MESA, Ariz. - Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart said he was "nervous" when he headed to the minor-league side of camp Thursday to play in his first game since a Feb. 21 intrasquad game.
But by Friday morning he had an opposite-field home run to his credit, a renewed confidence in his surgically repaired left wrist and - most importantly - faith that the quad strain that cost him three weeks won't prevent him from being ready for the season opener.
"I felt really good. I was very surprised," said Stewart, who homered and singled in five at-bats and then took Friday off for treatment and recuperation. "I was a little nervous actually going down there. I'm like, `I don't want to do that.' But my timing felt great. I was taking good pitches that were close, laying off the breaking balls and changeups that were in the dirt. I just felt really good."
Stewart said he expects to return to Fitch Park to load up on a half-dozen or more at-bats in another minor-league game Saturday and hopes to play in his first big-league spring game next week.
He said he's not sure how much playing time his quad can take right away.
"I was pretty sore after the game, and was a little worried about that, but I came in today and felt really good," he said.
But he seems to feel certain he has enough time to get ready for April 1 opener.
"I do. I feel like there is [enough time],'' he said. "I was just counting the days the other day - 16, 17 days till Opening Day. Typically, that's not what you'd want, but I think you can make the most of it by being able to go down into minor league games and get eight at-bats."
If he's not ready, Luis Valbuena is poised and eager to take the job. He's had most of the playing time at third so far this spring and is 8-for-24 with three extra-base hits and three walks.