February 2010

2/28 Soriano numbers

Lou Piniella has been scribbling some lineup combinations down and said he’ll make his ideas public on Monday. He’s going to give some of the kids a chance to play in the early Cactus League games and will be testing his leadoff options.

One thing to look for is Alfonso Soriano in the No. 6 spot.

“We’d like to see his power numbers go up and his RBI production go up,” Piniella said of Soriano. “That’s what we’re looking for from Alfonso. I think he hit 20 [homers] and drove in 50 some [runs] last year. We’ve got to get that 20 into the 30s and those 50s into the 80s. Those would be a nice goal for him. Batting average is not as important as the RBI and home run production.”

Soriano, who hit 20 homers and drove in 55 runs last year, is healthy this spring and if he can play more games during the season, he should reach Piniella’s projections.

“He should be able to do that because we’ll have some nice offense in front of him,” Piniella said. “I would think the numbers we’re [projecting] are very doable for a player of his caliber.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/28 Cactus League start

Randy Wells will get things started for the Cubs when they open Cactus League play Thursday against Oakland at HoHoKam Park. Lou Piniella said Wells will be followed by Sean Marshall, J.R. Mathes, Mike Parisi and Esmailin Caridad.

* Angel Guzman threw 25 to 30 pitches from 45 feet on Sunday in the batting cage and felt good. If there’s no discomfort in his shoulder, he will throw on the mound Monday. “His shoulder felt a lot better,” Piniella said.

* Sunday’s workout was cut short because of the rain. John Grabow faced some hitters for a live BP session and that was it. “If we were going to lose a day of work, today was the day,” Piniella said.

— Carrie Muskat

2/28 Rainy Sunday schedule

The Cubs had an abbreviated workout Sunday because of the rain. No live BP was scheduled. Angel Guzman was to throw in the batting cage for the first time since sidelined with some discomfort in his shoulder. The shortened time was welcomed by the Canadian players on the roster who want to watch the Olympic gold medal hockey game between the U.S. and Canada. Vince Perkins made sure his Canada T-shirt was visible in his locker.

Monday is photo day for the Cubs, which means players will be a little late getting onto the field at Fitch Park.

— Carrie Muskat

2/27 Cubs Saturday notebook

Angel Guzman, sidelined because of discomfort in his right shoulder, will try to test his arm on Sunday with a throwing session. Guzman already was slowed this spring following arthroscopic knee surgery in January.

* Ted Lilly did some running and played catch in the outfield Saturday. He missed five days because of the flu and a 103-degree temperature.

* Xavier Nady continued his throwing program with pitching coach Larry Rothschild. The outfielder is working on his mechanics after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last July. Nady isn’t sure if he’ll be ready Opening Day.

“I have no idea,” Nady said. “I couldn’t tell you. The way I look at it, you have five or six weeks left. … Right now, who knows how I’ll feel [by Opening Day]? Hopefully, I don’t experience any setbacks. We’ll see.”

* Aramis Ramirez chose to sit out the live BP session vs. Carlos Marmol on Saturday. Starlin Castro took his turn and got plunked in the backside by one of Marmol’s sliders.

“He didn’t leave — he stood there, to his credit,” Lou Piniella said of Castro.

Ramirez doesn’t like live BP, preferring to hit in the cages or off the coaches.

“I’ll find a way to get ready,” he said.

— Carrie Muskat


2/27 Saturday sked & the bench

Rain is in Saturday’s forecast but there should be enough time for the Cubs pitchers to get their work in. Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall, Carlos Silva, Randy Wells and Carlos Marmol all are scheduled to throw live BP at Fitch Park.

Expect Zambrano to stick to pitching this year and not be used as a pinch-hitter.

“We’re deeper here in camp than we were last year with more position players,” Lou Piniella said. “I don’t foresee the need for Zambrano to pinch-hit. This is why we want to move people around early to see what we’re going to leave with.

“There are two jobs open on our bench,” Piniella said. “Our regular team will take care of itself, assuming we stay healthy. On the bench, we’ve got decisions on two positions. [Koyie] Hill will be our backup catcher. We’ve got [Xavier] Nady, and whoever doesn’t play second base [between Jeff Baker and Mike Fontenot]. There’s two spots to play around with a little.”

Fontenot took grounders at shortstop on Friday with Ryan Theriot. The Cubs want to see if he can handle that position as well as second.

Last season, Piniella used Big Z out of necessity at the plate.

“[The fans] enjoy watching him [hit] and I understand that,” Piniella said. “Using Carlos is only in an emergency or a pinch.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/26 Lou predicts more offense

Lou Piniella predicts the Cubs will have a much better offense in 2010. He’s counting on players like Geovany Soto, Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome to contribute.

“We need Soriano to bounce back and have the type of year he’s capable of,” Piniella said Friday of the left fielder, who batted .241 last season. “We need Fukudome. There’s no reason for ‘The Fook’ to hit in the .250s. He’s better than that — he should be hitting .285, .290. The home runs we don’t care about but doubles in the gaps, improve his batting average, improve his RBI production, he’s capable of doing that.”

Fukudome has made some minor changes working with new hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.

“I think we’ll have a better bench, too, so we’ll see,” Piniella said. “I feel good about our offense. I feel good about how our 13 will be constituted in whatever way. We have some work to do with our pitching, we really do.”

Last season, the Cubs ranked 10th in runs scored and 12th in team batting average.

