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

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.

--Shortstop Ryan Theriot also is not in camp. He's scheduled for an arbitration showdown with the club Friday in Florida. Hendry, who has resolved 36 of 36 arbitration cases before a hearing as the Cubs' GM, heads out tomorrow for the would-be hearing. ``I think that speaks for itself,'' he said of the perfect record in avoiding hearings. ``We always try to do the right thing.'' He doesn't expect the often bitter process to affect the relationship with Theriot. ``I've known Ryan since his LSU days,'' Hendry said. ``He's going to be an important part of the club this year.'' The Cubs haven't gone to an arbitration hearing since 1993, when they beat Mark Grace. Theriot filed a $3.4 million arbitration demand; the Cubs filed at $2.6 million.

--Speaking of Theriot, his prospective replacement -- Starlin Castro -- is going to get a lot of playing time this spring, Piniella said, but the manager didn't sound like he expected Castro to have a very good shot at making the club. ``Everything I've heard, he's a can't-miss kid. But this year, Ryan Will be our shortstop,'' Piniella said. ``Remember, Castro is young, and there's nothing wrong with putting a good foundation under him at AAA.''

--Piniella said he'll look at Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome for the leadoff spot, but that he likes Fukudome as the 2 hitter behind Theriot as camp opens, with Lee and Ramirez 3-4. ``And then we have to look at the fifth spot,'' said Piniella, who likes to use that spot for a lefty to break up all the right-handers in the lineup.

--The towel drill has returned to the Cubs for the first time since the Wood-Prior days. Newcomer Carlos Silva took a towel with him to a back field and used it warming up before starting to play catch. Silva is coming off a shoulder injury that sidelined him four months with Seattle last year.

--Hendry still is trying to add a reliever with setup experience for the bullpen, but he doesn't appear particularly close.

--Piniella said the biggest thing to sort out in camp is the pitching staff, specifically how they'll fill out the rotation's fifth spot long term and also the fourth spot in Lilly's absence.

--Hendry said he sees nine or 10 candidates for the five bench spots -- which really means six or seven for the two after catcher Koyie Hill, backup infielder Jeff Baker/Mike Fontenot (whoever isn't starting) and outfielder Xavier Nady.

--Piniella's message to the team this spring: ``The message is just get back on top. the message is we finished second in the division last year with a lot of things that went wrong. Let's add another 10-12 wins this year and get back to the playoffs.''

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This page contains a single entry by Gordon Wittenmyer published on February 17, 2010 2:04 PM.

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