February 2012

2/23 Cubs spring broadcast schedule

Can’t wait for baseball? You’ll be able to follow the Cubs’ Spring Training games on the air as 30 of the 35 games are scheduled to be available. The games will be available either on TV, radio, or internet radio broadcast. The 2012 broadcast schedule will feature six games televised by Cubs broadcast partners (four by WGN and two by Comcast SportsNet), 10 on the WGN Cubs radio network and 20 via internet radio broadcast on Cubs.com. Fans will be able to access the Cubs Webcasts on Cubs.com and MLB.com for free by registering for a log-in account with the website.

WGN Radio will broadcast three of the first four games: March 5 vs. Oakland; March 6 vs. Colorado; and March 7 at Kansas City.

The first televised spring game will be March 10 when the Cubs travel to play the Brewers on WGN.  Comcast SportsNet’s first game will be March 22 at Texas.

Cubs TV play-by-play announcer Len Kasper will once again join Mick Gillispie, radio broadcaster for Chicago’s Double-A Tennessee affiliate, for most of the Cubs.com internet radio broadcasts.  The Cubs first game of the spring will be available on Cubs.com on March 4 vs. the Athletics in Mesa.

— Carrie Muskat 

2/22 Cubs 1st bunt tourney starts Thursday

The bracket is up and there’s been plenty of trash talking. It’s time for the Cubs’ first annual match play bunting tournament to begin.

First round action with the pitchers will get underway Thursday at Fitch Park on a half field, marked with a grid that gives points from 10 to 40, depending on the bunt’s location. There are 64 entries, including Cubs manager Dale Sveum and strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss.

“We had to get it to 64 — we had 63 guys in camp, so I said, ‘Just throw myself in,'” Sveum said Wednesday. “Losing [Chris] Carpenter yesterday to the Red Sox, we put ‘Bussy’ in his spot.”

Carpenter was dealt to the Red Sox as part of the compensation package for Cubs president Theo Epstein, so the right-hander loses his chance at the prize. Sveum will face pitcher Kerry Wood, who says he took four or five swings last year.

“It’s a layup,” Wood said. “I should get right through that one, no problem.”

What Wood may not know is Sveum and Buss have been practicing on the half field.

Sveum started the tourney when he managed in the Minor Leagues with the Pirates.

“I always remembered it and always wanted to do something like that if I took over as manager,” Sveum said. “I thought it would be fun for the team and break things up a little bit and have a little fun with it. It’ll be fun as we go along, especially when we get to the sweet 16.”

Sveum had nothing to do with the seedings.

“I’m a 16 [seed],” he said of the bracket, “and I’m not a 16 seed.”

Wood picked Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells as early favorites since they’ve had more at-bats as starters. There will be a bracket for pitchers and another for position players. The top pitcher and position player will then square off in the final.

“It’s a good way to keep it lively,” Wood said. “Bunting gets very monotonous and covering first and all that stuff, so it’s nice to throw us a little bone and make it a competition and get the work done at the same time.”

Speedy outfielder Tony Campana has been boasting about his bunting skills, and will face catcher Steve Clevenger in the first round. Both infielder Jeff Baker and outfielder Reed Johnson have tired of the talk. They predict Campana will be eliminated in the first round because it’s not a bunt-and-run event, just straight bunting.

“You can’t run,” Johnson said.

“I know,” Campana said. “I think I’ll be OK. Clevenger, I’m not worried about him that much. I’m not worried until the third round. I think that’s when the challenges start coming. If somebody wants to beat me, that’s good. That means I have to worry and they’re going to try really hard. <p> “I’m kind of putting a bullseye on my back by talking so much trash,” Campana said. “If everybody’s talking about me, they know I’m dangerous.”

Pitcher Chris Rusin was a little nervous. His first-round opponent is Buss. He can’t lose to the strength coach.

“The pressure’s on me,” Rusin said.

— Carrie Muskat

2/22 Extra bases

Lefty John Gaub, sidelined with back spasms, was expected to take part in on-field drills on Thursday. Gaub, who felt the spasms while weight lifting, said he hoped to start throwing.

* Right now, there’s no platoon set-up in Dale Sveum’s lineup. He does plan on using Jeff Baker against left-handed pitchers and take advantage of his versatility. Baker can sub in right field for David DeJesus, at first for Bryan LaHair, or at third for Ian Stewart if necessary.

