March 2013

3/25 Clevenger has edge

The Cubs may not finalize their bench until Sunday, the day before the regular season begins, but it appears Steve Clevenger has the edge for that last spot.
Clevenger, who made the Opening Day roster last year as the backup catcher, was batting .395 overall this spring, and .526 (10-for-19) in his last 11 games. A left-handed hitter, he’s also 7-for-13 off southpaws this spring.

“He had a rough time the last three months of last season, and struggled at a little bit of everything, and came into Spring Training in the best shape he’s ever been in and worked extremely hard at the infield,” Dale Sveum said of Clevenger, who can sub at first or third if needed.

“You can’t take away that the guy has swung the bat better than anybody in camp,” Sveum said. “The guy’s always hit. [On Sunday], he took a [96 mph fastball] and hit it off the center field wall. The other day, he gets 0-2, and lines a ball through the six hole. The guy’s a big league hitter.”

Clevenger scuffled in the second half last season with the Cubs, and was unable to make adjustments at the plate. He’s wiped the slate clean this year.

The Cubs are looking at the waiver wire for other options but Sveum has made it clear he wants a left-handed bat for the bench. The other position player in camp still in contention is infielder Alberto Gonzalez, a right-handed hitter.

Sveum does like the makeup of the reserves, which includes versatile Brent Lillibridge, Scott Hairston, Dave Sappelt and Dioner Navarro.

“We have guys who don’t strike out on the bench, we’ve got guys who put the ball in play, guys who hit the ball out of the ballpark, they’re two-way players,” Sveum said. “If Clevenger makes the team, you can pinch hit for Navarro, pinch hit for [Welington] Castillo. If Castillo is playing, you can use Navarro and Clevenger as pinch hitters. It’s a very versatile bench and for a National League team, it’s nice for me to have all that kind of versatility.”

The truck leaves Wednesday for Chicago.

“Hopefully, we get it done soon, but it could be Sunday,” Sveum said.

– Carrie Muskat

3/25 Goodbye to HoHoKam

The Cubs are wrapping up their season at HoHoKam Stadium, and I asked fans to submit memories of the ballpark. Here’s one fan’s story:

“I have so many memories over the years from the old HoHoKam Park to the ‘new’ HoHoKam park. The day I helped Gene Autry up the steps at the old park along with J.D. Hayworth, who was a sports writer at the time. Going to games with my Dad. He passed away in 1995 and we buried him across the street with a Cubs hat signed by Ernie Banks. I kept his Cubs hat and included a little poem I wrote about it when he died. Sitting next to then Gov. Rose Mofford and catching a foul ball that she signed for me. I attended many games with former Cub pitcher Bob Rush and he told me countless stories about the early days of spring training in Mesa. The day Harry Caray sat next to me in the stands. I still have the ball he signed for me. That day in March 1993 when Mike Jackson broke Ryne Sandberg’s hand with a inside pitch and the brawl that
followed. Seeing Dwight Patterson sitting in the ticket booth greeting fans. I brought a ball one day hoping to get Sammy Sosa to sign it for me. I was not successful and I asked Dwight Patterson if he would sign it for me. He did and I treasure that ball to this day. Bob Rush threw out the last first pitch at the old park and he gave me the ball for my birthday. The day they started tearing the original HoHoKam down. I still have two of the blocks from the dugout wall in my garage. Talking with Robert Brinton about the day he met Ken Hubbs. He signed a ball for Robert that day and he treasured that ball for the rest of his life. Riding with Ron Santo in the elevator and stopping to talk about the team for a couple of minutes. Getting my picture taken with Ernie Banks on the field. Spending time with Ron Santo at the park 10/09/10. He was in his usual great spirits and it was a shock when he passed on a few weeks later. There are many more but these memories are the ones I treasure most. I am looking forward to all of the new memories from the new park but will always remember the park on Center street.” — Mike Stoker, Mesa, AZ

3/25 Baker calls setback a “speed bump”

Scott Baker was relieved to find out there was nothing structurally wrong with his right elbow, and all he needs to do is rest and let the muscle strain heal. Baker had an MRI on his elbow after feeling some discomfort following his first and only Cactus League start March 17. He was examined Sunday by team orthopedic specialist Dr. Stephen Gryzlo.

