February 2013

2/25 Dodgers 7, Cubs 6

Darnell McDonald hit a three-run homer in the third and Welington Castillo followed with a solo shot, Nate Schierholtz belted a solo home run and Darwin Barney added a RBI double Monday but it wasn’t enough as the Cubs lost 7-6 to the Dodgers on Monday at Camelback Ranch.

Carlos Villanueva’s Cubs debut lasted five batters. He battled Dee Gordon in a 16-pitch at-bat, and eventually struck him out. Villanueva then walked the next two batters and one out later, Nick Punto hit a two-run single to tie the game. Villanueva was then lifted.

Villanueva reached his pitch count limit before the first inning ended, mainly because of a 16-pitch at-bat by Dee Gordon leading off for the Dodgers. The Cubs needed Minor Leaguer Brian Schlitter, 27, of Maine South High School, to pitch one inning, and then Dontrelle Willis entered in the eighth. The one-time Cubs draft pick who is in the Minor League camp, walked the first batter, Nick Evans, and he eventually scored the game-winning run. Willis had to leave after throwing seven pitches because of fatigue in his left shoulder. He ended up with the loss.

– Carrie Muskat

2/25 Villanueva’s quick outing

Carlos Villanueva’s Cubs debut lasted less than one inning. The right-hander, who was making his Cactus League debut, had to be lifted after reaching his pitch limit against five batters. It was all Dee Gordon’s fault. The Dodgers’ leadoff man battled Villanueva in a lengthy 16-pitch at-bat.

“It happens,” Villanueva said. “In a perfect world, it would’ve been six up, six down. It made me focus. I got him out, but after that, maybe I lost a little bit of focus.”

Gordon was finally called out on strikes but Villanueva then walked the next two batters. One out later, Nick Punto hit a two-run single and Villanueva was lifted.

“I was missing down, which, if you’re going miss, you’d rather miss down there,” he said. “It’s spring, first game, and obviously, my sequences will be a little different during the season. Right now, it’s getting to know my surroundings, getting to know hitters again. I feel good and we’ll take it from there.”

Villanueva was scheduled to throw 30 pitches.

“Throwing 16 to the first batter didn’t help,” he said. “Being a competitor, you don’t want to come out in the first inning. I understand — it’s time to build up, time to work on things. I’m satisfied — obviously, not with the results but with how I feel. We’ll take it from there.”

– Carrie Muskat

2/25 Matt Garza update

Matt Garza, sidelined one week because of a strained left lat, could start throwing this week and Cubs manager Dale Sveum feels the right-hander still has enough time left to be ready for the beginning of the season. Garza ended his live batting practice session after 20 pitches because of soreness in his side on Feb. 17.

“Today, he said he felt really good,” Sveum said Monday. “It seems like every day he’s getting better and better.”

If Garza does start throwing this week, he would have about five weeks to build up innings for the season.

“Obviously, it’ll be close but it looks like it probably can happen if he gets back tossing in the next few days or so,” Sveum said.

Garza could still contend for the Opening Day assignment. Sveum said he’ll most likely announce who gets the April 1 start by March 20, possibly sooner.

“If he’s capable of tossing here in a few days then I don’t see why he wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day,” Sveum said.

– Carrie Muskat

2/25 Extra bases

* Carlos Villanueva’s Cubs debut lasted five batters on Monday. He had a long at-bat against Dee Gordon, and eventually struck him out. Then Villanueva walked the next two batters, and one out later, Nick Punto hit a two-run single and the right-hander was lifted.

Here’s the lineup:

Valbuena 2B
Barney DH
Schierholtz RF
Hairston CF
Nelson 1B
McDonald LF
Castillo C
Lake 3B
Gonzalez SS

Other pitchers on the travel squad include Jensen Lewis, Blake Parker, Michael Bowden, Robert Whitenack and Barret Loux. Birthday boy Jorge Soler, who turned 21 on Monday, also was on the travel squad.

* Nate Schierholtz was listed in the Cubs lineup at first base for Tuesday’s game at HoHoKam. Schierholtz has never played first. Ever.

“I’ve never played first, I’ve never taken any ground balls, so I’m not sure if that’s a misprint or not,” he said.

Never?

“Not really, no,” he said. “If that’s the case, I’ll have to obviously start taking ground balls before I play in a game and get a first baseman’s glove.”

He can’t borrow one from Anthony Rizzo. Wrong hand.

“I have one at home here,” he said.

Turns out, he won’t need it. There was a typo in the lineup. Schierholtz actually gets Tuesday off and Rizzo will be starting at first.

* Scott Feldman will make his Cubs debut on Thursday. He’s been getting his work in before most people have their first cup of coffee.

“I’m working on my sleeping patterns now, trying to get up a little earlier, working on getting my body moving and grooving at 8 [a.m.],” he said.

Maybe they’re getting him ready for day games at Wrigley Field.

“I’ve been getting up before it’s even light out,” he said.

