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with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

March 2012 Archives

Cubs unveil Opening Day lineup

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The Cubs are previewing Thursday's opener on Friday with a lineup manager Dale Sveum said ``is probably about what it'll look like on Opening Day.''

Here's the lineup:

RF David DeJesus (L)
2B Darwin Barney
SS Starlin Castro
1B Bryan LaHair (L)
LF Alfonso Soriano
3B Ian Stewart (L)
CF Marlon Byrd
C Geovany Soto
P Ryan Dempster


DeJesus has had a poor spring but has a career track record that suggests he's the most qualified leadoff guy in the starting lineup. And Sveum said Barney - who's had a huge camp - could see leadoff time against lefties.

``He's swung the bat better than anybody in camp,'' Sveum said of Barney earning a key spot in the order. ``He's driven the ball. He's done everything. From looking on the other side of the fence last year, to me he's a different person than what I saw playing against him - his strength, the way he's pulling the ball, the way he's letting the bat go. You don't see the same guy just filleting stuff to right field. He's driving the ball consistently, he's hitting velocity, he's doing a really good job.''

Barney takes a .450 (18-for-40) spring average into Friday's game, with eight doubles and a triple.

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Sveum liked what he saw in Kerry Wood's five-pitch return to the mound Thursday after an 11-day layoff and plans to pitch him just once more, probably for an inning, before the opener.

``Everything went great [Thursday], so that was nice to see, Sveum said.


MESA, Ariz. - Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad, Steve Clevenger and Joe Mather are all in.

And, for now, Randy Wells is out.

Wells, a three-year veteran of the Cubs' starting rotation, was optioned to Class AAA Iowa Thursday - told he's the club's sixth starter -- as the Cubs finalized their position-player roster and starting rotation.

As expected Samardzija and Volstad make the rotation, which opens the season in this order: Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Samardzija, Volstad and lone lefty Paul Maholm.

Mather, who has played five positions and hit better than almost anyone else in camp, earned the final bench job, along with Blake DeWitt, Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson.

The backup catcher job went to lefty-hitting Clevenger, who could push starter Geovany Soto for playing time, depending on Soto's performance this season, manager Dale Sveum said.

The surprise of the day was Wells, who was optioned to AAA Iowa to start everyday instead of earning the long-man job in the bullpen, as seemed probable after he made his last appearance out of the pen and has pitched well (no earned runs this spring).

``It was obviously a shock,'' Wells said. ``Just one of those things. Things didn't work out. Usually when this stuff happens you had a rough spring or haven't been throwing the ball well. ... I'm not going to sit here and lie and say I wasn't disappointed.''

Asked if he would welcome a trade under the circumstances, he said, ``I don't know. That hasn't been presented to me. I can't really talk about that. Right now I've got to focus on going to Iowa and getting on a roll.''

General manager Jed Hoyer emphasized the importance of pitching depth when asked about his willingness to trade a starter.

``Trading out of [that depth] can be complicated,'' he said. ``We definitely don't take having depth lightly.''

All that remains to be decided before opening day is the final spot or two in the bullpen - which remains in flux largely because the Cubs are still on the prowl for help from the outside, in particular for a lefty if one becomes available.

Officially, nine players were sent to the minors on Thursday, in addition to pitcher Casey Coleman, who was told he'll be optioned to Iowa to join the AAA rotation after vying for the long-man role.

In addition to Wells, catcher Welington Castillo, outfielder Dave Sappelt and pitchers Travis Wood and Scott Maine were optioned to AAA.

Four non-roster players were reassigned to minor-league camp: catcher Blake Lalli, pitcher Blake Parker and infielders Matt Tolbert and Edgar Gonzalez.

Decision looms on Cubs' Samardzija

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It's the biggest day in Cubs camp for six to 10 players on the bubble for roster spots or specific roles.

And perhaps for no player more than Jeff Samardzija, who makes his first start since a clunker against Colorado when he faces the Cleveland Indians Wednesday at HoHoKam Park, possibly with a starting rotation job on the line.

``Performance is everything,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``We've got decisions to make tonight, and part of his performance today will have something to do with those decisions. ...

``There's a good chance he could face a lot of left-handers in this lineup like we had to the other day [against Cleveland in Goodyear], and [Rodrigo] Lopez did a good job of throttling their bats, changing their bat speed around. Samardzija's going to have to do that kind of job today if they throw out seven lefties at us like they did the other day.''

