Arizona Spring Training funding unsettled
Legislative session ends without deal made for Cubs
CHICAGO -- The Arizona Legislature adjourned Thursday without passing legislation the Cubs need to keep their Spring Training site in Mesa, Ariz. However, that doesn't mean the Cubs are headed to Florida.
The Cubs and Mesa officials signed a memorandum of understanding in late January that provides for exclusive negotiations between the team and the city. One of the conditions of the agreement was that the Legislature determine some kind of funding by July 12. Although lawmakers ended their session Thursday without a decision, they still could call a special session.
The Cubs are the top-drawing Spring Training team and have been wooed by officials from Naples, Fla., to relocate their facility there.
The Cubs declined to comment Friday.
Arizona lawmakers considered adding surcharges to car rentals and Spring Training tickets to pay for the new facility. But that plan faltered after other Cactus League teams and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig came out against it.
No days off for Lee, Ramirez to bust slumps
CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Friday that he'll let Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez work out their offensive problems in the game rather than give them a day off.
Lee had two hits Friday against the D-backs and is batting .205, while Ramirez went 0-for-4 and was hitting .152. That's not going to get the job done, Piniella said. But he knows what they can do.
"Both those guys, you look at their bubblegum cards, they've always hit," Piniella said. "They're going to hit. It's just a question of when. It'll make it easier on the rest of the lineup."
Last week, Ramirez did not start two games to give him time to work with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Maybe Lee needs a day off, too?
"We need Lee and Ramirez to hit, and they're not going to be doing much hitting sitting on the bench," Piniella said Friday. "We need for them to get hot and start swinging the bats the way they're capable of. We can give them a breather from time to time.
"The secret for them is let them get their at-bats and their playing time, and hopefully they'll come around quickly," he said.
Which means letting the two work out their problems in the game. Lee said after Thursday's game that he was having problems with his timing. Ramirez admitted he wasn't sure what was wrong.
"They're my three and four hitters," Piniella said. "I can see a rest occasionally. I think it does everybody good. You want to keep the middle of your lineup as stable as you possibly can. If they don't hit, we're going to have problems scoring runs. I'm very confident that they will [hit]. It's just a question of how soon and when."
Hitting does make a difference. In the Cubs' 10 wins, they're batting .310 and averaging 6.7 runs per game. In the 13 losses, they're hitting .226 and averaging 2.6 runs a game.
"The reasons we struggle here from time to time is we're more of a home-run-hitting club, at least that's been the trend here earlier in the year," Piniella said. "I think it was a bit of a trend early last year. When you're not hitting home runs, it becomes a little more difficult to score runs. We don't have the best manufacturing-type team. We have to take advantage of these days when the wind is blowing out."
The Cubs didn't do that on Thursday in a 13-5 loss to the D-backs.
"We need to score a few more runs consistently, and I think we will," Piniella said.
Piniella balances needs of five outfielders
CHICAGO -- Rookie Tyler Colvin started in center field Friday, his ninth start for the Cubs. Which means two other outfielders were unhappy.
Lou Piniella's plan is to rotate his five outfielders -- Colvin, Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome and Xavier Nady -- in order to keep everyone fresh. But everyone wants at-bats.
"The most difficult thing I have here is I have five outfielders," Piniella said Friday. "I haven't been playing Nady much. I've been trying to get four of them in there. It's not the easiest thing in the world to do. It seems easy, but it really isn't."
Byrd wasn't thrilled about sitting Friday against the D-backs, but he was called on to pinch-hit in the seventh and delivered a single, then launched his fourth home run in the eighth, a towering shot that cleared the left-field bleachers and nearly hit a building across Waveland Avenue that advertises, "Hit me, 1 Fan, $1 million."
"I thought he was going to win that million dollars," Piniella said after the Cubs' 11-5 win.
"I just want to be in there every single day," Byrd said. "[Piniella] understands that. I'm always ready. I told him, 'Whenever you need me, let me know.' I got ready in the fifth. I ended up having a pretty good one."
Byrd has learned from past teammates Ricky Ledee and Carlos Baerga about how to prepare for coming off the bench.
"You have to know how to get ready," Byrd said.
Soriano came through as well, hitting a three-run homer to highlight the sixth and spark the Cubs.