* Arodys Vizcaino, recovering from Tommy John surgery, will throw his first bullpen session on Tuesday. He has already been told that he’ll be staying in Mesa after Spring Training ends for extended spring workouts, possibly for a couple months. He most likely will not get into any Cactus League games.

* Besides being Soler’s birthday, Monday also would’ve been Ron Santo’s B-day.

* Rafael Dolis was wearing a large wall clock around his neck when he went onto the field for stretching Sunday. He didn’t have to do so Monday. Dolis was given the clock by the coaching staff because he was 15 minutes late for a 7:30 a.m. meeting. Parents, you may want to consider that when your kids are tardy.

– Carrie Muskat

2/24 Cubs 4, Giants 3

Jeff Samardzija was able to avoid getting hit by a comebacker on Sunday. Matt Cain wasn’t as lucky. Cain took a shot off his right leg and was limited to one inning in the Giants’ 4-3 loss to the Cubs.

Alfonso Soriano lined a single off Cain’s leg in the first. Soriano’s hit loaded the bases with one out, and Nate Schierholtz then grounded out to first, driving in a run. Dioner Navarro followed with a three-run homer to open a 4-0 lead. Cain was pulled after the one inning.

“It’s part of the game. You hope you get out of the way,” said Cain, who was not expected to miss his next outing.

Francisco Peguero doubled with two outs in the Giants first and scored on Guillermo Quiroz’s single off Samardzija. Pablo Sandoval hit a RBI double in the third and Quiroz added a sacrifice fly in the fourth to make it 4-3.

Samardzija was able to work his fastball and split but called his slider “garbage.” He’ll try to get a feel for that in his next start.

“The slider last year was key for me,” said the right-hander, who is entering his second full season as a starter. “To be pulling it in and leaving it up high was unfortunate but it’s first time out. It’s a big pitch for me.”

He also showed his quick reflexes, dodging a shot from Quiroz in the second. Teammate Darwin Barney hit a comebacker at Samardzija during a live batting practice session at Fitch Park before games began.

“Both of them were about as close as they get,” Samardzija said. “I got out of there in proper time. Apparently, the coaches in Spring Training said, ‘Stay up the middle’ with these hitters. Cain took a couple up the middle and I did, too. It’s part of the fun. You have to be on your toes and ready to go.”

Samardzija did field a hard hit comebacker by Kensuke Tanaka in the first. Navarro went out to talk to his pitcher after Quiroz’s single nearly clipped Samardzija.

“After the second time, I went out there and asked him where the magnet was,” Navarro said.

Soriano, Brian Bogusevic and Johermyn Chavez were each 2-for-2. Kyuji Fujikawa made his Cactus League debut, and gave up one hit, striking out two.

– Carrie Muskat

2/24 Soriano: “I want to win here”

Start the trade rumors again. Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson suffered a fractured arm Sunday when he was hit by a pitch. Rumors started to fly almost immediately that the Yankees would call the Cubs about Alfonso Soriano.

“I hope they don’t look that way because I feel comfortable here and I believe in this team,” Soriano said Sunday. “We have a better chance this year and I hope everybody stays healthy and we have a good April and we’ll see what happens.

“I feel comfortable here with this group of guys — they make me feel young,” he said.

It is the Yankees, though, which was the first Major League team Soriano played for.

“That’s the team that opened the door for me in the big leagues,” Soriano said. “That was a long time ago.”

Soriano does have final say and a no trade clause. Would he consider going to New York?

“I don’t know,” he said. “[Granderson's injury] happened today, and I don’t know if they want to call or not. If they call for me, I have to think about it. I don’t want to make a quick reaction and say ‘Yeah’ or say ‘No.’ I want to think about it. I’m 37 years old so I have to think first what’s good for me and for the team and for my family, too.”

Last year at the Trade Deadline, Soriano drew some interest, and there were six or seven teams that he would have considered.

“That was last year,” he said. “At the Trade Deadline last year, there were six, seven teams that were contenders. Now, it’s 2013, and no contenders because the season hasn’t started yet. I have to see how we play first, the Cubs, and after that, maybe a couple months, if we’re not playing good, they can decide what they want to do with me.”

Does that mean he would reject any deal right now?

“I don’t want to say ‘No,’ I want to think about it first,” he said. “It’s not a contender yet. There’s a lot of good teams that have an 80, 90 percent chance to make the playoffs. We’ll see. Today is the second game of Spring Training, and there’s a lot of games and a lot of days to go and I believe we have a better chance than last year. The first thing for me is to see the Cubs in the playoffs this year. I’m not thinking about another team, I’m not thinking I want to get traded. I just want to stay here and make the playoffs and go to the World Series with this team.”

Soriano signed an eight-year deal with the Cubs, and has two years remaining on that deal.

“I want to give it one more chance — I want to win here,” he said. “It’s been a long time not winning. I signed here to win and I prepared my mind from the first day I signed the contract to win a World Series here. If I go somewhere else, I want to feel good, but my dream is winning here.”

