Weekend Update: Biding Time Before the Long Exhibition Season

The extended time in Spring Training due to the World Baseball Classic will have managers and pitching coaches changing the way they’ve handle their staffs in the past. Many could use non-roster invitees early on including the Cubs.

Carlos Zambrano threw live batting practice on Saturday morning. The Cubs have not announced their Spring Training rotation but according to reports on Saturday morning, Lou Piniella could go with younger arms once the games begin. The Cubs play 39 games this spring, nearly a quarter of a full season.

Alfonso Soriano is planning to have a big season. According to a report from Bruce Levine, Soriano started preparing for the year in December and for the first time worked out in the off-season.

Here’s the rest from Mesa including Lou Piniella on Talkin’ Baseball and a roster change….

Updated 2:20pm C.T.According to a report from the Sun-Times, Jeff Samardzija will start the Cactus League opener on Wednesday against the Dodgers

Lou Piniella on Talkin’ Baseball

The Cubs manager joined Bruce Levine and Jonathan Hood on Saturday morning. Piniella sounded upbeat and positive throughout the interview….and quite revealing.

Piniella said camp has had a workman like attitude without any controversies. He admitted he likes giving the media things to talk about during the slow time before the games start. Piniella added the more people that talk about baseball and the Chicago Cubs, the better.

The off-season changes were discussed. Piniella mentioned that Kevin Gregg was brought in from the Marlins to replace Woody (a point that was later discussed in the show about how important Carlos Marmol is as a setup man).

Piniella said his biggest job this spring is to figure out the back-up roles and the bullpen. The only two positions unset according to Lou are second base and centerfield. The rotation is set as long as everyone stays healthy.

The Cubs are planning on stretching out a couple of young guys during camp. They want to take a look at Mitch Atkins to see where he is at and they have to figure out what to do with Jeff Samardzija.

Piniella was candid about the end of last season. He admitted they stumbled down the stretch but he also knows he must do a better job at resting the team. The poor performance from the offense last September was a reason for concern. Piniella added with more lefties and switch-hitters on the team he will have more options to give players the necessary rest.

One of the reasons is all of the day games. Piniella pointed out he was not making any excuses, just pointing out the contributing factors. Piniella said he had to make changes in his approach and took full responsibility for his team.

Lou used as an example that their first Sunday game of the year is a night game against the Brewers in Milwaukee on ESPN. Then they travel 2 1/2 hours back to Chicago for the home opener at 1:20 on Monday against the Rockies.

Jonathan Hood asked Piniella about the pressure associated with managing the Cubs. Piniella said there is pressure to win everywhere and pointed to the Red Sox as an example before they won it all in 2004.

In Chicago it is not easy according to Piniella. Much more difficult than he thought it would be two years ago. He said there are many knowledgeable, fair fans and media in Chicago but knows they want to win and there is more scrutiny because of the drought.

Piniella discussed his off-season reading and admitted he learns a lot from his contemporaries in the game. Piniella said should incorporate some of their styles into his own. Managers have to adjust and adapt to things.

Kosuke Fukudome is not in camp and the Cubs wish he was in Mesa. Piniella thinks Fukudome was tired at the end of last season and just wore himself out. The change in culture, all of the travel, day games after night games and recovering from his injury in 2007 all contributed to his struggles in the second half according to Piniella.

He admitted he was trying to catch lighting in a bottle during the NLDS last season by starting Fukudome. He knew lefties hit the Dodgers’ staff better than right-handers.

Levine asked Piniella about the change in culture around Wrigley Field. Piniella said that was the first thing Jim Hendry and John McDonough brought up two years ago, that they needed to change the culture of the Cubs. The Cubs expect to win now.

Piniella pointed out he feels they have done this going from a 96-loss season to a 97-win season. Piniella finished by saying, “Don’t need to get better just have to figure out a way to stay longer.

Link to Podcast on ESPN 1000

Len Kasper on XM Radio

The Cubs’ TV play-by-play man joined Jeff Joyce and Jim Duquette on Baseball This Morning Friday to talk all things Cubs. Len Kasper discussed all of the off-season moves and stated the most controversial topic so far this spring is where Alfonso Soriano will hit in the lineup.

Kasper said Lou Piniella would likely leave Soriano at the top of the lineup and mentioned Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot and Aaron Miles could be options on the days Soriano is not in the lineup. Kasper thinks Kosuke Fukudome would be the best fit if he can hit they way he did at the beginning of last year…he added people stress too much over where players hit.

The Cubs needed a huge spring out of Fukudome to see where he was after the off-season, but due to the WBC he will not be with the team. The Cubs will see Fukudome in a couple of weeks when the Cubs play Team Japan in an exhibition game.

Sean Marshall has the edge for the fifth spot according to Len Kasper. He also thinks the Cubs will have six starters in order to give Rich Harden the necessary rest.

Jeff Samardzija could end up being the long guy out of the pen. Kasper admitted it might be best for Samardzija to start the year in Iowa in their rotation. Kasper made a very good point that it says how good the rotation is if Samardzija begins the year in Iowa….three or four years ago Samardzija makes the team.

Info from Bruce Levine on the Afternoon Salon and Talkin’ Baseball

Bruce Levine checked in at the 4 o’clock hour on Friday afternoon with a report from Mesa. Here are a few tidbits from Friday and his Saturday morning show:

  • The Ricketts Family will have to come up with 50 percent or more of their own money in order to finalize the deal for the Cubs.
  • Before the sale goes through, WGN TV and Comcast SportsNet will have to renegotiate their deals.
  • Levine has been told mid to end of April or early May before the sale is finalized.
  • Levine does not think Reed Johnson is an everyday centerfielder.
  • Levine is concerned about Carlos Marmol and the workload he has had the past two seasons.
  • The Cubs are still looking for a right-handed bat to back up Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee according to Levine. He did not mention any names.

Roster Move

The Cubs released non-roster invitee Bill White on Friday according to a report from Cubs.com. The southpaw did not pass his physical.

The Cubs added Brian Schlitter to the list of non-roster players in big league camp. Schlitter was acquired from the Phillies last season for Scott Eyre.

Four more days to spring training games, spring training games…four more days to spring training days, Silver Shamrock.

Well, that’s the latest…and I’m sticking to it!

Quote of the Day

"When you play, play hard; when you work, don’t play at all." – Theodore Roosevelt