PHOENIX -- John Grabow knows how good the Cubs' bullpen could be, and he took a step Thursday to be a part of it.
The left-hander threw one inning in relief, his first outing since the Cactus League opener on Feb. 27. Grabow is coming off knee surgery, but had been slowed because of a tight left shoulder, which he feels was caused by throwing too much early in camp.
"Everything felt real good," Grabow said of Thursday's outing. "The ball feels like it's coming out of my hands good, my knee feels good. It was a positive day. I have to keep building off this and get ready for the season."
There are two weeks remaining, and Grabow may finish with six to seven innings total this spring. That would be the least amount he's ever thrown in Spring Training.
"As long as I'm getting my work in between and staying sharp, that's key," he said.
The Cubs have added Kerry Wood to the 'pen, which could be one of the best in the National League Central.
"This could be a great bullpen," Grabow said. "I'd love to be a part of it. I've got to finish spring and stay healthy. My whole career, this is probably the best chance I've got to get to the playoffs. I want to take advantage of that."
"I'm just trying to get the ball to [closer Carlos] Marmol -- that's our key," Grabow said.
Dempster using Spring Training to set tone
PHOENIX -- It may be Spring Training, and the stats won't count in two weeks, but Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster approaches every game as if it matters.
On Thursday, he made his fourth spring start and gave up two runs on four hits over six innings in a 6-5 loss to the Athletics in front of 8,425 St. Patrick's Day fans. His ERA ballooned to 2.00, which he'll take in the regular season. The Cubs now have three starters -- Dempster, Carlos Zambrano (1.38 ERA) and Randy Wells (1.29 ERA) -- who have defied Arizona's dry weather and compiled impressive ERAs.
"It means we're throwing the ball well for the most part," Dempster said of the Cactus League numbers. "The job is to carry that over into the season.
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"Everybody talks about how the [spring] games don't mean anything, and I get that, but I think it's important to play winning baseball," he said. "No matter what it means in the grand scheme of things, I think you teach yourself how to get out of situations if you're a pitcher, or how to win ballgames.
"At the end of the day, if we win or lose a Spring Training game, [it] doesn't matter, but I think the way we play the game matters and we've done a better job getting after it lately."
The Cubs came up short on Thursday as Conor Jackson delivered a walk-off RBI double in the ninth for the Athletics.
Oakland took a 2-0 lead in the second against Dempster. Hideki Matsui led off with a single, and Kurt Suzuki followed with his first spring homer off a 1-2 pitch. David DeJesus singled with two outs in the third and Dempster then retired the next 10 in a row.
This was Dempster's longest outing. He will get two more starts in Arizona before taking the mound April 1, when the Cubs play host to the Pirates at Wrigley Field in the season opener.
If he can pitch the way he did Thursday on April 1, he'll take it.
"That's what I'm gearing toward," Dempster said. "It'll be no different. It's still about putting the ball where the catcher's glove is and changing speeds. I'm going to try to do that the best I can."
Will he take 87 degrees in Chicago on Opening Day? That was the gametime temperature in Phoenix.
"I'll take that," he said.
With two weeks remaining, the toughest part of Spring Training now is to avoid being bored by the repetition.
"The season will be here before we know it, and we have to be ready come April 1," Dempster said. "Now's the time to pick it up."
Jobs up for grabs with two weeks remaining
PHOENIX -- Opening Day is two weeks from Friday, and there's still plenty for Cubs manager Mike Quade to do.
Who will be the final two starters for the rotation? Who goes to the bullpen? Who will be the extra infielder and outfielder on the bench?
"No decision before it's time," Quade said Thursday.
Take the extra outfielder spot. Reed Johnson was batting .167 in 13 games; Fernando Perez .174 in 11 games. Johnson, who hit a two-run homer on Thursday, is a veteran; Perez, whose error in left led to one of the Athletics' ninth-inning runs in a 6-5 win over the Cubs, has speed. Quade said he's still getting to know Perez.
Who will be the regular second baseman? Infielder Jeff Baker has been used as a platoon player in the past and led off Thursday against Athletics lefty Gio Gonzalez. He's batting .400 (12-for-30) compared to Blake DeWitt, who was hitting .176 (6-for-34).
"[Baker] is having a great spring, he's swinging the bat unbelievable against right-handed pitching here," Quade said. "Guys can improve, guys can get better."
And just because someone has been given a label doesn't mean he has to accept that role.
"You can be a platoon guy the year before and win a job by performance," Quade said.
Former Cub Salazar in DeWitt's thoughts
MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs infielder Blake DeWitt was watching the Braves' Spring Training game on TV Wednesday, hoping for news about his former Minor League manager and hitting coach Luis Salazar.
Salazar, who played for the Cubs from 1989-92 and is a manager in the Braves' Minor League system, lost his left eye after he was hit in the face by a foul ball during a Grapefruit League game.
"He was a very good friend," DeWitt said Thursday. "He was a great guy, fun to be around, loved the game. He was a joy to be around every day. It's an unfortunate deal. I saw that he lost his eye. You're also thankful he's still alive. He's definitely in my thoughts, and my prayers are with him and his family."
Are there things Salazar taught DeWitt that he still uses?
"He just loved the game," DeWitt said. "He was full of energy, fun to be around, knowledgeable, willing to help anybody. It was a freak accident."
Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams said he began this spring standing on the top step to watch the games. After the Salazar incident, Williams said he moved back behind the screens.
"You can't guard against everything," Williams said.
There aren't many options to protect players and coaches unless screens are installed over the entire dugout.
"It's just one of those things -- you're so close," DeWitt said. "Sometimes you don't have a chance. Every once in a while, it happens [that someone is hit] and it's surprising it doesn't happen more."
Scales remembers first brush with Fab Five
PHOENIX -- Have you filled out your NCAA bracket yet? Cubs infielder Bobby Scales will take a pass, although he'll be rooting for his Michigan team. Its chances?
"I'm realistic," Scales said Thursday.
Scales fell in love with the Wolverines in 1991. He and his father attended a first-round NCAA Regional game in Atlanta between Michigan and Temple, and got last-minute seats near the Wolverines bench. That's when Michigan had the stellar Fab Five: Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. Scales can describe the first play of the game in detail, which was a slam dunk.
"I turned to my dad and said, 'I'm going to Michigan,'" Scales said.
He'd been accepted at Northwestern and his father was hoping he'd go to Georgia Tech. But Scales fell in love with the Fab Five. And he still has his ticket stub from that game.
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.