"The little rest we give him from time to time has paid decent dividends," Piniella said of Soriano, who finished with four RBIs for the first time since July 27, 2009, against Houston.
Nady has the fewest starts among the quintet with six. He's still not able to throw full strength while he rehabs from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Expect Nady to get a start this weekend.
"I've got Colvin in there [Friday], and I'm sure one of the outfielders wasn't happy today," Piniella said. "What are you going to do? I'm doing the best I can to get these guys playing time. Obviously, what's going to happen is, forget playing time, we have to win some games."
What Byrd wasn't quite prepared for was the arrival in late innings of the seagulls that circle Wrigley Field, looking for seed and water.
"That's crazy," Byrd said of the flock of white birds that settled in front of him in the ninth. "[Derrek Lee] told me, he said, 'They know.' Eighth, ninth innings, they come out automatically. Hopefully, when we have a 'W,' they're there a lot more."
Byrd didn't shoo them away.
"I'll give them their spot," he said. "They were here before I was."
Castro has Hendry's attention at Double-A
CHICAGO -- Highly touted shortstop Starlin Castro is expected to join the Cubs this season, but there's no timetable for his callup.
General manager Jim Hendry said Friday that Castro is doing well at Double-A Tennessee, where he's batting .353 in 20 games. Assistant general manager Randy Bush watched the Tennessee team play recently.
"He's swinging the bat well and working on all the nuances that will make him successful when he gets here," Hendry told ESPN 1000. "I don't have any doubts you'll see him in Chicago this season, but to put an exact date on it would be foolish."
The Cubs have a talented shortstop already in Ryan Theriot, who extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a single in the sixth Friday against Arizona. Hendry said he has talked to Theriot about switching to second when Castro is ready.
"You just want to give [Theriot] enough notice to help him get ready for that when that day comes," Hendry said of Theriot. "Ryan is capable of being a .300 hitter and a very good infielder when he does move."
Zambrano won't go back-to-back for now
CHICAGO -- Carlos Zambrano was called on to pitch in the eighth inning Friday, his first appearance since Monday, which would be a normal break if he was starting and pitching on short rest.
Now that he's a setup man, his outings will be less routine. Lou Piniella said he has to pick and choose when he uses Zambrano.
"With Zambrano, I'm caught in a little bit of a bind, because when I use him, I don't bring him back in back-to-back games," Piniella said. "We'd like to be ahead using Zambrano."
Zambrano made the switch from starter to reliever Saturday, and made his third appearance on Friday. He has given up five hits over four innings in his three outings, but he has yet to pitch in consecutive games. The right-hander was moved to the 'pen after four starts.
Is he ready to go back-to-back?
"I'm ready for anything," Zambrano said Friday.
The days off between appearances wasn't anything new for the right-hander.
"I used to be a starting pitcher, so I'm pretty familiar with the time," Zambrano said. "I felt good today. I was able to pitch an inning today and keep the score like that."
Zambrano gave up two hits and struck out one in one inning of relief in the Cubs' 11-5 victory over the D-backs.
Piniella wants Zambrano to make four or five relief appearances before he feels comfortable going back-to-back.
"It really depends on how he feels and how many pitches he throws," Piniella said.
Lilly's velocity expected to improve
CHICAGO -- A couple of the Arizona players mentioned they thought Ted Lilly's velocity seemed down from a year ago after the lefty pitched Thursday's game, his second start of the season.
Maybe Lilly is still in Spring Training mode?
"He's going to add three or four miles an hour to his fastball," Lou Piniella said. "[On Thursday], what was wrong with Teddy was he got the ball up with the wind blowing out. That's not good."
Lilly is coming back from arthroscopic surgery in November on his left shoulder. On Thursday, he gave up six runs on seven hits over five innings in the D-backs' 13-5 win.
"His velocity will improve," Piniella said. "Remember, this is his second Major League start [this season], and he'll get more arm strength."
Hall of Famer Ernie Banks was at Wrigley Field on Friday and talked to the players. ... Tyler Colvin ranks fourth among Major League rookies with a .317 average. ... Second baseman Mike Fontenot will appear at the new AT&T store, 260 Danada Square in Wheaton, Ill., on Saturday from 6-7 p.m. CT. Fontenot will sign autographs and there will be a drawing for Cubs tickets.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.