February 2013

2/23 Wood finding his way

Travis Wood doesn’t feel like the new guy in the Cubs clubhouse this spring, even though he still needs a little help finding his way around Cactus League ballparks.
Wood, who had to ask for some help finding the visitor’s clubhouse at Tempe Diablo Stadium, gave up one hit and walked one over two innings in the Cubs’ Cactus League opener against the Angels. The lone lefty competing for a spot in the rotation, Wood walked the first batter he faced, then gave up a RBI double before retiring the next six.

“I hate leadoff walks — I hate walks in general — but I hate leadoff walks,” Wood said. “It was nice to get back out there today and in a game situation. Now we’ll be on a schedule and nice to get the first one out of the way.”

With Matt Garza’s status questionable because of a sore left lat and Scott Baker not expected until mid April at the earliest, there is an spot to be won in the Cubs rotation.

“It’s going to be fun throughout the rest of camp and we’ll see what happens,” Wood said.

One year ago, Wood was spending time trying to match faces with names. This spring?

“One, I actually know some people and have built a relationship with some guys,” he said. “They’re all great guys. I feel more comfortable this year instead of being the new guy. I’m just another guy.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/23 Extra bases

* Josh Vitters also had an MRI on Friday, and it revealed that he has a mild to moderate quad strain, and could be sidelined 10 to 14 days. Vitters was injured before he got into a game — he was hurt doing a base running drill. What happens now at third with both Ian Stewart and Vitters sidelined? Expect to see a lot of Luis Valbuena, Junior Lake, Christian Villanueva and even Brent Lillibridge.

“We really don’t have a whole lot of other third basemen,” Dale Sveum said. “They both just went down.”

Lake played at Double-A Tennessee last season. He’s still a little rough at third.

“In the intrasquad games, he’s done fine,” Sveum said. “He hasn’t been tested. There’s some mechanical things. He’s very tall and playing tall. He’s got to play the position smaller. What I mean by that, he wants to stand straight up after he fields a ground ball, so there’s some things we have to tweak. He’s such a good athlete. He’s going to be one of those third basemen who’s not going to look like Scott Rolen but the athleticism will allow him to do a lot of things at that position.”

The Cubs will not move top prospect Javier Baez to third base. If he does play third, it will be more because of need numbers-wise.

* If you’re looking ahead to Sunday’s HoHoKam opener, here’s the lineup:

DeJesus CF
Castro SS
Rizzo 1B
Soriano LF
Schierholtz RF
Navarro C
Bogusevic DH
Barney 2B
Villanueva 3B

The game will be broadcast on Cubs.com, with Len Kasper doing the play by play.

* Cubs pitcher Shawn Camp was showing pictures of a bobcat he saw on the golf course on Friday. Camp said he let the ‘cat play through.

* Blake Parker’s intrasquad outing didn’t go well — he gave up three hits, including a three-run homer to Edwin Maysonet — but it felt good to get back on a mound. Parker missed most of last season because of problems with his right elbow.

“I’m still getting back into baseball mode, just thinking out there on the mound and knowing what pitches to throw and reading hitters,” Parker said. “As far as physically, my arm felt good.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/23 Baker throws bullpen session

Cubs pitcher Scott Baker threw a 45-pitch bullpen session on Saturday at Fitch Park, and says he feels good. Baker is coming back from Tommy John surgery last April.

“It’s another step in the right direction,” Baker said.

The right-hander said he expects to throw at least two simulated games or live BP sessions before he gets into a Cactus League game but wasn’t sure of the exact timing. He’s leaving that to the medical and coaching staff.

“Everything felt good,” he said. “As long as everything keeps going well, it’s hard to be not pleased with that.”

Was he throwing full speed on Saturday?

“For me, it’s more mechanical than physical,” he said. “You hear a million times, ‘Stay within yourself’ and it’s never more true than now. It’s very easy when you feel good to get out there and get real sloppy. I’m throwing with as much intensity as my mechanics will allow.

