February 2011

2/17 Cubs notebook

Blake DeWitt, Jeff Baker and Kosuke Fukudome are the three leading candidates to be the Cubs’ leadoff man. Manager Mike Quade plans on rotating the three during Cactus League games and would like to see someone assert themself and take the job. Fukudome, who has a career .368 on-base percentage in his three seasons with the Cubs, may be the best fit there.

“You can’t lose sight of the fact that if ‘Fuke’s’ in the lineup and it’s his day and he’s playing well, he’s the guy who fits best to me,” Quade said.

Quade did use Baker at the top of the order against some left-handed pitchers last season. Baker boasts a .350 average against lefties.

* Only the Nationals and the Pirates made more errors than the Cubs did last season and one of manager Mike Quade’s goals is to have the team play better defense. “We need to be better, period,” Quade said Thursday. “We talk about [Blake] DeWitt and we talk about [Starlin Castro] and those are two kids who have a lot of work to do in the middle of the diamond.

“If [Aramis Ramirez] is healthy, we should be fine,” Quade said. “I’ve seen [Carlos Pena]  play very good first base. Our catcher, [Geovany Soto], needs improvement throwing. Whether we improve marginally or a little bit or whatever, it will be a point of emphasis [this spring].

“These guys will understand we need to be better defensively,” Quade said. “I believe, like most clubs, pitching and defense will be huge. We’ve got some arms we’re excited about but we’ve got to make plays behind them.”

The Cubs finished with a .979 fielding percentage, tied for last in the National League with the Marlins, Nationals and Pirates.

* Young catcher Welington Castillo will get a good look this spring. Quade was impressed by his defense last season. Castillo needs to learn more about the mental aspect of catching and handling pitchers.

* The only position players not in camp are Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Starlin Castro and Fukudome. Catcher Max Ramirez has been delayed because of visa problems but was expected Friday. The first full squad workout is scheduled for Saturday.

* The Cubs didn’t waste any time getting pitcher Robert Coello some work. The right-hander, acquired from the Red Sox, threw a side session on Thursday.

— Carrie Muskat

2/17 Pena arrives and gets to work

Carlos Pena didn’t waste any time on Thursday. He arrived at the Cubs complex at Fitch Park, got dressed, and was on the field to take batting practice. And, after a vigorous round of infield drills, he headed straight for the batting cage to work with Rudy Jaramillo. He’s ready to go.

— Carrie Muskat

2/17 Cubs, HoHoKam golf event

The Cubs and Mesa HoHoKams will host the inaugural Chicago Cubs Charities Amateur Golf Tournament March 18 at Longbow Golf Club in Mesa. Proceeds from the event will benefit Chicago Cubs Charities, which supports the HoHoKam Foundation, Sunshine Acres Children’s Home and the Banner Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa.

Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Billy Williams are among those scheduled to participate. Information and registration is now open at Cubs.com/golf.

Players will be grouped into foursomes and assigned a celebrity guest for the tournament. The event includes breakfast, 18 holes of golf, a luncheon at HoHoKam Stadium and tickets to the Cubs’ Cactus League game against the Reds. Check-in at the golf course begins at 6:30 a.m. MT, and the shotgun start takes place at 7:30 a.m. MT.

— Carrie Muskat

2/16 Q eager to see Pena, not Pujols

Albert Pujols’ decision to end contract talks with the Cardinals may have some Cubs fans speculating that he could be moving north in 2012 but not Mike Quade.

“That’s their deal,” Quade said Wednesday. “I’m looking forward to working with our guys on
Saturday. You hear, ‘Is that going to affect this or that?’ — they’re going to
be a good team. He ain’t going anywhere now, that’s for [darn] sure. He’s somebody
we have to get out and somebody we have to beat and I don’t care what happens
contract-wise right now with him. That’s between them and him.”

What about next year?

“Let’s hope
we’re all here next year and can answer the same questions,” Quade said.

One reporter speculated that the Cubs could be in the mix for the first baseman.

“Is he going to be here tomorrow?” Quade said. “I’m looking forward to
seeing Carlos Pena knock the daylights out of the ball and that’s all that
matters to me right now.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/16 Cubs notebook

Cubs pitcher Angel Guzman is throwing about 60 percent in his side sessions. Guzman, coming back from right shoulder surgery, has had three sessions and is being limited to fastballs and changeups. But, he has begun throwing his cutter off flat ground. The goal is to have Guzman face hitters in mid March.

* Cubs GM Jim Hendry spent Wednesday touring the Diamondbacks’ and Rockies’ new Spring Training facility in Scottsdale. The Cubs are committed to building a new complex in Mesa, but it’s not expected to be ready until Spring Training in 2014.

* Right-hander Robert Coello, acquired Tuesday from the Red Sox, was expected in Cubs camp on Thursday.

* Asked if he takes supplements, Cubs manager Mike Quade said: “I just know that orange juice and V-8, that’s the supplements that are getting me through now.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/16 Cubs to break camp with 12 pitchers

The Cubs will carry 12 pitchers when they break camp, and manager Mike Quade is hoping to find players versatile enough to be stretched out and sub in long relief if needed. One candidate could be Jeff Samardzija, who is out of options. He’s been used both in relief and as a starter.

