02/23/2013 5:48 PM ET
Stewart's injury creates third-base quandary for Cubs
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs manager Dale Sveum said injured third baseman Ian Stewart should have enough time to prepare for the regular season but that the team now will get a look at the other options on the roster.
Both Stewart and third baseman Josh Vitters are sidelined 10 to 14 days with strained left quads. Luis Valbuena, Junior Lake and Christian Villanueva will get most of the playing time at third now.
"It sounds like both [Stewart] and Vitters, at the earliest, will be on the field in two weeks, but realistically three weeks," Sveum said. "It's unfortunate for them. There will still be a fair enough amount of games left after that to get enough at-bats and evaluate."
The Cubs do face some decisions regarding Stewart. His $2 million contract is non-guaranteed, which is not unusual for an arbitration-level player, but there is a March 16 deadline. If the Cubs decide at that date that Stewart isn't ready, they can release him and will be obligated to pay one-sixth of his salary ($333,333). If he's released after that date and before the regular season opener, the Cubs would owe Stewart $500,000.
"The fact of the matter is, three weeks from now puts you basically at March 14, which puts you three weeks before Opening Day," Sveum said. "If he's capable and the leg is fine, it'll be a cram session, that's for sure."
Valbuena, 27, already has secured a spot on the 25-man roster and impressed Sveum with his defensive play. On Saturday, he hit a solo home run in the second inning, his second in as many days if you count Friday's intrasquad game. He batted .306 in Venezuela this winter, taking a more aggressive approach at the plate.
What if he was the Cubs' Opening Day starter at third?
"It's not my decision," Valbuena said. "I'd be so happy if I won that job. That's what I'm trying to do."
Lake, 22, who batted .279 at Double-A Tennessee last season, would be next in the pecking order.
"In the intrasquad games, he's done fine," Sveum said of Lake. "He hasn't been tested. There's some mechanical things. He's very tall and playing tall. He's got to play the position smaller. What I mean by that, he wants to stand straight up after he fields a ground ball, so there's some things we have to tweak.
"He's such a good athlete," Sveum said. "He's going to be one of those third basemen who's not going to look like Scott Rolen but the athleticism will allow him to do a lot of things at that position."
Villanueva, 21, played at Class A Daytona last year. There are no plans to move top prospect Javier Baez from short to third, Sveum said. Right now, it's wait and see.
"We really don't have a whole lot of other third basemen," Sveum said. "They both just went down."
Baker progresses, but longs for hook, sinker
MESA, Ariz. --- Cubs pitcher Scott Baker, coming back from April Tommy John surgery, threw a 45-pitch bullpen session on Saturday at Fitch Park and said his rehab has gone well. He just needs a fishing hole.
"It's another step in the right direction," Baker said Saturday.
The right-hander was expected to throw at least two simulated games or live batting practice sessions before he gets into a Cactus League game, but he wasn't sure of the exact timing. He's leaving that to the medical and coaching staff.
"Everything felt good," Baker said of Saturday's session. "As long as everything keeps going well, it's hard to be not pleased with that."
Was he throwing full speed?
"For me, it's more mechanical than physical," Baker said. "You hear a million times, 'Stay within yourself' and it's never more true than now. It's very easy when you feel good to get out there and get real sloppy. I'm throwing with as much intensity as my mechanics will allow."
There's a lot of work still to be done. Baker needs to get in game situations, think about pitch selection, hitter's tendencies, things like that.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Baker is "right on schedule" in his rehab. If all goes well, the right-hander could be in the Cubs rotation by mid-April.
"The effort level picked up today," Sveum said of Saturday's session. "We're just looking forward to getting him against live hitters and a couple sessions of that and get him in a game in the middle of March and go from there."
So far, Baker's Cubs experience has gone well.
"I think the training staff and medical staff have been great," Baker said. "That was one thing that I felt was important when I chose to sign somewhere. We had similar opinions on how this thing should go. They've been spot on as far as what to do, the timing. We all know there's a lot of great things going on in this organization, and they really made you feel they cared about you and not [seeing you as] just another pitcher. Their interest is my interest -- what more could you ask for than that?"
Baker has spent his previous Spring Trainings in Florida. The only drawback has been the lack of fishing holes in the Valley of the Sun.
"I love to fish," Baker said. "I'd take a boat down there [in Fort Myers, Fla.]. I don't play golf, so I'd go fishing. This is good, too."
Wood settling in, ready to compete for spot
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Travis Wood doesn't feel like the new guy in the Cubs clubhouse this spring, even though he still needs a little help finding his way around Cactus League ballparks.
Wood, who had to ask for assistance finding the visitor's clubhouse at Tempe Diablo Stadium, gave up one hit and walked one over two innings in the Cubs' Cactus League opener against the Angels. The lone lefty competing for a spot in the rotation, Wood walked the first batter he faced, then gave up an RBI double before retiring the next six.
"I hate leadoff walks -- I hate walks in general -- but I hate leadoff walks," Wood said. "It was nice to get back out there today and in a game situation."
With Matt Garza's status questionable because of a sore left lat and Scott Baker not expected until mid-April at the earliest, there is a spot to be won in the Cubs rotation.
"It's going to be fun throughout the rest of camp and we'll see what happens," Wood said.
One year ago, he was spending time trying to match faces with names. This spring?
"One, I actually know some people and have built a relationship with some guys," he said. "They're all great guys. I feel more comfortable this year instead of being the new guy. I'm just another guy."
Elbow feeling good, Parker pleased to get going
MESA, Ariz. -- Blake Parker's intrasquad outing didn't go well Friday, but the good news for the Cubs pitcher is his right elbow felt fine.
Parker was limited to seven games with the Cubs and 21 at Triple-A Iowa last season because of a sore elbow. On Friday, he gave up three hits, including a three-run home run to Edwin Maysonet, and struck out two in one inning.
"No matter the results, I felt I threw the ball all right and I felt it was coming out good and I was hitting my spots," Parker said Saturday. "Other than that one pitch [to Maysonet], my breaking ball did better than when I was warming up in the bullpen. It felt good, my arm feels good, and I'm excited to get spring going."
He was just happy to be pitching. Parker was called up to the Cubs from Triple-A Iowa in mid-May and appeared in four games before he was shut down. He did get into three more games in late August and early September, and that was it.
"It's totally different when you've got someone stepping in there and no cage around them and you're working counts and sequences," Parker said. "After the long break, you've got to get back into baseball mode and how you're going to pitch certain guys and setting them up. That's one of my biggest downfalls."
His break was longer than most because of his elbow.
"I'm still getting back into baseball mode, just thinking out there on the mound and knowing what pitches to throw and reading hitters," he said. "As far as physically, my arm felt good."
There's more good news. The intrasquad games are over.
"Good thing that didn't count," Parker 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.