“All that stuff is day to day, and how they’re swinging at the time and what they’ve been doing at the time,” Sveum said about the lineup. “Not every lefty is the same either. If a guy’s swinging the bat good, you still need those guys in the lineup.”

Baker batted .314 against lefties last season compared to .200 against right-handers, while DeJesus hit .174 against lefties, .265 against right-handers, and Stewart has a career .223 average against lefties, .240 versus right-handers.

“There’s no platoon situation in mind at all for anybody right now,” Sveum said.

* The Cubs are in the process of finalizing the plans for the new Spring Training facility, to be built in east Mesa. No date has been set for groundbreaking but the plan is to have the facility ready for 2014 Spring Training.

* The only position players yet to appear at Fitch Park are Alfonso Soriano and Starlin Castro, non-roster invitees Blake DeWitt and Jae-Hoon Ha. Position players must report by Thursday, with the first full squad workout scheduled for Friday. Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts also was expected in camp Friday to address the team.

— Carrie Muskat

2/22 Speed demon

Bryan LaHair isn’t trying to set any records but he is trying to improve his speed and is joining David DeJesus and Dave Sappelt in their speed drills.

“I’m never going to break any records on the track but if I can get a little better and it helps me get more explosive, I’ll try it,” LaHair said Wednesday.

The drills help him with his footwork, speed, agility and balance. He hopes to incorporate it into his workouts three times a week.

Look out, Tony Campana.

— Carrie Muskat

2/21 The bullpen, backup catcher, Jackson & more

In a perfect world, Dale Sveum said he’ll have two left-handers in his bullpen but he doesn’t consider either to be the prime set-up pitcher. That’s Kerry Wood’s job.

With Sean Marshall gone via trade to the Reds, the Cubs don’t have a designated lefty set-up pitcher. Sveum didn’t sound as if he minded as long as he can call on Wood.

“There’s got to be a lot of confidence from me coming from that spot to take Kerry Wood out of the game because there’s a lefty coming up,” Sveum said Tuesday. “Those last three outs are the biggest of the game and the three outs leading up to that are even bigger. Some guys are just built differently than other people as far as those outs.”

Among the lefties in the mix are James Russell, Jeff Beliveau, Scott Maine, Trever Miller, and John Gaub. Although Russell would like to take over Marshall’s role, Sveum described him as a “matchup guy” for now.

“He’s got the ability and endurance to go two innings,” Sveum said of Russell. “It all depends on what’s going on, the score of the game, what [the opposing team has] on the bench. He’s a guy who can go two innings, no doubt about it.”

Miller is a non-roster invitee who has pitched for the Tigers, Astros, Phillies, Dodgers, Blue Jays, Rays, Cardinals and Red Sox.

“He knows how to get left-handers out and that’s a big asset to have, depending on how your bullpen unfolds,” Sveum said.

* Josh Vitters was sad to see Chris Carpenter go to the Red Sox as part of the compensation for Theo Epstein. Vitters was one of the players whom Boston was considering.

“I’m definitely glad it turned out not being me,” he said.

Said Sveum: “Unfortunately, we lost a great arm in Chris. Fortunately for him, it came from a team that wanted him really, really, really bad and I think he’ll fall into some competition over there, too, to make the team as well as he had here. As well, he gets to go to a great organization and a great city. He leaves one great place and gets to go to another one. That’s not a bad way to be traded for the first time.”

* The Cubs selected right-handed pitcher Lendy Castillo in the Rule 5 Draft and must decide by Opening Day whether to keep him on the 25-man roster. Castillo threw on the side Tuesday for the second time this spring but Sveum wants to see him in games.

“The bottom line is what’s going on in those games when he gets innings to pitch,” Sveum said. “I’ve been around plenty of people — not that he’s doing anything wrong — but some people are different pitchers when they’re on the mound than when they’re throwing in the bullpen.”

* There are six catchers in Chicago’s spring camp, including starter Geovany Soto, and the fight for the backup job appears to be a battle between Welington Castillo, Jason Jaramillo and Steve Clevenger.

“I think it’s open competition especially since the only one I’ve seen play in person is Jaramillo when he was with the Pirates,” Sveum said. “It’s great competition and they all have a lot of great attributes to bring to a team. It’ll be an interesting fight.”

