CHICAGO -- Bryan LaHair remained sidelined Thursday because of back problems, and is expected to start Sunday for the Cubs. Jeff Baker took over at first base on Opening Day.
LaHair did not play in the Cubs' final four Cactus League games because of a bulging disc in his back. On Thursday, he was able to run and hit in the batting cage.
"It's just such a minor thing, but it's something I couldn't prevent -- it's like a nerve thing," said LaHair, who blamed an impingement for the pain in his back and leg. "The nerve settled down now and the pain is pretty much out, and now it's just getting back into the feel of things. I should be back in there this weekend."
LaHair has had something like this before and it settled down in three days. He said he did not expect to need to go on the disabled list. He also wasn't that concerned about the bulging disc.
"I bet 90 percent of hitters in baseball have that," LaHair said.
What's tough is LaHair, 29, has not made an Opening Day roster the last five years, and this was finally his chance.
"I've been preparing myself mentally the past few days just to be ready," LaHair said. "The most important thing is to not go backwards, and keep going forward and keep getting better. Once I'm better, I should be good to go.
"Today was a really good day, and I've been making huge gains each day, a lot faster than [the training staff] anticipated," he said. "Today was exceptional, because I did some running, I hit in the cage. My swing felt good in the cage."
Baker has been used primarily as a sub at second, third and the outfield, but did play a lot of first base this spring. It's not his first Opening Day start; he also started the opener in 2005 with the Rockies, at third base.
"It's just another game, and I'm obviously a litte more excited for this one," Baker said of Thursday's start.
Epstein welcomes arrival of Cubs' season
CHICAGO -- Theo Epstein is well aware he's been the focus this offseason. On Opening Day, he said, it should now shift to the Cubs.
"That's nice and a compliment, but I'm realistic to know if that's the case, it's because I'm a symbol," said Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations, who took over the team last October. "It's not me. There are dozens and dozens and dozens of people -- the players first and foremost -- who are working extremely hard trying to push the organization forward."
Epstein also credited Cubs ownership, manager Dale Sveum and the rest of the baseball operations staff.
"I'm one small person in a very big machine," Epstein said. "Not only have I not done anything yet, but I'm a small part of it."
Opening Day is the perfect start.
"It's a special day, one of the best days of the year, and the feeling of renewal is amplified every time you're with a new team," Epstein said.
"Opening Day is the one day of the year that doesn't feel like any other days," Epstein said. "I really cherish the second day of the year, because that's when the baseball rhythms kick in, you see the people at the park who will be with you the whole year, and you get into your routine. That's when it feels like baseball. Opening Day feels like a holiday. That second day of the year is when it all kicks in."
There are some who feel Epstein is powerful enough to have made the ivy on the outfield walls bloom in time for the season opener between the Cubs and Nationals. Actually, it's because of the early summer-like weather in Chicago in March.
"I was telling someone last night, I hope that's a good omen," Epstein said of the ivy. "We'll take it as a sign of good things to come."
The red, white and blue bunting may be on the ballpark and optimism is high, but there's still work to do.
"Maybe this completes the transition phase for me personally, coming to new surroundings," said Epstein, who was with the Red Sox from November 2002 until he joined the Cubs. "But it's just another day. Nothing stops on Opening Day as far as we're concerned. We need to do something every day to better the organization.
"The best time for reflection is the morning after sipping champagne when you win a World Series," he said. "Until then, you keep plodding forward and try not to look back too much."
Valbuena excited to be with Cubs
CHICAGO -- When Luis Valbuena learned he'd been placed on waivers, he was waiting in Florida. It didn't take long for him to get to Chicago when he got the news that he was going to be a Cub.
"When I heard it was the Cubs, I was ready to go," Valbuena said.
The Cubs claimed the left-handed-hitting infielder off waivers from the Blue Jays, and he was at Wrigley Field Thursday and on the Opening Day roster. The Cubs have decided to go with 14 position players and 11 pitchers at the start of the season.
Valbuena, 26, can backup at second and short. 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 Blue Jays camp this spring, where he batted .163 in 24 games.
"Now I want to do the best job I can do," Valbuena said Thursday. "I'm so happy."
For leadoff man DeJesus, it's all about timing
CHICAGO -- David DeJesus may have found a timing device in the last few days of Spring Training that should help the Cubs outfielder at the plate.
DeJesus batted .220 this spring, and the club's leadoff man was struggling until he watched some video with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.
"It pretty much came down to timing," DeJesus said Thursday. "It's like, 'When do I start loading off the pitcher?' At the end of Spring Training, I felt I was getting more confident starting at the right time. Sometimes I'd be late, and my foot is up in the air and the ball is already coming. It's always a process -- that's the way the game is. It's just finding the little thing to get me on time that I think will help me out."
The Cubs are counting on DeJesus as their leadoff man. He's new to Wrigley Field, and Thursday was his first game there. On Wednesday, during the workout, he got a feel for how crazy the wind is.
"I threw up some grass the first time, and I had no clue -- it just started blowing in a circle, and I thought, 'All right, where do I go with that?'" DeJesus said. "You just have to make sure you catch it with two hands.
"Every guy who has played right field for the Cubs has gone through it, and I'll try my best and try to make the play."
Cubs select three to finalize roster for opener
CHICAGO -- The Cubs set their 25-man Opening Day roster on Thursday, selecting the contracts of right-handed pitcher Shawn Camp, infielder Blake DeWitt and outfielder Joe Mather.
Outfielder Tony Campana and right-handed pitcher Casey Coleman were optioned to Triple-A Iowa, and left-handed pitcher John Gaub was claimed off waivers by the Rays. Gaub had been acquired from the Indians along with Jeff Stevens and Chris Archer for Mark DeRosa in December 2008.
Right-handed pitcher Marcos Mateo was placed on the 60-day disabled list with ulnar neuritis in his right elbow.
With the moves, the Cubs 40-man roster is now at 40.
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.