CHICAGO -- Bryan LaHair has waited a long time to be on a Major League team's Opening Day roster, but his status for Thursday's Cubs season opener is questionable because of back problems.
"He's being described as 50-50," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said of LaHair. "He's optimistic. He's only going to play if he can help us. It's not easy to hit [Stephen] Strasburg if you're not close to ready."
Strasburg will be starting for the Nationals on Thursday, when the Cubs kick off the season at Wrigley Field.
LaHair has not played since last Friday because of tightness in his back. If he does not start, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said either Blake DeWitt, Jeff Baker or Joe Mather will start at first. The Cubs' Opening Day lineup was not finalized until Sveum knows if LaHair can go.
The plan Thursday is for LaHair to get treatment, hit off a batting tee and then the medical staff will make an evaluation.
"If it goes really well, we'll probably let him hit, and if that goes really well, probably get him in the lineup," Sveum said.
LaHair, 29, who led the Pacific Coast League with 38 home runs last season at Triple-A Iowa, has made the Opening Day roster for the first time in his pro career.
Sveum wants good spring vibes to follow Cubs
CHICAGO -- Dale Sveum's first Opening Day as a player was April 6, 1987, and 25 years later, he'll experience similar butterflies and excitement he did on that day when he takes the field as the Cubs' manager for the start of the regular season.
"There's nothing like Opening Day as a player," Sveum said. "It'll be special."
He got to Wrigley Field on Wednesday's workout day around 8 a.m. CT for the afternoon session. Sveum is hoping the Cubs can continue to play as they did in Cactus League games.
"We probably could say we were one of the few teams, if the only team, that went through all Spring Training and ran out 99 percent of the balls," Sveum said. "As spring kept going on, the preparation of the defensive work was exceptional, and the buying into some of the positioning stuff we're going to do [was well received].
"Just the constant effort and preparation is what you want to see on an every day basis," he said. "That's all you can ask for. They're Major League players, they've had success in the big leagues. Some of them are still trying to prove themselves, some of the guys are trying to rebound from sub-par seasons. We're trying to make sure everybody's on the same page as far as effort, that's all you're looking for."
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer saw the same positive atmosphere in camp.
"We hope we can carry that into Opening Day," Hoyer said.
This will be Hoyer's first Opening Day with the Cubs as well after being lured to the team by Theo Epstein when he was named president of baseball operations.
"Just looking around, it looks so much different here in the spring than it does in the winter," Hoyer said of Wrigley Field. "The whole place is fantastic. It's such a magical place, a place I loved coming here as a visitor. It's the first time it feels real and I'm sure it'll be more so tomorrow. I get to watch 81 games here, and that'll be pretty special."
Most preseason prognosticators are picking the Cubs to finish fifth in the National League Central. That doesn't deter them.
"I think the most important thing you can do is be prepared every game and have a team that plays hard every game and if you have that, anything can happen," Hoyer said. "Every single year there are teams that are going to surprise people, teams that are going to prove the experts wrong.
"If that doesn't happen, if that isn't our script, I certainly hope that throughout the course of the year, we continue to add talent to the roster and build for a great day in the future," he said. "I would never give away any season. Given the personnel in the clubhouse and the coaching staff, there's no reason we can't surprise people the way one or two teams do every single year."
Sveum has been to Wrigley Field before, but as a visiting coach.
"Tomorrow, when you have that big 'C' on your shirt and you're out there and the Wrigley fans are rooting for you instead of against you, it'll be a big difference," Sveum said. "It's one of those special days in anybody's life to walk out on Wrigley and be part of the Chicago Cubs."
Valbuena set for Cubs' roster after waiver claim
CHICAGO -- The Cubs claimed infielder Luis Valbuena off waivers on Wednesday, and he will be on the team's Opening Day roster.
With the addition of Valbuena, the Cubs will go with 14 position players and 11 pitchers at the start of the season, general manager Jed Hoyer said.
A left-handed hitter, Valbuena, 26, has a career .226 average in the big leagues with the Mariners and Indians over parts of the last four seasons. He was traded from Cleveland to Toronto last November and was in the Blue Jays' camp this spring, where he batted .163 in 24 games. He can play second base and shortstop.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum said he wasn't that familiar with Valbuena, who has spent his career in the American League.
"I know he has some pop in his bat, he's not a huge guy, he put up some nice numbers last year in Triple-A," Sveum said of Valbuena, who hit .302 at Triple-A Columbus last season. "He brings the ability to do a lot of things and hit left-handed, which we're always striving to find and get in the organization is quality left-handed hitters."