Jaramillo signed a Minor League contract with the Cubs on Jan. 18 after spending the last three seasons with the Pirates.

“I talked to a few teams and had the option to pick where I was going,” Jaramillo said Tuesday. “Getting the chance to talk to Theo [Epstein] and Dale, I liked the opportunity here. I understand there’s no guarantees. It’s not something I’m not accustomed to. I battled my way for three years in Pittsburgh. The competition is nothing new to me. I’m happy to be here, they said it’s a good opporutnity. Everything I’ve seen so far — the staff, the players — it’s really exciting. I’m really excited to be here.”

* Brett Jackson, the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in the 2009 Draft, is one of the early bird position players in camp. Sveum sounded just like a fan when he said he was looking forward to seeing the outfielder in games.

“I’ll give him a lot of opportunites to play in camp and see what this young man is capable of doing against quality big league pitching,” Jackson said. “I’ll try to put him in against quality big league pitchers to see how he reacts. To watch him the other day in person for the first time, to see how the ball comes off his bat and just the athleticism, that guy bounces around with athleticism. He’s one of those guys you look forward to seeing.”

* There are motivational messages on the players’ daily schedule, such as “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” That’s the work of bench coach Jamie Quirk, who relies on a book for the daily selection.

— Carrie Muskat

2/21 Compensation – UPDATE

How much is Theo Epstein worth? Chris Carpenter and a player to be named. The Cubs and Red Sox settled the compensation matter for Epstein on Tuesday, sending Carpenter and a player to be named to the Red Sox for a player to be named. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig did not make the decision; the two clubs were able to finalize it on their own. This had been unresolved since late October when Epstein left the Red Sox with one year remaining on his contract to become the Cubs president of baseball operations. The compensation was to be a player off the 40-man, and some of the candidates included Jeff Beliveau, Alberto Cabrera, Casey Coleman, Rafael Dolis, John Gaub, Scott Maine, Marcos Mateo, James Russell.

Carpenter, 26, last year combined to make 42 relief appearances between Double-A Tennessee, Triple-A Iowa and the Cubs, his first Major League action. The right-hander spent most of his time with Iowa, going 2-3 with one save and a 6.53 ERA in 22 Triple-A relief outings. Carpenter posted no record and a 2.79 ERA in 10 relief outings in the majors and went 1-1 with a 4.38 ERA in 10 relief appearances with Tennessee last year. Selected by the Cubs in the third round of the 2008 Draft, Carpenter is 21-19 with a 3.62 ERA in 96 outings (60 starts) in four Minor League seasons.

— Carrie Muskat

2/20 Russell hopes to take over set-up job

With Sean Marshall gone via trade, the Cubs are looking for a new left-handed set-up pitcher. James Russell is up for the challenge.

“I’m more than happy to take on a bigger work load,” Russell said Monday. “I’m excited. You don’t want to see your friends leave but it’s part of the business. If it opens up something for me where I can go on and succeed, so be it. I’d be happy to do it.”

Last season, Russell compiled a 2.19 ERA in 59 games in relief. He also subbed in the rotation after Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells were sidelined with injuries, but that didn’t go as well as Russell was 0-5 with a 9.33 ERA.

The other lefties in camp include Scott Maine, Trever Miller, Jeff Beliveau, and John Gaub. Last season, Russell held left-handed hitters to a .250 average, while right-handers hit .312 off him.

“I want to work on some stuff this spring so I can have an even repertoire against righties and lefties, if I do have to face righties,” Russell said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be exciting.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/20 Samardzija: “It’s about the team first”

It’s a different feeling in Cubs camp this spring for Jeff Samardzija, who would like a chance to fill a spot in the rotation.

“It’s a lot different but not because the day to day activities are different,” Samardzija said Monday. “It’s a different regime, it’s new people. This team has been turned over it seems like three times. You’re still getting to know everyone in the locker room, still getting to know the staff. They’ve done a great job, an exceptional job of getting everybody together, having meetings with the front office, getting to know the guys personally and getting this team together so we make that turn a little quicker than normal.”

Asked what he thought if he didn’t make the rotation and ended up in the bullpen, Samardzija said that was the “worst question” he’s heard.

“It’s about the team first,” Samardzija said. “When it comes down to breaking for the season, you’re going to do what’s best for the team. Personally, I have my own goals and where I feel like I want to be but as a team, when it comes down to game one, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is what your role is that they gave you that day and you go from there.”