— Carrie Muskat

2/23 Stewart out 10-14 days

An MRI shows Ian Stewart has a mild to moderate quad strain, and he could be sidelined 10 to 14 days.

“I got the MRI [Friday] and that’s just kind of a vague timetable right now just to see how things progress,” Stewart said Saturday. “I feel like it’s progressing pretty good today. I woke up today and didn’t feel as much stiffness as I had.”

He injured his left quad while turning around first base after hitting a double in his first at-bat Thursday in an intrasquad game.

“Hopefully, it’s not that long [that he’s sidelined] and it’s a precautionary length,” he said.

Cubs manager Dale Svem has said Luis Valbuena could be the option at third if Stewart isn’t healthy. Does this hurt Stewart’s chances?

“I would hope not,” Stewart said. “I feel like I was brought back to be a part of the team and to help this team and I feel like I can do that. This is unfortunate but I think if this was toward the end of camp or the middle, it may be a different story. It is disappointing because I put all that work in in the offseason and my wrist is good and had that first good at-bat of camp, even though it was the first intrasquad. My confidence is so high on my ability that this is a little road block that hopefully doesn’t last the amount of time they said and I can get out there sooner.”

Stewart signed a $2 million non-guaranteed contract, but he says he’s not thinking about the terms.

“If I didn’t think I could come back here and be a part of the team, there’s no sense in me coming back,” he said. “I have all the confidence in the world. I came back to be a part of the Major League team. I’m not even thinking about that right now.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/23 Time for baseball

Travis Wood takes the mound Saturday to kick off the Cubs’ Cactus League season in Tempe against the Angels. The Cubs will play 39 spring games, including an exhibition game March 15 against a World Baseball Classic team. It’s the most Cubs Spring Training games since 1952, which was the first year they trained in Mesa.

Saturday’s game will be broadcast on WGN Radio. Len Kasper is subbing for Pat Hughes for now. Hughes will be in Arizona later this spring.

Wood is the lone lefty candidate among the starters. He was 6-13 with a 4.27 ERA in 26 starts last season with the Cubs. Wood did open at Triple-A, and was 3-3, 4.57 ERA. Other pitchers on the travel squad for Saturday’s game include Jaye Chapman, Rafael Dolis, Zach Putnam, Rule 5 pick Hector Rondon, Trey McNutt, and Hisanori Takahashi. Rondon has been limited to 13 games over the past three seasons because of right elbow injuries. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010. This offseason, he pitched in 23 games in the Venezuela Winter League, going 2-1 with a 4.29 ERA. Rondon appeared in four games in 2012, giving up one earned run over seven innings between Double-A Akron and the Indians Rookie League team.

There are some new faces on the roster with 13 new players on the Cubs’ 40-man since the conclusion of the 2012 season.

The Cubs play at HoHoKam Stadium on Sunday against the defending World Champion Giants. Jeff Samardzija will start for Chicago against Matt Cain.

— Carrie Muskat

2/23 Bunt tourney – 2nd round

Here are the second round matchups in the Cubs’ second annual bunt tournament:

Position players
Barney vs. DeJesus
Lopez vs. Castro
Watkins vs. Hairston
Rizzo vs. Stewart
McDonald vs. Brenly
B. Jackson vs Lillibridge
Bogusevic vs. Maysonett
Valbuena vs. Lane (bullpen catcher)

Camp vs. Coleman
Struck vs. Jackson
Baker vs. Buss (for Garza)
Takahashi vs. Rusin
Chapman vs. Parker
Samardzija vs. Cabrera
Wood vs. Carpenter
Russell vs. Halm (video guy)

2/22 Extra bases

* Travis Wood will start the Cubs’ Cactus League opener Saturday against the Angels. Here’s the lineup for the game, to be played in Tempe and broadcast on WGN Radio. Len Kasper will be subbing for Pat Hughes, who will be in Arizona later this spring:

Watkins 2B
Sappelt CF
Rizzo 1B
Hairston RF
Valbuena 3B
Castillo C
Jackson LF
Lillibridge SS
McDonald DH

* Luis Valbuena hit a two-run homer and Edwin Maysonet added a three-run shot for the White team which beat the Blue team, 6-3, on Friday in a Cubs intrasquad game at HoHoKam Stadium. Brett Jackson was 3-for-3 for the Blue team.