Hoyer was not sure how long the Cubs will go with 14 position players and 11 pitchers. The team does have an off-day Friday.
In another roster move, reliever Frankie De La Cruz was outrighted to Triple-A Iowa.
Opportunity with Cubs exciting for Mather
CHICAGO -- Joe Mather has played in the big leagues before with the Braves and Cardinals, but on Wednesday, when he went onto Wrigley Field for early hitting, he felt like a little kid again.
"It's such a gorgeous place to play and even better when I think about playing here all year long," said Mather, a versatile infielder/outfielder, who made the Cubs' Opening Day roster.
Did he have butterflies?
"Not yet," Mather said. "Tomorrow I will. I had butterflies every game in Spring Training. I don't know why, but I know I'll have them tomorrow."
He may have reason to be even more giddy. The Cubs are not sure about the status of first baseman Bryan LaHair, and Mather is one of the candidates to start, along with Blake DeWitt and Jeff Baker. Cubs manager Dale Sveum said he wanted to look at video of the three against Strasburg, but none have faced the Nationals pitcher. David DeJesus and Chris Volstad each have three at-bats against the right-hander.
Mather will deal with that on Thursday. Right now, he has to make sure his sister, two nephews, parents and girlfriend have enough warm clothes. They've been in Arizona, and it won't feel like the Valley of the Sun at Wrigley Field on Thursday, with temperatures forecast for 52 degrees.
"It's happened so fast, being with a new team, I don't know that it's hit me quite yet," Mather said. "I know I'm really excited to be here and really excited to be a part of the team."
Cubs have first-timers on Opening Day roster
CHICAGO -- The Cubs will go with 14 position players and 11 pitchers to start the season, with Rule 5 Draft pick Lendy Castillo and Rafael Dolis making the Opening Day roster for the first time in their young careers.
The rest of the bullpen will be Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, James Russell and recent acquisition Shawn Camp. Russell is the only left-hander, and general manager Jed Hoyer said they are on the lookout for another one.
"Ideally, we would've been able to find another lefty," Hoyer said Wednesday. "We haven't matched up yet. I think it's safe to say it's something we'll be looking to do during the first part of the season to try to find another lefty. Russell is a very good left-hander, but having two would make life easier for Dale [Sveum]."
Castillo, 22, was selected last December in the Rule 5 Draft from the Phillies, and the converted shortstop will be making the jump from Class A to the big leagues. This spring, the right-hander appeared in 11 games, giving up five earned runs on 12 hits and 10 walks over 13 innings.
Dolis, 24, was charged with one run on three hits and six walks over 10 innings in nine Cactus League games. He spent last season at Double-A Tennessee, where he was 8-5 with a 3.22 ERA in 51 games, including four starts.
Camp was claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays this spring. He appeared in 11 games total, and gave up five runs on 16 hits and five walks over 14 1/3 innings.
Rodrigo Lopez was in Chicago for Wednesday's workout and projected as the long man in the bullpen, but he will not be on the Opening Day roster.
New touches at Wrigley in time for season
CHICAGO -- There was the smell of fresh paint around Wrigley Field on Wednesday as crews put the finishing touches on the ballpark in preparation for Opening Day.
The new LED scoreboard in right field is installed and was being tested on the eve of the Cubs' opener Thursday against the Nationals. Three rows of seats have been removed in right field, and a new patio area has been created. It will hold 150 people, and groups can purchase the entire section or portions of the area for games.
The players also have a new area under the left field bleachers for soft toss and hitting off a batting tee before games. Before, there was only the batting cage under right field.
The Cubs' baseball operations staff returned from Mesa, Ariz., and Spring Training to their new office on Clark Street which has been converted from a parking garage and storage into a lofty modern and functional facility. It will hold 155 people; the previous space behind home plate inside Wrigley Field could barely accommodate 100 and staff often used the conference room for office space.
"This space has been energizing for everybody," said Crane Kenney, the Cubs president of baseball operations.
"The way our office is set up now, we have offices around the perimeter and cubicles in the middle, which will make it a close, collegial atmosphere," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "We spend a lot of time together, and we need to enjoy that time. We have to figure out ways to add to the debate and discussion and I think having the office set up that way makes a big difference. Being in one long hallway without a central meeting place isn't that conducive to a good debate."
There are other benefits as well.
"It's nice -- no mice, so that's a good start," Hoyer said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.