Notes: Fox relishing second chance
Three rotation spots set by Piniella, four competing for final two
MESA, Ariz. -- The 25 pitches Chad Fox threw at Fitch Park on Thursday were a lot better than the last 25 he threw in his last big league game on April 25, 2005. On that day at Wrigley Field, Fox thought his career had ended.
The Cubs led, 10-3, against the Cincinnati Reds that day, and Fox started the top of the ninth. He walked Sean Casey and Joe Randa before serving up a three-run homer to Adam Dunn. Austin Kearns popped up, and Fox walked Rich Aurilia before he was pulled. The right-hander had thrown 25 pitches, 11 for strikes.
The Cubs did hold on for a 10-6 win, but that was Fox's 11th appearance of the season and his last. He has not pitched in the big leagues since, but is back in the Cubs camp this spring.
"To this day, I don't really know," Fox said Thursday, when asked what happened back then. The right-hander had already undergone three elbow surgeries and didn't want another one, but his arm was in too much pain to pitch.
"At that stage in my career, I felt I'd done everything I could do," he said Thursday. "Surgery was not an option. I didn't want to relive that again. You just go on about your life and business. I've been doing that for the last two years."
Fox went home and opened a sports complex in the Houston area. He taught high school kids. He thought his big league career was over.
"All of a sudden it was as clear as anything," he said. "Hey, try. Why not? What do you have to lose? I didn't want to look back when I'm 45 and say, 'Why not try one more time?' I didn't want to embarrass myself or this organization."
The last 2 1/2 months, Fox has felt terrific.
"I feel as healthy as I've ever felt," he said.
He worked out for scouts for the Cubs, Astros and Reds a month ago, and got an offer from Houston before he had finished his workout. He re-signed with the Cubs on Jan. 11.
"I'm not going to look back," Fox said. "It is what it is. I feel healthy."
In talks with Dr. James Andrews, Fox said the problem in 2005 could've simply been scar tissue. Whatever it was, it's gone. He told Cubs general manager Jim Hendry to be honest with him about his ability.
"I'm not here for someone to feel sorry for me," Fox said. "I'm going to have fun. Life's too short to look back at 'what ifs.' It's either final closure, or I'm blessed and can keep going."
Pick five: Cubs pitchers threw 25 pitches off the mound Thursday in the first workout day for pitchers and catchers. The team has seven candidates for the rotation but Cubs manager Lou Piniella admitted Thursday that three of those are set.
"Obviously, you're going to have [Carlos] Zambrano out there and [Ted] Lilly and [Rich] Hill," Piniella said.
Then he laughed. That's three out of five.
"You want me to keep going?" he said. "You might as well not have any competition then."
Ryan Dempster, Jason Marquis, Jon Lieber and Sean Marshall are competing for the remaining two openings. Piniella can tell Dempster is ready.
"Yesterday, I was at the mall with my wife and saw Dempster walking in, wearing fatigues and a shirt, and he said he was going to run up Camelback Mountain, and I told him I was going to go with him, but I'll drive the Suburban," Piniella said.
That doesn't give the right-hander an edge over the others.
"Let me tell you this, whichever way this comes out, I can honestly tell you I'll be very pleased," Piniella said.
A year ago, the Cubs had eight candidates but at the end of Spring Training were struggling to find that fifth guy because of injuries to players.
"We have more depth [this year] and we're healthier, and we'll just let these guys fight it out and compete," Piniella said. "Whatever mix comes in, I'll be very happy with. I know they're all professional and all good."
Piniella gave the pitchers and catchers a pep talk before the workout.
"The message was short and quick -- to have fun here in Spring Training, to work hard, not to cheat yourself, not to try to do too much early," he said. "You're not going to impress anybody. [I said], 'We've got good arms here and we have the makings of a very good pitching staff, so don't cheat yourselves.'"
At issue: Aramis Ramirez is featured in a recent issue of a Dominican Republic cockfighting magazine, En La Traba, according to a story in the New York Times about the sport.
The Cubs third baseman apparently raises roosters for fighting. He was quoted in the magazine as saying, "When I'm in the Dominican Republic, I'm dedicated entirely to them."
A Cubs spokesman said the team does not condone the sport, but also was aware that cockfighting is part of the culture in the Dominican Republic.
Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal oversaw the sport of cockfighting when he served as the Dominican's minister of sports in the 1990s. According to the New York Times story, Marichal also raises fighting roosters.
Shift work: This offseason was a first for right-hander Kevin Hart.
"It's the first time I didn't have to do a 9-to-5 [job]," he said.
Hart, 25, had picked up part-time jobs during the offseason, including parking cars and stocking shelves at a Neiman Marcus department store.
"I did everything and anything I could do to pay some bills," he said. "The first couple years, you get your signing bonus, and that's nice. Then it hits you that it might take me more than two years to get to the big leagues."
What did he do with all his free time this winter?
"I worked out, kind of hung out," Hart said. "I tried to get better at golf, and had no success at that. I found some hobbies. I learned how to cook a little bit, just out of sheer boredom, like, 'Hey, it's 2 o'clock, I'm done with all my stuff today. Might as well take three hours, and learn how to prepare something.'"
He claims he can make anything. He asked his mother for recipes.
"I like to make mashed potatoes -- that's one of my specialties," he said. "You can't really mess it up."
Extra bases: Kosuke Fukudome is expected in camp on Friday. Piniella said the Japanese outfielder will be positioned in right field, with Alfonso Soriano in left, and added, "We'll figure out what we'll do in center." ... Carlos Marmol, who is one of the candidates for the closer's job, was one of Licey's closers in the Dominican League playoffs and enjoyed the role. "It was amazing," he said. "It's a moment you wait for." ... Jeff Samardzija threw a bullpen session Thursday. Piniella said: "I wouldn't be surprised if sometime this summer, he'll be ready for the big leagues." ... Eric Patterson was one of the early position players in camp. He has spent most of his Minor League career as a second baseman but will get some playing time in the outfield. "It's an adjustment, but it got easier as I did it," said Patterson, who played some left and center in the Minors. "I just go out there where they need me." ... Angel Guzman, who had Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow last fall, began throwing for the first time this week. He's only able to throw from about 45 feet, but it's a start. "I feel better, my body feels better," Guzman said. "All I can do is keep working hard." ... Piniella went for a post-workout walk with Billy Williams after Thursday's practice. "It's great to have Hall of Famers here in camp," Piniella said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.