Sveum has raved about Valbuena’s defensive skills and said this spring that third base is Ian Stewart’s job to win. But Stewart is sidelined with a strained left quad. Could Valbuena be the Cubs starting third baseman?

“Like I said, it was [Stewart’s] job to win, not to lose,” Sveum said. “Things might change because who knows when Stewart will be back to play. I know Valbuena can play third. He doesn’t need to play third to get his at-bats.

“The guy had good winter ball, and obviously put a good swing on a ball today,” Sveum said after Friday’s intrasquad game, in which Valbuena hit a two-run home run. “I’m not too concerned about Valbuena. I need to see him everywhere. If things work out that way, then yeah, he’ll be playing third base quite a bit. First half of spring you’ll see him a lot more at other positions.”

* Third baseman Josh Vitters was day to day with a strained left quad, which he injured running the bases during drills. He was not expected to undergo an MRI on his leg.

“I’m just going to take it easy,” Vitters said.

* Scott Baker, rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, will throw a side session on Saturday, and then be re-evaluated. As of now, Baker has not been scheduled to pitch in a Cactus League game, manager Dale Sveum said. Baker, who had the surgery last April, was not expected to be ready by Opening Day.

— Carrie Muskat

2/22 Bunt tourney update

Defending champ David DeJesus defeated Jorge Soler to advance in the Cubs bunt tourney on Friday. The first round matches included Rafael Lopez beating Alfonso Soriano.

“Now, he’s going to send me to the Minors next week,” Lopez quipped.

Other position players to advance include Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro, and pitchers Alberto Cabrera, Shawn Camp, Edwin Jackson, Nick Struck, Casey Coleman and strength coach Tim Buss. Jackson totaled 700 points.

“Beginner’s luck,” Jackson said.

— Carrie Muskat

2/22 Intrasquad lineups

The Cubs will play their second intrasquad game on Friday at HoHoKam Stadium, scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Arizona time. Here are the lineups:

White Team
Watkins 2B
Szczur CF
Clevenger C
Chavez RF
Lake 3B
Maysonet SS
Lillibridge 1B
Soler LF
Valbuena DH

Blue Team
Jackson CF
McDonald LF
Lopez C
Sappelt DH
Bogusevic RF
Villanueva 3B
Gonzalez 2B
Nelson 1B
Baez SS

2/22 Stewart to get MRI

Ian Stewart had an MRI Friday on his left leg to determine the extent of the injury. Stewart came up sore after hitting a double in Thursday’s intrasquad game.

“I hadn’t run the bases in a long time,” Stewart said Friday. “It’s sore today and I’m going to get an MRI real quick just for precautionary reasons, just to do everything we can to make sure it’s OK. It feels sore today and I’m going to take it easy for a couple days and get some treatment and go from there.”

Stewart missed most of last season after undergoing surgery on his left wrist. The double felt good — but getting hurt quickly changed his mood.

“It felt so good and so bad at the same time,” Stewart said of his hit. “I’m just glad it has nothing to do with my wrist and all the work I put in there, and that that’s OK.”

Stewart was injured when he ran from the dirt to the grass rounding first. And his wrist?

“It felt great,” he said. “It was not nearly as good as your first hit in the big leagues, but you realize how much you can lose by being out that long for an injury and stuff and it felt like it was my first year back in camp and playing in a big league game again even though it was just Spring Training and intrasquad. It was very important for me to come out and do that.”

The Cubs expected results from the MRI on Saturday.

— Carrie Muskat