02/17/09 6:19 PM EST
Piniella delivers pep talk to Cubs
Manager reminds team that regular-season success starts in spring
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Piniella delivered his spring pep talk prior to the first full-squad workout at Fitch Park. All players were present, with the exception of Kosuke Fukudome, who is training with the Japanese team for the World Baseball Classic.
The Cubs manager pointed out they had gone from a 96-loss season in 2006 to a 97-win season in 2008 and won back-to-back National League Central titles.
"[I told them], 'Don't take for granted from talking to the media that you're going to win a division and that your season is going to be defined by whether you play well in the postseason,'" Piniella said. "We won more games than anybody in the National League last year and we're going to have a target on our back. We have to be ready."
That means figuring out the best lineup combination, which will include newcomer Milton Bradley.
"He's one of the best hitters in the game when he can stay on the field," Chicago's Derrek Lee said of Bradley, who signed a three-year deal. "I like the edge he brings, the way he plays the game."
Maybe the Cubs needed that "edge" last year against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who swept Chicago in the National League Division Series?
"I think nice guys can win," Lee said. "It's a long season and some days you have that guy who's playing out there with a little bit of an edge and everyone else is dragging, it picks you up. I think it'll help us. He's such a competitor, it'll rub off on guys. He's obviously out there trying to win and do whatever it takes. I think it'll be good."
"There's nothing wrong with that," Piniella said of Bradley's edginess. "I like competitive people. The more competitive, the better."
Lee wasn't too worried about Bradley's much-replayed run-ins from his past.
"We've all seen his episodes on 'SportsCenter', but when you think about it, there's two or three of them, which is not that many," Lee said. "It kind of gets blown out of proportion. He's got a clean slate coming in here, and so far he seems like a great guy. We'll let him show us his true character."
Back to the lineup. Piniella will experiment, which includes moving Alfonso Soriano out of the leadoff spot.
"I'll bat leadoff," Lee said. "I don't care. I really don't care."
The Cubs' first baseman was a little surprised at Piniella's pledge to give regulars more days off during the season.
"I think Spring Training is a time where he's going to change his mind every day on things," Lee said of Piniella. "That's what all managers do in spring. We'll just take it day by day and try to get ready and get out of here healthy and see what happens."
Piniella admitted he doesn't have a set number of days off for players. That won't be an issue until the regular season starts. Right now, the Cubs have other matters to resolve. While thinking out loud, Piniella said he'd like to carry 14 position players and 11 pitchers if possible. The team isn't sure how to slot some players -- newcomer Aaron Miles, for example. Piniella wants to see them on the field, and the Cubs will have 39 spring games to evaluate the team.
Mike Fontenot looks strong enough to play every day. The infielder spent much of his offseason in the weight room, and has the biceps to prove it. His inspiration for the extra reps? While bow hunting, Fontenot had a tough time pulling back the bow and decided he needed to be stronger.
He could get 500 at-bats for the first time in his career with the departure of Mark DeRosa, who was traded to Cleveland. Some of the Cubs admitted they were surprised by the offseason moves.
"A little bit," Lee said. "I kind of like that. It's a sign that they're going to do whatever it takes. They're not satisfied just getting to the playoffs. They have bigger goals."
So do the fans.
"They're probably not going to trust us too much, no matter how well we do in the regular season, but that's good," Lee said. "It'll make it interesting. We know we have a good team. We'll just take it day by day this year and see what happens."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.