Samardzija will get stretched out, and could be in the mix along with Chris Volstad, Randy Wells, Travis Wood, and Andy Sonnanstine for a spot in the rotation.

“It’s fun to almost not be throwing that day so you can sit by the cages and watch these guys throw,” Samardzija said. “We’ve got a lot of strong, young arms mixed in with some very good [veteran] arms, too.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/19 Marmol gets pep talk, guidance on first day

Cubs closer Carlos Marmol threw his first side session under the watch of new manager Dale Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio on Sunday, and made them laugh.

The topic was Marmol’s cutter. Last season, when Sveum was the Brewers hitting coach, he would study video of Marmol to prepare for the Cubs-Brewers series. Sveum couldn’t figure out what the heck the right-hander was throwing.

“We were thinking, ‘What is he doing? Is that just a bad slider?'” Sveum said.

Brewers hitters would return to the dugout shaking their heads as well.

Marmol has admitted the cutter gave him problems and was part of the reason his mechanics were messed up. Last season, he was tied for the Major League lead with 10 blown saves.

“He is what he is — he’s an impressive closer but he’s a slider guy with one of the best, unhittable sliders that we’ve seen in a long time,” Sveum said. “That’s what he is and unfortunately sometimes he can get into a lot of pitches in innings because of it, but it’s so devastating he gets out of it, too. You don’t want him doing anything that Carlos Marmol isn’t used to. I think he’ll be back to that this year.”

Bosio didn’t waste any time. On Sunday, he was giving Marmol reminders to get him back in line.

“Chris Bosio has talked to him about a few mechanical things about his shoulders and keeping his shoulders level and things like that,” Sveum said. “He wants to lean back and crank velocity and create arm strength through his shoulders and then he gets out of whack. It’s more just keeping his shoulders in line with the strike zone. I think that will help him tremendously.

“Every time ‘Bos’ mentioned it to him after a scud, right away he got his shoulders back on line and made quality pitches,” Sveum said. “Some guys, it’s big fixes, and some guys, if they take to it in the right language it hits home with them.”

The communication began earlier Sunday when Marmol met with Sveum and Bosio in the manager’s office at Fitch Park. The message: Marmol is one of the veterans now and players will be looking up to him.

“That’s what we talked about and I have to work a little harder and try to be one of the leaders on the team,” Marmol said. “There’s a lot of young guys here.”

He did report in shape, losing 15 pounds after spending the offseason running, working out and riding horses on his ranch in the Dominican Republic.

“I worked hard out there and I’m going to try to work more than the year before and have a better year,” Marmol said.

— Carrie Muskat 

2/19 First day finally arrives for Sveum, Cubs

Finally. Dale Sveum has been waiting for Sunday’s first workout for what seems like forever.

“It seems like I got hired two years ago,” the new Cubs manager said after the first session at Fitch Park in Mesa, Ariz. “You’re just waiting for this day to come to finally get on the field and it took until late afternoon to get out there. When you do this for so many years, the most comfortable spot you’re in is when you’re on the grass and Spring Training and when the balls are being hit and caught and thrown and to be able to talk to everybody. It’s officially baseball season finally and that’s when we’re all most comfortable.”

What is Sveum looking for on the first day?

“Coming in like this, new, all I’ve done is seen guys on video besides the Garzas and Dempsters and these guys,” he said. “The young guys, you want to see how the ball comes out of their hand, you want to see their poise on the mound, especially the first day. Some guys come in and they try to impress and get a little out of whack. Today I was impressed by a lot of the young guys and guys I haven’t seen. We have a lot of good arms in camp.”

The only non-participant was lefty John Gaub, sidelined because of back spasms, which started earlier this week. Fifteen pitchers threw side sessions on Sunday, including Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Carlos Marmol, Jeff Samardzija and Trey McNutt. Samardzija’s role is still to be defined, Sveum said.

“We just want to look at him and see how he reacts to multiple innings and see what happens by the end of Spring Training to make that decision,” Sveum said on Samardzija as to whether he’ll start or pitch in relief. “We haven’t promised anybody anything. The fact of the matter is to see what we’ve got there. He might wow us — you never know. that’s a power arm and a power body is obviously built to start.”

— Carrie Muskat