During his first news conference of spring training Wednesday, general manager Jim Hendry seemed to be taking a shot at former Cubs manager Dusty Baker while heaping praise on Lou Piniella.
"A big key to us getting back on track last year was we had a manager who played the people who came up right away, which is very important,’’ Hendry said. ‘‘Lou plugged them right in the first two or three days and got the most out of them. So you don't have to have all these high-profile, superstar prospects. The guys who filled in the cracks last year really helped us win the division as much as the star players."
Piniella had no problem playing youngsters at different points of the season, including spark plugs such as Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Sam Fuld, Geovany Soto, Carlos Marmol and Kevin Hart.
‘‘I’ve always believed in young kids,’’ Piniella said Wednesday. ‘‘You know, my reputation has always been, ‘Well, Lou’s tough on young kids.’ No, I’ve never been tough on young kids, but I expect young kids to come up to the big leagues and not be intimidated by the situation and relax and play.’’