MESA, Ariz. — Lou Piniella has a good idea about who his leadoff man will be, and his closer is set in Carlos Marmol. The main issue this spring for the Cubs will be sorting out the rest of the pitching staff, and that begins in earnest on Thursday, when pitchers and catchers have their first workout at 11:05 a.m. CT/10:05 a.m. MT.
“We’ve done some really nice things over the winter,” Piniella said Wednesday. “We didn’t need a major overhaul — all we needed was some fine tuning. That’s exactly what Jim [Hendry, general manager] did here. We’ve got some work to do with our pitching. That’s an area we’re going to have to work hard here in Spring Training.”
Injuries slowed the Cubs last season, and they will start practice on Thursday with two players already sidelined. Angel Guzman has a torn meniscus in his right knee, injured when he was working out in Venezuela, and he underwent arthroscopic surgery two weeks ago in Arizona. Guzman, who could fill the job of right-handed setup man if Hendry can’t find anyone else, is expected to be ready by Opening Day.
Jeff Gray, acquired from the Oakland Athletics, has a moderate groin strain and will be held out of drills at the start. He’ll be a couple of weeks behind the others.
The only other pitcher who won’t be able to throw on Thursday is starter Ted Lilly, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in early November. Lilly could be ready by mid-April, but in the meantime, the Cubs will be auditioning starter candidates to sub for the lefty as well as fill the fifth spot. The contenders include Carlos Silva, Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall and Tom Gorzelanny.
“We’ve got enough people to look at,” Piniella said.
Plenty of players have gotten a head start on camp by reporting early to Fitch Park. Both Piniella and Hendry felt the players were motivated by last year’s disappointing second-place finish in the National League Central.
“We had a real good feeling about the group,” Hendry said. “They had a little edge to them. They came to the [Cubs] Convention [in January] looking like they wanted to get started already.”
“That’s possible,” Lilly said. “Failure is a major motivator. In my opinion, us not getting to the playoffs is considered failing. We have a lot of talent, and we expect that from ourselves. Success tastes really good, and you want to continue to be a part of that. Our club, and with the guys we have and the guys who have been around, is just going to get hungrier.”
The first full-squad workout is not until Monday, but several position players are already in camp, and new hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo will be in the cages early with them.
Piniella has his message ready for the club.
“The message is, let’s get back on top,” Piniella said. “The message is we finished second in this division last year with a lot of things that went wrong for us. The message is let’s work hard, get ready for a championship season, and let’s add another 10-12 wins to our total last year and give ourselves a chance in the postseason.”
This could be Piniella’s last chance at getting to the playoffs. He’s in the last year of his contract.
“I’ve got enough confidence in my ability to do the job,” Piniella said. “I’m going to go out and try to win as many games as we possibly can. We have a new ownership group here, they’re excited about owning the Cubs, they want to win, they’re competitive and that’s what we want to do for them. My situation, we can worry about that at the end of the year.”
This is his 23rd season managing, and Piniella said he does not want his status to be a distraction.
“Nothing’s changed,” Piniella said. “I’ve never really wanted to talk about my situation. My disposition as a manager is to stay in the background and let the players stay in the forefront. They’re the ones the people come out to the ballpark to see play, and they’re the ones who win and lose baseball games for you.”
Jaramillo is the only change on the Cubs’ coaching staff, although Piniella has tweaked the assignments for two others. Ivan DeJesus will now be the first-base coach while Matt Sinatro will handle the catchers and work with pitching coach Larry Rothschild on scouting reports.
“I think it’s a change that will prove to be beneficial for this team,” Piniella said.
The other new, but very familiar, face in camp will be Greg Maddux, who has been added as a special assistant to Hendry.
“We’ll have Greg do a lot of everything,” Hendry said of the four-time Cy Young winner, who won his first with the Cubs in 1992.
Maddux will work with Rothschild and Minor League pitching coordinator Mark Riggins as well as go to games with Hendry and assistant general manager Randy Bush to learn how to evaluate players.
“We’ll try to give him a little bit of everything in the first year,” Hendry said. “We’d be foolish to think he couldn’t help the players on the field.”
“All the young pitching talent we have, he’ll be invaluable,” Piniella said.
Once the Super Bowl ended, Piniella said his focus shifted full-time to baseball. He was ready to get going, too.
“I look forward to this,” he said. “There’s a challenge to get back on top. I look forward to working with the players and getting the job done. As you get older, Spring Training is basically a fun time. You need to work hard and get ready for a championship season, but you can have fun here and relax a little, too.
“As you get older, you enjoy it more, because you know your time is getting shorter.”
Right after the end of last season, I coined the term “2010 Cubs Season Of Redemption”. What do I find on the Official Cubs Website today? The fabulous Carrie Muskat has PIRATED my phrase! This is plagiarism, I say, and I’ve been wronged by Major League Baseball.
I DEMAND COMPENSATION. Where’s my invitation to throw out a first pitch? Where’s the request to sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”? Where’s the JUSTICE?
Dear MLB: You CUT me and I keep on bleeding…