Randy Wells, who looms in the middle of the rotation decisions if Samardzija doesn't rebound Wednesday, won't pitch in relief Wednesday as originally planned. He'll keep his scheduled Sunday start, during which Sveum said he wants to get Wells to ``as many pitches as we possibly can.''

Sveum, his staff and key front office officials plan to meet Wednesday night to finalize all but maybe one or two roster spots, including a starting rotation that has four guys already in: Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Chris Volstad and lone lefty Paul Maholm.

The toughest decision might come down to the backup catcher job, between more experienced, stronger-armed Welington Castillo and lefty-hitting Steve Clevenger.

``They're both catching the ball well, throwing the ball well - the work ethic, enthusiasm, everything has been fantastic,'' Sveum said. ``Welly had one heck of a game [Tuesday against the Reds]. He had to deal with that last inning, blocking a lot of sliders and getting through that last inning wasn't easy. But he handled it well and did a great job.''

Either way the Cubs go with the two prospects, Sveum said he believes he'll have a pair of guys on his roster capable of starting for almost any team in the majors - which necessarily puts the pressure on veteran Geovany Soto to produce consistently to keep his playing time.

``A lot of times performance dictates how much you're going to play,'' Sveum said. ``Obviously, he's our No. 1 catcher, but performance has a lot to do with extra playing time as well.''

Cubs to set most of roster Wednesday

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Cubs executives and field staff plan to meet after Wednesday's game and settle on most of their Opening Day roster.

``We'll pretty much get everything, probably 95 percent, finished,'' said Sveum, who expects to have the rotation and position-player roster set, including the closely contested backup catcher opening.

``I'm not going to sit here and etch it in stone,'' he said when asked about the catcher battle between Welington Castillo (who caught Matt Garza in Tuesday's start) and Steve Clevenger. ``But guys have to know, and the team has to get going, because, remember, if you let people know on Thursday, that leaves basically five days to get to play and do things the way we're going to do them during the season.''

The Cubs still have 40 players in camp, an enormous number for a week left.

The bullpen appears to have only one opening left after veteran right-hander Shawn Camp was signed over the weekend following his release from Seattle. Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, Rafael Dolis and James Russell also are in, along with a long man who falls from the rotation battle (likely Randy Wells).

Sveum said Wells is scheduled to pitch an inning or two Wednesday against Cleveland and then start Sunday against the Angels.

Rule 5 pick Lendy Castillo, recently acquired former Brewer Frankie de la Cruz, veteran Manny Corpas and prospect Blake Parker - all right-handers - are in the mix for the last spot.

Either way, it leaves the Cubs with one lefty in the pen (Russell) and one lefty in the rotation (Paul Maholm).

Sveum said that doesn't mean he would plan to use Russell any differently, or anticipate him having to account for a disproportionately big workload.

``There's a good chance he could be the only left-hander in the bullpen,'' he said. ``You just use him to the advantage of helping you win every single night or keeping you in a ballgame, and whatever those innings [totals] or appearances end up being will be dictated by how we're playing and how many close games we're in.''

Cubs seek, sign pen help

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MESA, Ariz. - Looking to strengthen a bullpen filled with question marks as the season opener fast approaches, the Cubs signed right-hander Shawn Camp, who was waived by the Seattle Mariners last week.

Camp, 36, is an eight-year veteran of the American League with a 4.40 ERA and 10 saves in 432 career appearances, all in relief.

``It was kind of a shock,'' Camp said of being released after allowing two runs in 8 1/3 innings (2.16 ERA) in seven spring appearances.

Camp, who has a $750,000 big-league contract with the Mariners, was signed to a minor-league deal with the Cubs and immediately becomes a favorite to win a bullpen job.

``I'm glad to be here,'' he said. ``I played for Dale [Sveum] in the minor leagues. He's a great manager. ... I just want to come in and do what I do, just go out and worry about what I can control. The most important part is I just want to pitch. I did some things last year at the end of the year, made some strides, and I just want to keep doing that.

``I think the hardest part was to go home and sit for 48 hours and now know where I was going to go. But I was really glad that [general manager] Jed Hoyer contacted me [over the weekend] and said they would like to bring me over. And when I talked to Dale on the phone it made my decision a lot easier.

``I'm just really happy to be here.''

Cubs' send Jackson, Rizzo to minors

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MESA, Ariz. - A few lockers apart in the Cubs' clubhouse Friday morning, two of the best three or four players on the roster - and maybe the two most significant players in camp this spring - packed their stuff and headed to the minor leagues.

Nobody expects it to be a long stay for first baseman Anthony Rizzo and center fielder Brett Jackson, but for now it means the future is on hold for the new-era Cubs - a reminder that the new regime's plans for sustained success won't come quickly, and certainly not immediately.