— Carrie Muskat

2/26 Lilly back in camp

Ted Lilly was back in Cubs camp Friday to play catch. He’s fallen behind in his rehab after being sidelined five days with the flu. The left-hander is already behind the others after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder last November. He was spending about 18 hours a day in bed, dealing with a 103-degree temperature.

“It makes you really appreciate your health when it’s taken away,” Lilly said.

He just played catch with athletic trainer Mark O’Neal and conditioning coach Tim Buss for a short time on Friday.

“It didn’t hurt, it just felt weak,” Lilly said of his light throwing session. “I felt some strength was taken away for sure. It’s awesome just being able to stand out there with the sun on my face and on my feet.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/26 Friday pitching update

Among the pitchers scheduled to throw live BP on Friday at Fitch Park are: Jeff Stevens, David Patton, Casey Coleman, Mitch Atkins, J.R. Mathes, Blake Parker, Jeff Kennard, James Russell, Thomas Diamond, and Marcus Mateo.

* Carlos Zambrano will likely be the Opening Day starter April 5 vs. Atlanta. “Good,” Zambrano said Friday. “It’s an honor and a privilege.”

* Told that pitching coach Larry Rothschild felt Jeff Samardzija looked more like a big league pitcher than a football player this spring, the former Notre Dame wide receiver laughed.

“That’s a good start, I guess,” Samardzija said. “That’s been the plan since Day One. We knew it would be somewhat of a learning curve.”

* Angel Guzman said the soreness in his shoulder wasn’t severe but they decided to shut him down as a precautionary measure.

— Carrie Muskat

2/25 Pitching notes: Big Z likely Opening Day starter

Carlos Zambrano will likely be the Cubs’ Opening Day starter for the sixth straight year.

“We haven’t even gone there yet,” Lou Piniella said when asked if he’d named his starter for the April 5 season opener in Atlanta. “I’ve been here three years and Zambrano has been the Opening Day starter every year. I don’t anticipate any difference there.”

Some other pitching updates:

* Angel Guzman was shutdown because of some discomfort in his right shoulder. Guzman underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in January and already was a couple weeks behind the others. He still could be ready by Opening Day.

“We just felt that coming off the ‘scope and because he’s had difficulties on and off in the past, that we’ll take the precautionary route and push him back a couple days,” GM Jim Hendry said.

* Ted Lilly remained at home for the fourth straight day because of a high fever. Athletic trainer Mark O’Neal planned on visiting Lilly at his home to get an update. They hope the lefty can come to Fitch Park on Friday to play catch.

* One pitcher who appears to have secured a spot in the bullpen is Esmailin Caridad.

“He’s on the team,” Piniella said. “He’s almost got to pitch himself off it. I don’t think he will. I like this young man. He competes, he’s got a good arm, he can pitch a lot. He handled himself here quite well the last two months of the season.”

Caridad appeared in 14 games with the Cubs late last season and gave up three earned runs over 19 1/3 innings for a 1.40 ERA. He’s not experienced — last year was his first at Triple-A. Could he be the right-handed set-up pitcher the Cubs need?

“He’s got the stuff for it,” Piniella said. “Does he have the experience, savvy? We’ll have to wait and see. He does have the stuff. One good thing about this young man is he’s not scared.”

* Another pitcher who has impressed the coaching staff this spring is Jeff Samardzija. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild told Piniella that the first couple years, Samardzija looked like a football player who was pitching. Rothschild said this year, the right-hander looks like a baseball player who played football.

“That’s a big transformation and that’s a really profound statement as far as I’m concerned,” Piniella said. “It says he’s making the adjustments and really stepping forward and looking like a Major League pitcher.”

Samardzija’s mechanics are better.

“He’s throwing the ball smoother, with less effort and his mechanics have approved,” Piniella said. “He looks like a Major League pitcher on the mound. He’s got natural talent. It’s just a question of refining it. We’re going to let this guy pitch and around the 20th of March, we’ll see exactly where he’s at.”

* Jeff Gray, sidelined with a sore groin, did throw on flat ground Thursday. He was not expected to throw off a mound until next week when the team moves to HoHoKam Park fo the start of games.

— Carrie Muskat

2/25 Theriot survives Dolis fastball

Ryan Theriot has a bruise on his left hand after being hit by a fastball by young pitcher Rafael Dolis during live batting practice Thursday.

“Everything’s fine,” Theriot said. “It happens sometimes in live [batting practice] but everything’s cool.”

Dolis, 22, who pitched at Class A Daytona last season, said he didn’t throw another fastball inside after the errant pitch to Theriot. This was the second day of live batting practice.

“The kid pitcher felt worse about it than anybody else,” Lou Piniella said. “He was almost apologetic and I heard the pitching coach say, ‘Get back up there and throw it.'”

Did Theriot consider charging the mound?

“No — that guy’s huge,” Theriot said of the 6-foot 4-inch, 215-pound right-hander.

Piniella joked that when he played and saw young pitchers on the mound for batting practice, he’d head for the water cooler. On Wednesday, Piniella said if Theriot were hurt and out for an extended period of time, the Cubs would likely promote 19-year-old Starlin Castro and let him play. Theriot isn’t looking over his shoulder.

“There’s always going to be somebody on your heels and I think that’s good,” Theriot said. “It’s good for competition and it keeps everybody working hard and you can’t get complacent or relax and sit back. I think it’s good for everybody.”

Dolis, who is friends with Castro, will probably get some good natured ribbing about plunking a teammate. It started when the pitcher was doing his laps after his throwing session.

“Theriot wants you to run to Scottsdale Stadium and back,” Cubs strength coach Tim Buss said to Dolis.

— Carrie Muskat