Cubs counting on Hoffpauir off bench
Manager Piniella says utility role for left-hander is 'his job to lose'
MESA, Ariz. -- Micah Hoffpauir appears to have a spot on the Cubs' big league roster, but he's not taking anything for granted.
"There's still a job that has to be done," Hoffpauir said Monday. "I don't think there are any guarantees in this game. I've seen that throughout my career. I think everybody has seen that. This camp being any different from any other, I can't say that."
Hoffpauir has impressed the Cubs. In 2007, he was a last-minute addition to the big league Spring Training camp and opened some eyes. He would've been called up that year but suffered a season-ending knee injury in July.
He's shown the Cubs he can hit. Hoffpauir has a .290 career Minor League average and batted .342 in 33 games last season with the big league team. With Daryle Ward gone, the Cubs are looking not just for a left-handed bat off the bench but also someone who can give guys a breather without much drop-off.
"It's his job to lose," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of Hoffpauir. "I plan on giving him some playing time at first to rest Derrek [Lee] and also at both corner outfield spots. The kid swings the bat. I don't see any problems there."
Getting enough rest is a theme this year with Piniella, who wants to give regulars like Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto more days off so they're fresh late in the season. Lee has adamantly opposed such breaks in the past, but they've usually had good results.
"Every time we gave Derrek a little time off, he responded well," Piniella said. "It's a little more difficult with all the starting times and all the day games that we play in Chicago. I'm not making any excuses about anything, but you need to freshen them up a little more. I've got quite a few guys -- my catcher, my third baseman, my shortstop, the first baseman, the left fielder. We've got to look for kids who can do those things."
Position players report on Tuesday to Fitch Park with the first full-squad workout the next day. Piniella, bench coach Alan Trammell and pitching coach Larry Rothschild will address the group, but there won't be a full-scale pep talk.
"You give too much of a message in February and by the time April rolls around, they've forgotten it," Piniella said.
Hoffpauir doesn't need anyone to tell him what he has to do. Although he spent this winter at home with his wife, Tiffany, for the arrival of their first child, a baby girl born Dec. 1, he stuck to his workout plan. Hoffpauir is now 28 and a veteran young player, if there is such a thing.
"I learned a lot last year, picking Daryle Ward's brain," Hoffpauir said. "He's a really good pinch-hitter and a good guy off the bench. That was a neat learning experience for me. As far as being an 'older young guy,' I don't think that has any bearing on anything. My mind-set is a little different than a 20-year-old rookie coming into the big leagues."
Pinch-hitting isn't easy to teach.
"It's usually a spot for a more experienced player," Piniella said. "[Hoffpauir] did OK last year. The only thing I can say about Hoffpauir in a pinch-hitting role is that you have to be aggressive, but you have to selectively aggressive. He said, 'You know, I'm a free swinger.' I said, 'I know, but it can't bounce.'"
All those years in the Minor Leagues may finally pay off for Hoffpauir this season. A 13th-round pick in 2002, he's hung in there.
"I've tried," he said. "I think this game is a game of perseverance. You look at everybody here and each person has their own story."
What does he have to do to make the team?
"I have to perform," Hoffpauir said. "I have to come off the bench and hit. Given the opportunity to do that, I have to do it. If not, I think they'll find somebody else. That's my opportunity."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.