``That's a couple of guys there that are probably ready to play here - if not really ready to play here,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``Especially Brett Jackson I think is ready to play here for sure. I think Rizzo probably needs to go down and work on some of the adjustments he's done [in camp.

``When they get back here, they're probably not going to leave for a long time. They're that special of players.''

Both had impressive springs, but barring injuries or trades, neither had much of a chance to make the club entering camp.

Nearly $29 million is tied up in three veteran starting outfielders, and first-base was promised to Bryan LaHair with such certainty that early in camp Sveum said: ``Right now it's a concrete plan to let Rizzo have another season in AAA ... instead of moving him up and down.''

To which the ``disappointed'' Rizzo responded Friday: ``If that's concrete, I want to know who laid that down. Nothing's concrete in this business. Last year I was the future first baseman for the Padres, and now I'm the future first baseman for the Cubs.

``I can't control [that]. If I go down and hit 1.000 with 40 home runs, who knows what's going to happen? I'm just going to go down and work hard an prepare myself for the next step.''

It might take an injury or, more likely, a trade of Marlon Byrd for Jackson to get his shot, but he wasn't talking like that Friday.

``Hopefully, Marlon gets an incentive to keep playing like he does,'' Jackson said. ``Marlon's an incredible competitor and great teammate. It's been great to be around him this spring. That goes for every outfielder and [outfield coach] Dave McKay. ...

``Rizzo and myself, we're going to go over to Des Moines and knock the ball around a little bit and hopefully be back sooner than later and able to help the team.''

The Cubs also cut five other players from big-league camp: pitcher Jay Jackson, catcher Michael Brenly, outfielder Jim Adduci and infielders Bobby Scales and Adrian Cardenas.

That leaves 40 in camp, with another round of cuts expected in the next day or two.

Cubs' Marmol after MRI: `I feel great.'

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MESA, Ariz. - Cubs closer Carlos Marmol returned to a normal work schedule Thursday after surviving a $20 million scare when MRI results showed no serious problems following a hand cramp and tightness in his neck.

I feel great,'' said Marmol, who left Tuesday's game after his hand cramped for about a half-minute following a pitch to the fourth batter he faced.No worries. I'm going to play catch like normal today. Everything's normal.''

Marmol, who's in the second year of a three-year, $20 million deal, said the doctor suggested a little tightness'' in his neck when the doctor pushed his head from side to side before the MRI Wednesday. But the subsequent MRI in his shoulder and neck - where the hand's nerve root is - showedno significant nerve injury,'' the team said.

It's not a big deal,'' he said.I didn't feel it. ... I was normal. But they want to make sure everything's all right.

``I'm getting old, man,'' he joked.

Marmol, who struggled early in camp before pitching well in his last three appearances, expects to get back in a game Monday, and plans to work with pitching coach Chris Bosio on his fastball in the bullpen until then.

Right now I feel great on the mound,'' he said.Time to get ready, man. It's getting close. The season is almost here.''

Cubs' Mather impressive in bench-job battle

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Joe Mather has two weeks left to fend off guys like Tony Campana and Adrian Cardenas for the final bench job.

But he has made a strong impression on manager Dale Sveum and a coaching staff that includes Dave McKay, Mather's old first base/outfield coach for years in St. Louis.

``I think I've been able to put myself in a good position, at least to make the decision difficult for some people,'' said the versatile Mather, whose latest impression was made with a game-winning homer Sunday in Las Vegas against the Texas Rangers.

``There's a lot of good players in here, so I don't think anyone can take anything for granted,'' he said. ``All we an do is play well and put ourselves in position to make the team.''

Mather, 29, a .228 career hitter in the big leagues with nine homers, is trying to stick in the big leagues for a full season for the first time in a career.

He has hit well all spring, earned raves for his base-running ability and played five positions: first base, third base and all three outfield spots.

He's in the lineup Monday playing first base against the Seattle Mariners in Peoria, Ariz.

``I could probably play the middle if they needed me,'' said the kid who grew up a shortstop but whose coach/dad thought it wise from early on to teach the kid to play every position.

``I don't think I played the same position two years in a row since maybe middle school,'' said Mather, who has played six positions in the big leagues (including a two-inning appearance as a pitcher two years ago). ``My dad moved me around a lot. He said it would be a good idea. And I'm glad he did.''