“It’s always nice to have some clarity when dealing with an injury,” Baker said Monday. “Any type of setback is not fun and there’s never good timing for any sort of setback, but knowing what we’re dealing with helps us deal with it better, obviously. With the type of injury it is, Doc likened it to a scab. You can’t pick at it, you have to let it heal and rest and get back after it after that.”

Baker said he felt great during all of his throwing sessions leading up to the game. He’s coming back from Tommy John surgery, and the good news is that he doesn’t need any additional surgery. That was a relief.

“You can tell yourself as much as you want that’s not the case, but until the doctor sits there and shows you you’re fine, it definitely feels good to know the surgery took care of the original problem and this is a little speed bump,” Baker said.

There is no timetable, and Baker said he will be a good patient and do what the medical staff says. He doesn’t go back to zero in his work, but can continue to condition his lower half and core. He’ll work on strengthening his right shoulder, and when it’s ready, strengthen the elbow.

He had hoped to return in mid April, which would have been the one-year anniversary of the procedure.

“It is disappointing in the fact that one, I feel like I’ve sit out enough,” Baker said. “I don’t want to sit out any more than I have to. To sit here and say it’s going to be at least a month more than we originally anticipated, it’s tough. I’ve come this far. I’m not about to give up or give in. I’m just going to continue to try to get ready to pitch at whatever point during the season it is.”

– Carrie Muskat

3/25 Cubs lineup

The Cubs play host to the Giants at HoHoKam Stadium on Monday. Travis Wood will start for Chicago against Ryan Vogelsong. Here’s the lineup:

DeJesus CF
Lillibridge SS
Clevenger 1B
Soriano LF
Schierholtz RF
Navarro C
Valbuena 3B
Gonzalez 2B
Wood P

– Carrie Muskat

3/24 Final two

The Cubs have one opening in the bullpen and one on the bench remaining. Here’s an update on the candidates:

Position players
Alberto Gonzalez: Started at 3B, moved to SS vs Indians. Went 1-for-2
Steve Clevenger: Entered at 3B. Went 1-for-1, 1 RBI vs. Indians

Pitchers
Zach Putnam: Replaced Casey Coleman in the eighth Sunday vs. Indians with two on and two outs, and gave up two-run single to Mike Aviles.
Hisanori Takahashi: Did not pitch Sunday
Cory Wade: Did not pitch Sunday
Rafael Dolis: Optioned to Triple-A Iowa Sunday

3/24 Rusin’s good day

Chris Rusin secured his spot as next in line if the Cubs need another starter. The lefty gave up two hits over 5 1/3 scoreless innings on Sunday against the Indians. In five spring games, he’s given up five earned runs on 18 hits over 23 1/3 innings with 10 strikeouts.

Rusin was being considered for the Cubs bullpen but was told he’s more valuable as a starter. He’ll be in Triple-A Iowa’s rotation this year.

“I’ll go down and work on all the stuff I need to work on and be ready for when they call on me,” Rusin said.

It helped him that his was his second big league Spring Training camp. When he walked into the clubhouse, he felt comfortable from Day One.

“This year, I obviously had a couple more starts than last year,” he said. “Getting my feet wet last year was a big help. If this was my first Spring Training, I probably wouldn’t be this way. Since I had experience last year, I knew what to expect. I’ve got to keep throwing strikes.”

– Carrie Muskat

3/24 Extra bases

* The competition for the last bulllpen spot is down to three pitchers after Rafael Dolis was optioned to Triple-A Iowa. It’s now down to Hisanori Takahashi, Zach Putnam and Cory Wade.

* Cubs outfielder Dave Sappelt was scratched from Sunday’s lineup because of a stiff neck. The outfielder was struck on the right side of his neck by a ball on the fly while sliding into third during Saturday’s game, and had a large bruise to show for it.

“They got me,” Sappelt said. “As soon as I peeked back, it hit me.”

He was expected to be sidelined two to three days.

* Brett Jackson, who has been sidelined because of inflammation in his right shoulder, was expected to resume playing this week, although it could be in a Minor League game.

“They’ll be smart about easing me back into it,” Jackson said.