“My sense is we have plenty of those guys in this competition who would be flexible enough to either be in the rotation or be that long guy,” Quade said.

Youngsters like Trey McNutt, Chris Carpenter and Jay Jackson will get a good look this spring but Quade said it’s more to see if they can be used down the road.

“Let them jump up and have a [Tyler] Colvin spring and take me from that viewpoint to my goodness,” Quade said of the youngsters. “With younger pitchers, I think you first look at how do they handle themselves poise-wise, in front of the manager, here’s their first Spring Training, in Trey’s case for sure.

“There’s a lot of the mental side of it,” Quade said. “Then you watch command. You factor in that they’re pitching in Arizona and if there was ever a tougher place to compete for a pitcher, I don’t know where it’s at, except maybe Colorado Springs or Denver.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/16 Moreland to join Hughes at WGN Radio

WGN Radio Wednesday announced Keith Moreland is the new analyst for Cubs radio broadcasts, taking over for the late Ron Santo. Moreland replaces Ron Santo, who died in December.

“I’m elated,” Moreland said Wednesday. “That’s the only word I can use. I hate to be sitting in this seat because nobody can replace Ron Santo. He was a great friend and a tremendous Cub fan. I can’t do anything but try to be myself.”

Moreland played for the Cubs from 1982-87, as well as the Phillies, Padres, Tigers and Orioles. A native of Dallas, he was a catcher, third baseman and outfielder. The Cubs are special to him and said his favorite game in 1984 was the “Sandberg Game” when Ryne Sandberg hit two game-tying homers off the Cardinals’ Bruce Sutter.

“When you go back and look at your career, it was such an incredible place to be a part of,” Moreland said.

The first WGN Radio broadcast will be Feb. 27, when the Cubs open Cactus League play.

Moreland is optimistic, just like all Cubs fans.

“Before my lifetime is over, we’re going to win a World Series, I’m a firm believer of that,” Moreland said.

— Carrie Muskat

2/16 Pitching schedule

Wednesday will be the second side day for many of the pitchers at Fitch Park. Among those scheduled to throw are Ryan Dempster, Carlos Marmol, James Russell, Matt Garza, Carlos Zambrano, Jeff Samardzija and John Grabow.

— Carrie Muskat

2/15 Cubs spring notebook

Tyler Colvin and Brad Snyder were both taking grounders at first base on Tuesday. Colvin will get some action there in Cactus League games. The Cubs want to see if he can backup Carlos Pena.

* Fernando Perez, Augie Ojeda, Darwin Barney, Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Blake DeWitt and Reed Johnson were among the other position players working out at Fitch Park. They don’t have to report until Friday.

* A motorist driving down Center Street near the Cubs’ Fitch Park complex was surprised when a baseball struck his windshield. Apparently, Jackson put a good swing on a pitch during batting practice.

* The Cubs could leave camp with three left-handers in the bullpen, and possibly four. They also could have four right-handed starters if James Russell doesn’t make the rotation.

* With Matt Sinatro gone, Mike Quade will work with the catchers this season. Quade did that in the Minor Leagues.

* Ivan DeJesus said he had a good week with shortstop Starlin Castro in the Dominican Republic this offseason. They stressed throwing mechanics. Minor League infield coordinator Franklin Font also spent a week with Castro in the Dominican.

* Quade lobbied the media to root for the rottweilers in the Westminster Dog Show to win.

— Carrie Muskat

2/15 Lone lefty Russell ready

It’s a different spring for lefty James Russell. Last year, he was competing for a spot in the bullpen, and joined other lefties, Sean Marshall and John Grabow. Now, he’s being looked at for the Cubs rotation and could be the only left-hander there. As far as Russell can tell, the only difference this spring is that he will probably throw more innings.

“I’m going to have to make the best of all of my pitches,” he said Tuesday. “If I’m going to last, I have to get my pitch count down and make quality pitches all the time. You have to do the same thing if you’re in the bullpen. You’ve got to make quality pitches and go out and hit your spots.”

He has four to chose from — a slider, changeup, fastball, and curve. Did he show all of those last year?

“Last year, I didn’t get to throw my changeup a whole lot because I was coming in and facing lefties,” he said. “I like throwing lefty-lefty changeups, but I didn’t make it too big of a habit.”

Russell and Andrew Cashner are close. They drove to Arizona together from Texas, making what has become an annual stop at a store in El Paso to purchase new boots. (On a personal note, Cashner has some pretty sweet looking boots).

Back to baseball.

“We’re going to push each other,” Russell said of he and Cashner. “He’ll get the best out of me and I’ll get the best out of him and if not, we’ll slap each other around.”

If starting doesn’t work, Russell will likely be back in the bullpen.

“We’re dumb enough to where it doesn’t even bother us,” he said. “We don’t get fazed by too much. I don’t know if it’s our age or what. We’re young and dumb and ready to go throw strikes.”

— Carrie Muskat