TODAY'S LINEUPS

Cactus League game vs. Seattle (in Peoria)
RF DeJesus
2B Barney
SS Castro
LF Soriano
3B Baker
CF Byrd
DH Johnson
1B Mather
C Castillo
PITCHING: Travis Wood

`B' game vs. Cleveland (in Goodyear)
CF Campana
2B Cardenas
RF Sappelt
1B Rizzo
LF Szczur
Ss Lake
3B Vitters
C Lalli
DH Brenly
PITCHING: Randy Wells

Cubs' pitching plans under the weather

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MESA, Ariz. -- Foreboding clouds and sprinkles after a morning of heavy rain have Cubs officials bracing for the possibility of a rainout of Sunday's game against the White Sox at HoHoKam Park.

One of the largest crowds of the spring was expected.

The forecast for Las Vegas, where the Cubs are scheduled for a split-squad game against Texas also is iffy - putting the Cubs' pitching plans in jeopardy for the next few days if these games can't get played.

Casey Coleman and Andy Sonnanstine are scheduled to pitch in Mesa, while Chris Volstad is scheduled to start in Vegas.

If they play, here's the Cubs' lineup for the Sox game:

DH DeJesus
CF Byrd
SS Castro
1B Rizzo
C Soto
LF Baker
3B Vitters
2B Amezaga
RF Campana


PHOENIX -- Most of the Cubs got out of town for Las Vegas just in time to avoid the rain that's supposed to drive through the Phoenix area Sunday and continue into Monday.

Whether the weather it will impact home split-squad action Sunday, the Cubs are at full speed, in two places at once, on Saturday, with flavors of the past, future and what-might-have-beens on the schedule.

In Phoenix, where the Cubs play the Oakland A's, the last four spots in their lineup features a look at their vision of the future, with top prospects Brett Jackson in center and Anthony Rizzo at first, followed by former first-round pick Josh Vitters at third and No. 2 outfield prospect Matt Szczur in left field. Kid All-Star Starlin Castro is also in the lineup, at short, batting third.

The past and the what-might-have-beens?

Some of that's in the A's lineup, which features could-have-been Cub Yoenis Cespedes playing center and batting third, with former superstar Manny Ramirez batting fourth -- against lefty Paul Maholm.

In Las Vegas, it's the top two candidates for the Cubs' managing job from last November facing off -- new manager Dale Sveum vs. Texas pitching coach Mike Maddux and the AL-champion Rangers. Jeff Samardzija starts that game for the Cubs.

Full lineup vs. the A's:

RF DeJesus
DH Byrd
SS Castro
C Soto
2B Baker
CF Jackson
1B Rizzo
3B Vitters
LF Szczur


Cubs' Sveum preaching -- and getting -- ``accountability''

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MESA, Ariz. - Dale Sveum is still waiting for the big one he knows is coming. In the meantime, he and his coaching staff have been kept fairly busy during games this spring backing up the ``be accountable'' theme he's stressed in his first spring as the Cubs' manager.

If much of it sticks into the season it might even get the Cubs out of the majors' defensive cellar.

``As much as anything we've addressed being held accountable on the defensive end of everything,'' Sveum said. ``When something happens on the field, it's taken care of right when they get off the field. You don't have time for mistakes, or mental mistakes, to happen again. Some people say, `Well, I'll take care of it after the game.' Well, what if there's six innings left and it happens again?

``Those are the kind of things that are preached: when stuff goes awry on the field, you have to address it right then and hold people accountable for what goes on, on the field.''

Sveum said that so far the staff has had to deal with only minor things.

``It might be positioning, it might be maybe fielding a throw around the bag, or a cutoff,'' he said.

Even things as simple as keeping the glove low when taking a throw to a base instead of jerking the glove up to try to pick it and potentially knock it out of the line of guys backing up.

``There's always somebody backing up,'' said Sveum, who apparently has not watched the Cubs much over the past few years. ``The ball's going to be picked up by somebody. But you're not going to get an out if you do that with your glove, because then you've got to bring it back down... Those little things like that. ...

``But everybody's been doing well for the most part. And we've been great at running balls out. I haven't had to deal with that, so all that's been good.''

But he's waiting for what he knows is inevitable.

``There are some things where you have to give the 24-hour rule, where you have to cool down before you might say something or do something stupid,'' he said. ``There haven't been any of those. I know there will be. But so far not yet.''


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Former Cub middle infielders and LSU teammates Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot are playing short and second, respectively, and batting seventh and eighth Friday when their Giants play the Cubs at HoHoKam Park.


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The Cubs are in the midst of the heaviest part of their spring schedule with a two-day trip to Las Vegas over the weekend to face the Texas Rangers in split-squad games, followed by another split-squad set of games Tuesday just ahead of Wednesday's lone day off in camp.