He doesn’t have any problems hitting, and was able to hit off a batting tee on Saturday, and planned on doing the same Sunday.

* Ian Stewart was examined on Sunday by the team orthopedic specialist, and will begin a rehab assignment in two weeks if he continues to progress. Stewart has been sidelined with a sore left quad since Feb. 21.

– Carrie Muskat

3/24 Baker shut down with elbow strain

Cubs pitcher Scott Baker had hoped to pitch in a big league game on the one-year anniversary of his Tommy John surgery. Instead, he’ll have to delay his return.
Baker, who has been shut down since his only Cactus League start March 17, was examined on Sunday and diagnosed with a strained right elbow. The right-hander will not throw for at least one month, and then be re-evaluated at that point. Baker had the procedure done last April, and had optimistically hoped to be pitching in a Major League game next month.

Cubs orthopedic specialist Dr. Stephen Gryzlo, who examined Baker on Sunday, also checked on starter Matt Garza, who has not thrown off the mound since Feb. 17 because of a strained left lat. Garza was making progress, and on pace to throw his first bullpen the first week of April.

The Cubs have slotted Travis Wood and Carlos Villanueva into the rotation to fill Baker’s and Garza’s spots. Next in line would be Chris Rusin, who started on Sunday against the Indians.

“We do have the luxury with the depth we have,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Sunday. “It is obviously a setback [with Baker] but it’s not to where he won’t be able to pitch this season.”

Baker had felt some discomfort after throwing 23 pitches against the Athletics, and the good news is that the problem won’t require any additional surgery, which had been the intial fear.

– Carrie Muskat

3/24 HoHoKam countdown

The Cubs have three games remaining at HoHoKam Stadium in Mesa before packing up and heading north. In 2014, the team will move into a new facility in west Mesa near the intersection of highways 101 and 202. I’ve seen way too much PFP and towel drills to remember everything. Do you have any memories of HoHoKam to share? Here are some personal highlights:

* The reserve players take batting practice on the back field, behind center, and when Dwight Smith was on the Cubs, he was usually part of that group. Ryne Sandberg noticed and needled Smith about it. One day, there was a large banner on the back field, proclaiming it “Dwight Smith Memorial Field” in honor of the outfielder. Smitty took it well.

* When the Cubs players went to stretch one day, strength coach Tim Buss noticed a compact car parked on the ramp that had obviously seen better days. The car had been bludgeoned by someone using a sledge hammer and absolutely destroyed. Buss did a double take. “Hey, that’s my car,” he said. The players had some fun at his expense, and delivered a new SUV later that morning.

* Speaking of cars, Will Ohman went to the bullpen for a game and saw a tire there. Then, the lefty realized it was his car’s tire. His car was up on blocks in the parking lot, and someone had hidden his four tires in four different places, including one in the shower.

* During the Arizona Fall League, Matt Murton befriended a young boy named Morgan. Murton and Morgan would play catch on the HoHoKam field (I have a photo of the two in my office). The friendship carried over to Spring Training as Morgan would show up for early batting practice and bring Murton drawings he’d made for him. When the Cubs played the Diamondbacks in the 2007 NLDS, Morgan was there to present Murton with a gift.

* Player-wise, it’s been fun to see youngsters like Javier Baez, who hit a walkoff home run against Team Japan on March 15. Sammy Sosa always made the field look small with his mammoth home runs. On Saturday, Shawon Dunston Jr. scored the winning run on a wild pitch. I remember covering his dad in games at HoHoKam.

Do you have a favorite player, favorite game, favorite memory? Either leave a comment here or send an email to CubsInbox@gmail.com.

– Carrie Muskat

3/24 Cubs lineup – UPDATED

It’s Starlin Castro’s 23rd birthday, and he’ll be in the lineup Sunday when the Cubs travel to Goodyear to face the Indians. Chris Rusin, who will open the season in Triple-A Iowa’s rotation, gets the start. Dave Sappelt was scratched after getting hit on the right side of his neck by a ball in Saturday’s game. He’s got a large lump there. Here’s the revised lineup:

Lillibridge CF
Navarro DH
Rizzo 1B
Soriano LF
Castro SS
Hairston RF
Castillo C
Barney 2B
Gonzalez 3B

– Carrie Muskat

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