Cubs hurlers readying for spring action
Lilly to pitch Friday; Zambrano, Dempster will throw next week
MESA, Ariz. -- Ted Lilly, who will be pitching for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, will start on Friday for the Cubs against the Texas Rangers.
That may be the left-hander's only Cactus League game before he leaves to train with the U.S. team in Florida. The 17-game winner was scheduled to pitch an exhibition game on March 4 for Team USA and then start the third game of the World Baseball Classic.
Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Lilly and Carlos Marmol, who may pitch for the Dominican Republic, are not that far off their routines and are not being rushed to pitch in the event.
The Cubs will open Cactus League play on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers at HoHoKam Park with Jeff Samardzija and Mitch Atkins each going two innings. Sean Marshall, who is battling for the fifth spot in the rotation, was slated to start Thursday against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster aren't listed in the first turn through the rotation.
"I know we have a lot of time, but I'd rather be ahead than slow them down and try to catch up," Rothschild said. "There's no need to rush right now, but I'm not a fan of taking a lot of time either. We just want to make sure they're healthy coming out of spring."
The plan is to try to get the starters at least 60 innings each this spring. With 39 Cactus League games, there should be plenty of time.
Rothschild said he's not holding Zambrano back because of any problems. It's been a relatively quiet spring for Zambrano, who has not made any boasts that he'll be winning the Cy Young or the World Series.
"The last couple years, I've watched him, knowing the innings he's had under his belt," Rothschild said. "Over the last seven, eight years, he's pitched a lot of innings and thrown a lot of pitches. I don't know that it's a whole lot different [this spring]. What's different right now is that there haven't been any quotes that put the spotlight on him. That may be the difference."
Rich Harden is about a week to 10 days behind the other starters, Rothschild said. He has been throwing off the mound and there have been no setbacks.
"As long as he keeps progressing, he'll be fine," Rothschild said.
On Sunday, pitchers faced hitters for the third straight day. It was first-round pick Andrew Cashner's turn to deal with the big hitters like Derrek Lee, and he had manager Lou Piniella watching behind the cage. The 22-year-old wasn't fazed and asked Lee and Geovany Soto about his changeup, a pitch he's been working on.
"Lee told me, 'Keep it down, it's a good pitch,'" Cashner said. "I'm just going to go about my business and keep my mouth shut and see what they have to say."
"He's got a nice, easy arm strength," Rothschild said. "He's pretty diligent about what he does. He's a good kid and it's nice to have him in camp. Obviously, we're going to go real slow with him."
What was even more impressive was that Cashner did better on Sunday than in an earlier session with hitters when there was nobody watching.
"You can understand why we drafted him where we did," Rothschild said of Cashner, who is growing a beard to try to look a little older.
First impressions are key in Cubs camp.
"The point we try to get across is you need to be ready when the games start," Rothschild said. "Guys are in different situations. If you're trying to make a team and open up eyes, you've got to be ready early."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.