But don't think anybody's looking at the trip to Vegas, with a pair of day games, as some sort of ``reward'' for the hard-working crew.

``I don't know if it's a reward or not. You're still playing and all that,'' Sveum said. ``You don't really get to enjoy Vegas. I'm sure somebody will - probably too much. That's the nature of the city. It just breaks up spring training a little.''


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Sveum continued to sing the praises of Rule 5 pitcher Lendy Castillo, a 22-year-old right-hander selected from the Phillies system, who has played no higher than the Class A level.

Despite the relative lack of experience (38 career professional appearances since converting from playing the infield), Castillo has performed his way into legitimate contention for a bullpen job.

``We felt pretty strongly that his makeup was OK,'' Sveum said. ``His stuff was obviously good enough to give it a shot and give it a look. And he's doing well.

``But I think his preparation and his makeup and the way he's handling himself on the mound is a little bit more important for a Rule 5 kid than just his stuff alone.''

If the Cubs don't keep him on the major league roster all season, they're required to offer him back to Philadelphia for half the original draft fee.

``He's been able to throw strikes, and the stuff's there,'' Sveum said, ``but his poise on the mound and the way he handles [fielding practice] and his athleticism and his competitiveness has been far and above a lot of other Rule 5 guys I've been around over the years.''


--


Friday's lineup vs. San Francisco:

RF David DeJesus
CF Marlon Byrd
SS Starlin Castro
1B Anthony Rizzo
3B Joe Mather
C Steve Clevenger
LF Dave Sappelt
2B Adrian Cardenas
P Matt Garza

Cubs' bullpen scramble and Soriano's bat

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Thursday morning's Deep Thoughts from Cubs camp:


Nearly a month into camp and the Cubs' bullpen picture looks no clearer than the day camp opened, with only Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood and James Russell looking assured of jobs.

But right-handers Marcos Mateo, Blake Parker and Rafael Dolis have made strong impressions on manager Dale Sveum - along with long-relief candidate Lendy Castillo, the righty the Cubs got in the Rule 5 draft from Philadelphia.

``So there's five, six, seven guys that are capable of winning those [four] spots,'' Sveum said. ``Dolis is very impressive, being able to throw a 94-95-mph ball that sinks that much and with that kind of depth. Mateo's slider's a swing-and-miss slider. Parker as well, throws a very heavy fastball with a good slider as well.''

Those three are looking at potential short-relief roles, with Castillo joining as many as three other candidates who fall from the rotation battle in a long-relief competition.

``Castillo's been throwing great. He acts like he's been out there before, with his poise and how far he's come in the last month,'' Sveum said of the long-shot kid who's professional resume consists of just 38 minor-league appearances - none higher than Class A. ``He's got a fastball that doesn't seem to get squared up too much. ...

``It's going to be interesting.''


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For those who haven't yet tired of hearing about where Alfonso Soriano might hit in a Cubs lineup that promises little certainty even into the summer, here's the latest musing from Sveum on the subject:

``I don't see him hitting anywhere else but three, four or five right now. He's proven it before. We don't have any other proven three, four or five hitters in this lineup, so it's one of those things where he'll be in one of those spots depending on how everything else falls into place.''

The subject came up because of Soriano's torrid start to the spring (9-for-17 with seven extra-base hits, including four homers).

Soriano's hitting cleanup Thursday against Arizona in a split-squad game at home.


--


The Cubs cut seven more players from camp, getting the spring roster down to 48.

Four were optioned to AAA Iowa: left-handers Jeff Beliveau and John Gaub, right-hander Alberto Cabrera and infielder Josh Vitters.

Two of the most highly regarded prospects in camp - outfielder Matt Szczur and shortstop Junior Lake - were optioned to AA Tennessee.

And catcher Jason Jaramillo, who hasn't been able to get in a game this spring because of a nagging quad injury, was reassigned to minor-league camp.

--

Thursday's split-squad lineups:

Vs. ARIZONA at HoHoKam

RF Reed Johnson
CF Marlon Byrd
SS Starlin Castro
LF Alfonso Soriano
1B Jeff Baker
C Geo Soto
2B Darwin Barney
3B Josh Vitters
P Ryan Dempster
(also scheduled to pitch: Kerry Wood, Marmol and Russell)


At COLORADO (Scottsdale)

RF David DeJesus
2B Blake DeWitt
3B Ian Stewart
1B Bryan LaHair
CF Joe Mather
LF Brett Jackson
C Welington Castillo
SS Junior Lake
P Rodrigo Lopez
(also scheduled to pitch: Cabrera, Scott Maine, Mateo, Parker)

Cubs ' job market squeezes top-prospect Jackson

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MESA, Ariz. -- You know the job market's tough when a guy like Brett Jackson can't get a job with a team like the Cubs.

