Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

February 2010 Archives

Cubs ``encouraged'' by Guzman throw session

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Cubs reliever Angel Guzman, who was shut down the past three days because of shoulder soreness, threw 25-30 ``pitches'' from 45 feet today and fared well.

``He said the shoulder felt better, and that's good news. That's encouraging,'' manager Lou Piniella said. ``Tomorrow he'll get on a mound and let it go.''

Guzman, the Cubs' best reliever last season, also has been working back from knee surgery about four weeks ago and has made good progress.

Other items on a short Sunday of work:

-- Randy Wells gets the Cubs' first starting assignment of the spring when the Cubs' open the exhibition season Thursday against Oakland. Other pitchers scheduled to throw that day include Sean Marshall, J.R. Mathes, Mike Parisi and Esmailin Caridad.

--Piniella said Sunday already was scheduled to be a short work day. And with Guzman able to throw, along with John Grabow, whose scheduled day was Sunday, the Cubs didn't lose any important practice time. ``If wwe were going to lose a day of work, today is as good a day as any,'' he said.

Live BP? No thanks, says Cubs' Ramirez

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Aramis Ramirez hasn't lasted 12 years in the big-leagues for nothing. The Cubs third baseman took hitting in the cage and took hitting off coaches throwing batting practice today but kept his distance from the batter's box when it was his group's turn for live BP against Carlos Marmol.

``I'll get my live BP Thursday in the game, not against Marmol,'' said Ramirez, who has sagely avoided the sometimes erratic but traditional spring training practice throughout his career.

Today, for instance, Marmol hit prospect Starlin Castro in the butt - two days after prospect Rafael Dolis knocked down shortstop Ryan Theriot with a pitch that grazed Theriot's hand.

``I'm afraid of that,'' Ramirez said. ``I'll find my way to get ready, but it won't be doing live BP, I guarantee you that.''

``I don't blame him,'' manager Lou Piniella said. ``Would you want to hit against Marmol? Ramirez is a crafty veteran.''

Other camp highlights:

--Ted Lilly, who was sidelined by a viral infection the past week, was back for a second straight day, trying to regain enough strength to get back to a full day's activity, which he anticipates Sunday. He's already behind other pitchers in camp as he rehabs from early-November shoulder surgery and says he's not longer trying to estimate his return date.

``We weren't going to push him anyway,'' said Piniella, who says the timeline doesn't change in his mind. ``I think that he's going to miss the first two weeks, probably the first month of the season. But we'll see. Until we get him pitching, it's going to be hard to tell.''

--Alfonso Soriano, who came to camp unsure how his surgically repaired left knee would handle the rigors of early camp activity, said today he's happy with how it's gone so far after testing the knee in drills that have included hard running.

``I say it's 90 percent. But I've had no problems at all,'' he said this morning. ``But we have to wait and see in a game to know for sure, because practice isn't the same.''

He had arthroscopic surgery to clean up meniscus damage five months ago.

Cubs' Lilly on flu: ``This is definitely a setback''

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Ted Lilly's optimism for an on-time start to his season took a jolt this week when he lost five days of rehab and conditioning because of a flu-like virus.

Lilly, already behind other pitchers in camp because of rehab for minor shoulder surgery in early November, returned to Cubs camp Friday and threw lightly but was still not back up to his strength level of last weekend.

``This is definitely a setback,'' said Lilly, the 2009 All-Star who was trying to beat the team-estimated timeline for a return of two to four weeks into the season.

Cubs manager ``not a Twitter guy''

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Unlike Kenny Williams on the other side of town, Jim Hendry doesn't have anything to worry about when it comes to his manager and Twitter.

``What is Twitter?'' Cubs manager Lou Piniella said today when told of the Ozzie Guillen-Twitter account uproar in White Sox camp.

When the short-message, public-text concept was explained to him, Piniella said, ``Ozzie needs more space than that.''

While Piniella says he's heard of Facebook, and even used the Facebook function on his phone - once. But Twitter?

``No, no, no, no, no,'' he said. ``First of all I don't know how to Twitter, and second of all I'm not going to learn how to Twitter.

``I'm really not a Facebook or Twitter guy. I'm a prime rib and baked potato.''

Final year with Cubs for Lee, Ramirez?

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Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee, one of several veterans on the team in the final year of their contracts, looks prepared to finish out the year without a new contract.

Last year's most productive hitter said he hasn't talked to the team about an extension and that once the season starts he doesn't want to, acknowledging this could be his final season with the Cubs.

``Could be. It's crossed my mind,'' said Lee, speaking this morning on his first day of spring training, ``but I'm not going to approach them. I just want to go play.''

Cubs' Soriano unsure of knee

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Alfonso Soriano made his much anticipated arrival today at the end of another day of soggy workouts, and raised more than a few questions when he said his surgically repaired left knee is ``maybe 80 percent or 85 percent'' strength.

As he continued to speak it became apparent he meant he's had no problems with the knee at that level of activity over the winter but won't be sure he's 100 percent until he tests the knee fully in fielding and base running this spring.