– Carrie Muskat

2/24 Samardzija bids for Opening Day

Matt Garza has yet to resume baseball activities and Edwin Jackson won’t make his first Cactus League start until Tuesday. Jeff Samardzija wants everyone healthy and competing before Cubs manager Dale Sveum picks his Opening Day starter.

“I haven’t had that conversation at all,” Samardzija said Sunday after his first Cactus League start. “We’re still waiting to see what happens with ‘Garz’ and how he comes along. They know where I stand on it and how I feel.

“It’s nice to have a few guys who are capable of doing it,” he said. “Hopefully, it gets decided on the field instead of the training room. It’s more important to have ‘Garz’ ready for one of those first five games than rush him along. He’s a key part to this team and we all know that. It’s more important that he’s ready for Opening Day than start one or two here in Spring Training.”

Garza is sidelined with a strained left lat, suffered Feb. 17 during his live batting practice session. He has yet to resume baseball activities.

Samardzija, who gave up one run on three hits over two innings against the Giants on Sunday, wants the Opening Day assignment.

“It’s good as an athlete to see your hard work pay off,” Samardzija said. “Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to. All these dudes in this locker room, everybody works their tail off to be as good as they want to be. When you start getting results like I had last year and things like this, it starts to snowball. I want to keep that good momentum going and we’ll see what happens.”

– Carrie Muskat

2/24 Extra bases

* Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro will be using custom designed Wilson gloves this year, which Barney created. The gloves have the players’ signatures stitched in red and there is Cubs blue trim. Barney said he didn’t add any gold in honor of him winning his first Gold Glove trophy.

“We don’t have gold in our team colors,” he said. “[Castro] and I wanted the same colors.”

The Gold Glove award is sponsored by Rawlings, and Barney will not have a patch or anything else on his glove.

“People know,” he said. “We don’t need to remind them.”

* So far, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez have held their own early in camp.

“Like I keep saying, Soler keeps showing more and more poise at the plate,” Dale Sveum said of the Cubs two top prospects. “He’s not a premeditated swinger for a young guy. He gets a good look at the ball before he swings the bat. They’re impressive. Baez gets the guy over, hits a missile to right field, does a nice job at shortstop. So far, they’re living up to the hype a little bit.”

* If you’re traveling to Glendale on Monday for the Cubs game against the Dodgers, here’s the lineup:

Valbuena 2B
Barney DH
Schierholtz RF
Hairston CF
Nelson 1B
McDonald LF
Castillo C
Lake 3B
Gonzalez SS

* Video staffer Nate Halm beat reliever James Russell on Sunday in the second round of the Cubs bunting tournament. Also advancing was bullpen catcher Andy Lane, Edwin Maysonet and Travis Wood.

* Rafael Dolis apparently is the designated time keeper. When he went onto the field for the pre-game stretch, he was wearing a large clock around his neck on a chain. At least he wasn’t late.

– Carrie Muskat

2/24 Willis back where he started

Dontrelle Willis was in the Cubs clubhouse before Sunday’s game. He’s in the Minor League camp, hoping to make a comeback with the team that originally selected him in the eighth round of the 2000 Draft.

“My arm feels good, the work’s been good,” Willis said. “I’ve been busting my butt to get back in baseball shape. I’m feeling good. The organization has welcomed me back with open arms. It feels good to come full circle and be on the same field I got drafted on 13 years ago.”

There aren’t many people left from then. Carlos Marmol is still with the Cubs, and he was Willis’ catcher in Rookie ball in Arizona.

“He could throw down to second — it was his hitting,” Willis said of Marmol. “I tell my wife, I remember the stories and being on the field over there. It was all about getting ready for the big leagues. I know people are still a little mad at me about [being with the Marlins and] beating the Cubs but hopefully we can bring a ring to the North Side.”

He last pitched in the big leagues in 2011 with the Reds, and spent last season with the Orioles’ Triple-A team. Willis knows he’s a long shot.

“I’m just taking it one day at a time, and I know that sounds so cliche and a lot of people say that but I really count my blessings, one day at a time,” he said. “I know the talent level around here and I know I can help. It’s about the opportunity. Whenever you get an opportunity, you have to make the best of it. This team is going to be good. I expect a lot, and I expect a lot out of myself.”

– Carrie Muskat

2/23 Cubs 11, Angels 2

Luis Valbuena led off the second inning with a home run, Junior Lake added a solo shot, and the Cubs scored five runs in the third to post a 11-2 victory Saturday over the Angels in the Cactus League opener in Tempe. Logan Watkins tripled to open the third and scored two outs later on Scott Hairston’s single. Brett Jackson hit his second triple of the game, driving in two, and Welington Castillo and Brent Lillibridge each hit RBI singles.

Lefty Travis Wood gave up one hit, walked one, and struck out two in two innings in his first start. Rule 5 pick Hector Rondon gave up one hit in one inning in his Cubs debut. Dontrelle Willis, who is in the Cubs’ Minor League mini camp and has not pitched in the big leagues since 2011, was on the travel squad, but did not pitch.

– Carrie Muskat

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