``Unfortunately for him, there's just no job openings,'' Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Wednesday morning before the Cubs played the Milwaukee Brewers at HoHoKam Park. ``Just one of those things, a timing and a numbers thing.''

Already having failed to find a taker for Alfonso Soriano and cash, the Cubs' only avenue for getting Jackson on the Opening Day roster might be to successfully shop Marlon Byrd in the next three weeks.

One thing they won't do is put Jackson on the bench at any level.

Jackson, one of the Cubs' top two prospects, has outplayed the entire Cubs' spring roster of outfielders so far in camp except red-hot Alfonso Soriano - and, of course, he's light years ahead of Soriano defensively.

If you count his pair of homers in as many intrasquad games, he has three in 10 games and in eight Cactus League games has three walks to go with five strikeouts and 1.115 OPS in the puny sample size of 16 plate appearances.

More impressive is simply what he's looked like since camp opened, elevating the opinion Sveum had of him based on video and scouting reports.

``When you see him in person, it's been pretty impressive, every part of his game,'' Sveum said. ``He comes to play every game. He comes to kick the other team's butt, there's no doubt about it. A very aggressive, confident kid who's probably going to end up playing here a long time.''

What's more, Sveum said he's ready to play in the big leagues.

``I don't see why he wouldn't be ready,'' he said. ``Maybe just [develop] the last part of his game as a little bit better two-strike hitter and not putting himself in some of those counts with swinging and missing. As far as the ability or anything, I don't see what else has to happen.''

--

Look for some separation to start showing over the next week as the Cubs play nine games in five days, starting Thursday, with a major roster cutdown expected after that.

The Cubs have four pairs of split-squad games over the five days.

``To have them all bunched up together, it's not all that good,'' Sveum said. ``But it comes at the right time where the position players can be built up to play nine innings - not that everybody will. But they'll start playing more, nine innings, eight innings, getting four at-bats, that kind of thing.

In particular, it provides lots of starts in a short span for the Cubs' bevy of candidates for the fourth and fifth starters jobs.

--

Wednesday's lineup vs. the Milwaukee Brewers (sans Ryan Braun):

RF David DeJesus
CF Marlon Byrd
SS Starlin Castro
3B Ian Stewart
2B Jeff Baker
C Geovany Soto
LF Reed Johnson
1B Anthony Rizzo
P Randy Wells


Cubs rotation job Samardzija's to lose?

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MESA, Ariz. -- Jeff Samardzija's dominating spring starting debut already has people asking whether one of the available starting jobs is already his to lose.

More telling, manager Dale Sveum paused slightly before answering.

``Um, I don't know about that,'' Sveum said Thursday morning, about 20 hours after Samardzija shut out Kansas City for three innings on one hit. ``That's obviously a tough situation. ... I don't think it's his job to lose, but it's getting to the point where three weeks from now, it's going to be an interesting decision.''

Samardzija, who admits he's pitching with ``a chip on my shoulder'' this spring, was so strong on Wednesday that he was sent out for an extra inning because his two scheduled innings were so relatively effortless.

``It was almost a waste of his time to drive an hour [to Surprise] to not even break a sweat - he was that good,'' Sveum said. ``I can't remember the last time I've seen a power arm like that come into spring training and everything's been that crisp. He doesn't throw any scuds. Everything is at least somewhat where he wants it to be, all his pitches. His cutter was tremendous ... 91 mph cutters that he located tremendously.

``It's an interesting dilemma we're going to be in here in a few weeks.''

Supposedly, Samardzija is battling for one of two openings, against more experienced starters Chris Volstad, Randy Wells, Travis Wood and Rodrigo Lopez.

Samardzija went to Mesa well ahead of the start of camp and has been working out ``like a mad man,'' Sveum said.

``It means something to me,'' Samardzija said of earning a starting job after his breakthrough season in the bullpen last year. ``I want to come out here and pitch good. I'm close to home. I've been here for five, six years. It does mean something to me. And most importantly I want to win, and if I feel I can do something to help us get that done and get a few more wins, I'm going to do what it takes.''