``Mentally I don't feel 100 percent,'' he said. ``But we'll see in how my knee is running in the field and doing some stuff I didn't do in the Dominican.''

Cubs beat Theriot in arbitration

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MESA, Ariz. - The Cubs won their arbitration case with shortstop Ryan Theriot, making the fourth-year starter's salary $2.6 million for 2010, instead of the $3.4 million he sought.

The decision was announced this morning after a four-hour hearing before a three-member panel Friday in St. Petersburg, Fla.

``There wasn't an adversarial attitude to it,'' said general manager Jim Hendry, who attended the meeting but left the arguments to a team representative. ``It was more of a philosophical-type case, for that type of player, first-time eligible. So really it was justa matter of how you wanted to look at the different type of players that were on the north or south of the midpoint.''

Cowboy Up, Cubs! It's Millar Time

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Aside from the interest in Tiger Woods' so-called news conference, the biggest buzz in camp this morning revolved around former Boston ``Idiot'' Kevin Millar meeting the media this morning for the first time, strolling into the clubhouse with blond highlights, a Jack Daniels T-shirt and a black bat bag slung over his shoulder.

He talked about close pal Ryan Dempster, trying to win a job on the Cubs' bench, his experience with breaking ``huge curse[s],'' the value of team chemistry and whether is buddy Johnny Damon will sign with the White Sox (``I was with him all week last week,'' he said, adding, with a smile, ``There's a chance he could be on the other side [of town]. So we'll see what happens'').

Cubs' Lilly to get MRI on knee

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All-Star pitcher Ted Lilly, who's coming off ``clean-out'' surgery on his pitching shoulder,
was scheduled to see a doctor this afternoon because of a sore right knee that has been bothering him for at least the past few days. He's expected to get an MRI.

``I ran on it yesterday,'' said Lilly, who had arthroscopic surgery to repair torn meniscus on the other knee last season. ``It's not something that I'm going to make a big deal out of.''

The knee didn't prevent or cut short a 10-minute throwing session off flat ground, from 90 feet, during today's first workouts for pitchers and catchers.

``Felt great,'' he said. ``My shoulder feels good. I'm real optimistic about that. I have expectations to not be too far behind.''

Lilly, who leads the Cubs' staff with 44 wins the past three seasons, had the shoulder surgery in early November and was already expected to open the season on the disabled list, with team estimates for a return ranging from mid-April to early May -- and outside speculation ranging beyond that.

Before the knee issue arose.

``Teddy seems to surprise me on a daily basis,'' teammate Ryan Dempster said. ``So I wouldn't be surprised if he's ready for his turn in the rotation at the start of the season. I know he's worked really hard and looks good. That's a long ways away ...''

Addition by subtraction for Cubs' Big Z

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Carlos Zambrano says he's lost 12-15 pounds on the diet he's been on since December, but the bigger weight he shed to help him this year is getting rid of his cut fastball.

That's the pitch he said he made most of his mistakes with last year, ``because that's the pitch I sometimes didn't control,'' said Zambrano, who talked to media just before the pitchers and catchers took the field this morning for the first official workout of spring training.

He said he'll stick to a split-finger fastball, high straight heat, and a sinker that got him this far in his career.

``I'm excited. I feel like a new guy,'' said Zambrano, who said his 9-win season last year was no fun and trade rumors in the off-season were even worse because of how they affected his family.

Zambrano has full no-trade rights and said he wouldn't have waived those rights, but he also said when his 9-year-old daughter asked about the reports, he told her it might mean they'd have to move.

``And she started crying,'' he said. ``It's hard to see your kid crying.''

Cubs ``hungry'' as pitchers and catchers report

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A few early observations and highlights from unofficial workouts and the annual Hendry-Piniella news conference today in Mesa:

--Cubs say 40 of the 60 players are already in camp a day ahead of officials workouts for pitchers and catchers -- and that includes newcomers Marlon Byrd and Kevin Millar. Notable players not here today: Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Derrek Lee. Position players aren't scheduled to be here until next week. ``I get the feeling talking to a few of the players the last couple days that they're hungry,'' manager Lou Piniella said. ``And you can tell just looking at the players, these guys are ready to go.'' He specifically mentioned how fit Carlos Zambrano, Geo Soto, Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly looked.

-- Lilly said he still doesn't have a specific timetable for returning to the mound but he continues to make good progress in his rehab. ``He already told me, `I'm going to be ready early,' '' said Piniella, who said the club is looking at a mid-April, first-of-May return.

On shortstops, stalemates and Idiots

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Updates on what's going on with the Cubs' most compelling arbitration case left - with shortstop Ryan Theriot - and what looks like the impending addition of good-guy former Red Sox ``Idiot'' first baseman Kevin Millar to spring training camp on a minor-league courtesy deal.

First, the Theriot case:

Whether the Cubs' arbitration stalemate with the shortstop becomes a test case for two years of sagging salary market in baseball, one thing is clear: Theriot and the team are bracing for a hearing, according to sources on both sides.

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