe it until I’m in Atlanta where we open up,” Russell said. “I’m just going about my business the same way as if I wasn’t even competing for a job. I’m just trying to go out there and make a name for myself.”

Russell did talk once to Cubs manager Lou Piniella in the dugout and told the lefty had a good chance to stick.

“I was looking at this as good experience,” Russell said. “I had a good Fall League and I was trying to move from that and keep working on what helped me be successful in the Fall League.”

Russell is the son of Jeff Russell, who pitched for the Reds, Rangers, Athletics, Red Sox and Indians. Both are eager to see what happens.

“He’s a nervous wreck every time I pitch,” James said. “He’s in the same boat I am — he wants to make it just as bad as I do.”

Jeff has passed on a lot of info to his son.

“I know we’re different pitchers,” James said. “He threw a heck of a lot harder than I do. Everything he’s taught me mechanically and mentally, I’m trying to build off that and do what I can do with my stuff.”

— Carrie Muskat

3/26 Friday's Lineup

Both Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez were in the Cubs’ starting lineup Friday. Lee injured his back when he sat on a chair at Surprise and it collapsed. He didn’t want to talk about the incident and denied it was a “Cubby occurrence.”

“No comment — my first no comment,” Lee said. “They did change the chairs at Surprise.”

Ramirez has been nursing a sore right tricep.

The lineup is: SS Theriot, RF Fukudome, 1B Lee, 3B Ramirez, CF Byrd, LF Soriano, 2B Baker, C Soto and P Zambrano. This should be the Opening Day lineup with the exception of second base. Mike Fontenot was expected to start.

— Carrie Muskat

3/26 Nady to play OF Saturday

Xavier Nady will test his arm from the outfield on Friday in BP. Lou Piniella expected Nady to play the outfield on Saturday and he’ll also get some time at first base this spring. The goal is to use Nady a couple times a week in the outfield.

“Nady’s a force — he can swing it,” Piniella said of the outfielder, coming off Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Nady expected to go to the Minor Leagues to get some at-bats.

“Knock on wood, [my elbow has] felt good other than getting smoked in the hand the other day,” Nady said.

He was hit by a pitch by an Oakland Minor League pitcher. X-rays were negative. He’s still working on his throwing mechanics with pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

— Carrie Muskat

3/26 Roster moves

The Cubs sent seven players to the Minor League camp on Friday to reduce the spring roster to 33 players. Right-handed pitchers Jeff Gray and Marcos Mateo, lefty John Gaub and outfielder Jim Adduci were optioned to Triple-A Iowa. Infielders Darwin Barney and Bobby Scales and catcher Robinson Chirinos were assigned to the Minor League camp.

The roster is now at 33, including 15 pitchers, three catchers, nine infielders, and six outfielders. Both Ted Lilly and Angel Guzman will open the season on the disabled list.

— Carrie Muskat

3/26 Silva, Gorzelanny to start

Lou Piniella made his picks and Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny will be in the rotation at the start of the season while Jeff Samardzija and Sean Marshall go to the bullpen. The team also sent seven players to the Minor League camp, and it appears that lefty James Russell has made the big league team. The Cubs sent Jeff Gray, Marcos Mateo and John Gaub to the Minors.

— Carrie Muskat

3/25 Gorzelanny: "I made major strides"

Will it be Tom Gorzelanny or Sean Marshall in the Cubs rotation? Who will Lou Piniella pick between Carlos Silva and Jeff Samardzija? A decision was expected Friday on the makeup of the pitching staff as the Cubs determine which two among the four — Gorzelanny, Marshall, Silva and Samardzija — will be in the rotation and which pair goes into the bullpen.

Gorzelanny made his final bid on Thursday against the D-Backs. He served up a leadoff homer to Conor Jackson on a 1-1 pitch in the first, then retired the next eight batters before Jackson hit a double with two outs in the third. “He had my number,” Gorzelanny said of Jackson.

Acquired last July from the Pirates, Gorzelanny went six innings, the longest outing this spring by a Cubs starter. He gave up two runs on five hits and one walk, striking out four.

“All I can ask for is to pitch well and I hope that’s the case,” Gorzelanny said. “Wherever they need me, I’ll do my best. If I get to be in the rotation, I’ll run with it and try to claim a spot and keep it — that’s my objective right now.”

He threw 73 pitches, and said he still needs to build up his pitch count. He’s still learning and is soaking up info from people like Greg Maddux, now an assistant with the Cubs, and pitchers like Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly. Thursday was very encouraging to Gorzelanny.

“I felt I was in the zone a lot and I wasn’t trying to overthrow and I wasn’t trying to do too much,” he said. “I felt I made some major strides today. There’s always more to do and more to work on.”

— Carrie Muskat

3/25 Cubs last game in Tucson

_Device_Memory_home_user_pictures_IMG00030.jpgHere’s Tom Gorzelanny vs. D-Backs in Cubs’ last trip to Tucson. Both D-Backs and Rockies, who play at Hi Corbett Field, are moving to Valley next year.

3/25 Trammell checks out the infield

Alan Trammell was the acting manager on Thursday in Tucson and was the perfect person to give an assessment of the Cubs’ infielders. Trammell says Mike Fontenot has come a long way. The Cubs have had Fontenot play shortstop to see if he can handle that in a pinch.

“I’m confident to say he can do it,” Trammell said.

The Cubs want to find someone who can give Theriot a day off now and then. It will help determine the bench. If Fontenot can do it, the Cubs may be more likely to carry Chad Tracy or Kevin Millar.

“To me, [Fontenot] looks like a better player this spring,” Trammell said of Fontenot.

* Trammell also got to see super hyped shortstop Starlin Castro, who is now in the Minor League camp.

“There’s no question that as much as he thought he was ready to play — and he should feel that way — he was not ready,” Trammell said. “I just think there’s all parts of his game that he needs to get a little better at. He just turned 20 years old [on Wednesday]. He’s a very good looking ballplayer and I think he’s got a great future, bright future. He needed to go down there to get regular at-bats and regular playing time and we’ll see what happens.”

* One infielder who Trammell says has “opened some eyes” is Darwin Barney. He spent part of Wednesday working on the second base pivot with Theriot.

“He’s a shortstop and learning second base and going back and forth has been an adjustment,” Trammell said of Barney. “I’m confident that in time, he’s a guy we could depend on.”

— Carrie Muskat