The Cubs sent Volstad to the mound Thursday for his first start of the spring. The lineup (against Seattle):

RF David DeJesus
CF Marlon Byrd
SS Starlin Castro
3B Ian Stewart
LF Alfonso Soriano
1B Anthony Rizzo
2B Jeff Baker
DH Reed Johnson
C Welington Castillo

Cubs' Sveum likes early showing, wants win

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MESA, Ariz. - Three days into Spring Training games, and Dale Sveum's still looking for his first win as Cubs manager and admits to starting to get anxious to get one.

``Yeah, it'd be nice,'' he said Tuesday before the Cubs were to play the Colorado Rockies at HoHoKam -a day after losing their second straight one-run game to Oakland.

Not that he's sweating a pair of exhibition losses decided in the late innings by guys wearing uniform numbers in the 70s and 90s.

``I've seen a lot of good things, a lot of good at-bats,'' he said. ``Unfortunately, [Monday] our lefties had to face so many left-handed pitchers [four]. We still had some great quality at-bats.

``Blake DeWitt's swinging the heck out of the bat. [Tony] Campana had a huge walk against a left-hander, a great at-bat. Blake had another great at-bat and walked. So there's a lot of good things going on. They guys are still competing and playing really hard.

``We've just got to throw more strikes and get more quick outs. The first five innings [Monday] we threw only 50 pitches and almost 100 after that. It comes down to pitching and throwing strikes and getting quick outs as much as you can, making guys put the ball in play.''

Matt Garza tries to do that Tuesday against the Rockies in his first start of the spring.

Tuesday's lineup:

RF David DeJesus
CF Marlon Byrd
2B Blake DeWitt
DH Alfonso Soriano
3B Ian Stewart
SS Junior Lake
1B Anthony Rizzo
C Welington Castillo
LF Brett Jackson

For openers: Dempster or Garza?

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MESA, Ariz. - Ryan Dempster, the Cubs' veteran right-hander and tenured clubhouse leader? Or Matt Garza, the second-year Cub with the electric stuff and even more electric personality?

Manager Dale Sveum said he's close to making a decision on which one will be his Opening Day starter April 5 against Washington.

``Just kind of waiting to see how things pan out,'' he said, ``but we'll have that done within the next week.''

Dempster, who started last year's opener, goes Monday for the Cubs in their second Cactus League game, against Oakland. Garza, the Cubs' best pitcher last years, starts Tuesday against Colorado.

Sveum said part of the decision will be based on matchups as the Cubs schedule their pitching over the first three or four series.

Other factors: ``Who had the better year, who [matches up best], the leadership, who's been here the longest, longevity of career. You can go on and on about the reasons why.''


Cubs' morning chemistry classes

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MESA, Ariz. -- Among the changes in camp with the new manager and field staff is a morning routine of daily team meetings that Dale Sveum picked up as a member of Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke's coaching staff.

Roenicke got it from Mike Scioscia as a member of Scioscia's staff in Anaheim.

Sveum's recent predecessors, by contrast, weren't big meetings guys.

``Actually, it evolved, and then it evolved into a little elongated thing that kind of came out of nowhere,'' Sveum said. ``The [Milwaukee] players really liked it and had a lot of fun with it. It actually continued into the season - but kind of didn't last too long.''

More than anything, it's another chemistry-building tool, something that involves all the players in one thing at one time, a little like the team bunting tournament.

``Everybody gets to talk. We just have some fun with certain topics and whatever it might be,'' Sveum said. ``Go over what went on in the game before - the good things. All the negative things you talk about individually or in another atmosphere. ...''

The Cubs started the routine Saturday, the day after their first of two intrasquad games.

``It was fun [in Milwaukee]. You bring up the minor the minor fines and stuff - who hasn't paid, this and that,'' Sveum said. ``Just that time when you get everybody together, in a good atmosphere and get the day started right.''

Practice games start to count for Cubs

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After spending two days watching his Cubs beat themselves in a pair of intrasquad games the last two days, new manager Dale Sveum seems pumped for the start of Cactus League play Sunday - not to mention the bona fide start of position battles.

``We know there's one more step left, and that's Opening Day,'' Sveum said Sunday morning before the Cubs were to face the Oakland Athletics. ``It's that time, and the guys are ready and they've made great effort the last couple weeks to prepare for this.

``Now it's time to just sit back and let them play and watch them do what they can do.''

Sunday's starting pitcher, Rodrigo Lopez, who went 6-6 with a 4.42 ERA for the Cubs after being acquired from Atlanta's AAA club last season, is at the fringe of a scrum for the last two rotation spots - with Randy Wells, Chris Volstad, Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija also involved.

