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

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.

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This page contains a single entry by Gordon Wittenmyer published on March 4, 2012 12:31 PM.

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