Samardzija, who starts Wednesday for the Cubs against Kansas City, is turning into one of the most intriguing storylines in camp, with the new staff raving about the quality of his early-camp work.

``We all know that's going to be a huge, huge thing come about March 25 [when decisions start to get made],'' Sveum said, ``because the way he's throwing, it's hard to think that anybody's going to hit him all that good. He's throwing the heck out of the ball and he's on a mission to win one of those spots.''

Samardzija went 8-4 with a 2.97 ERA last season, pitching 88 innings of relief, his best season by far.

Sveum said he's got several bullpen spots he's also looking to fill as well as the end of his bench.

It's fun to be able to sit back and watch,'' Sveum said, ``and really focus on a few guys in these roles.''

While he plans to take until the final week or so of camp to fill out his rotation, Sveum says he hopes to have a batting order figured out by the middle of the month's schedule.

For now, Alfonso Soriano is batting leadoff again Sunday - which only means that Sveum wants to get him the desired three at-bats today as quickly as possible to give his legs a break from the extra inning or so in the field he'd play if lower in the order.

Cubs like added wild card

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Whether it does them any good the first time around, the Cubs say they like the addition of another wild-card team to the playoff field in each league.

``I think if we're in the league with the fewest teams in the playoffs, we need to catch up. We need to get more,'' third base coach and former big-league infielder Pat Listach said.

Of course, in the NFL, where 12 teams make the playoffs, they play only 16 games. In the NBA (16 qualifiers), they play 82.

Critics of baseball's system have said throughout the wild-card era that the 162-game schedule should mean more.

``It does,'' Listach insists, adding, ``Win more games. I like [the new system].''

In 1992, when Listach was the American League Rookie of the Year, his Milwaukee Brewers would have been the top wild-qualifier in a two-division A.L. if a wild-card system had been in place - instead missing the playoffs despite 92 wins.

Under the new system, which goes into effect this year, the two wild cards in each league have a one-game, loser-out playoff that sends the winner against the league's top team for a five-game division series.

``I think it's kind of cool,'' said third baseman Ian Stewart. ``Some people may think it's making it kind of crowded, or `What's the point?' But I think it's good. There's a lot of teams that miss out by just a game. This gives them a chance to get in. If I'm one of the teams where I've got to play that team and we lose, we're going to think that sucks.

``But it's interesting. ... I'm sure we'll see a team someday get in and then win that one game and then go on to win a World Series. It should be exciting.''

If anybody should know, it's Stewart, whose 2007 Rockies beat San Diego in a one-game playoff that year in what would currently have been the wild-card playoff game.

``Exactly,'' he said.

Cubs' Soriano batting leadoff?

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Dale Sveum said his Cub lineup was ``anything but cut and dried'' as he prepares for the season, but Alfonso Soriano in the leadoff spot?

That's how the ``White'' squad lineup starts for Friday's intrasquad game as the Cubs' new manager has fun with the first batting orders he puts together with his new ballclub -- whether it's a sign of things to come could take all season to find out.

Sveum said Friday morning that given the fluid nature the the lineups he anticipates this season, Soriano might find his way into the leadoff spot for a regular season game for the first time since July 3, 2009.

``During the season a lot of things can come up to where, yeah, it can happen,'' Sveum said, adding that he envisions him as more of a run producer.

Sveum, who has already said he'll consider Soriano for cleanup this year, nonetheless isn't ruling out an occasional leadoff start.

``The one thing about Soriano is his numbers as a leadoff hitter are pretty good in his career,'' Sveum said. ``Whether he's leading off an inning or leading off a game, his numbers are pretty incredible over his career.

``If you want to get into details of why you might come up with something like that, it could be as simple as that. We don't have the bona fide guys at any position in the order.''

Sveum and AAA Iowa manager Dave Bialis handle the managing duties in Friday's 1 p.m. intrasquad game scheduled for five or six innings, or until the selected pitching runs out.

The ``White'' lineup:

LF Soriano
3B Ian Stewart
SS Starlin Castro
1B Bryan LaHair
CF Marlon Byrd
RF David DeJesus
C Blake Lalli
2B Darwin Barney
DH Blake DeWitt

Pitchers: LH Travis Wood, RH Andy Sonnanstine


The ``Blue'' lineup:

CF Brett Jackson
RF Matt Szczur
2B Jeff Baker
1B Anthony Rizzo
LF Reed Johnson
3B Josh Vitters
SS Junior Lake
C Michael Brenly
DH Tony Campana

Pitchers: RH Randy Wells, RH Casey Coleman

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