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03/24/09 5:59 PM ET

Back from Classic, Lilly dives right in

Cubs starter tosses 70-pitch simulated game, will start Sunday

MESA, Ariz. -- Among the souvenirs Ted Lilly collected from his World Baseball Classic experience were tips from Team Japan, tidbits from Jake Peavy and enough work to prepare for the regular season.

The Cubs left-hander rejoined the team on Tuesday and went right to work, throwing a 70-pitch simulated game -- or "stimulated game," as Mike Stanton called it -- on the back field. Lilly will be inserted into the Cubs' Cactus League rotation Sunday against the Cleveland Indians.

"It's an experience I'll never forget," Lilly said of playing for Team USA. "It was definitely an honor and privilege. There's still some expectation that I had for us to win the whole thing. That was something that was a goal going in, and it's a little disappointing not to.

"At the end of the day, there's no excuses as to why we couldn't get it done. The fact is we didn't. Japan played better baseball. Those were two pretty good teams in the finals."

Japan ousted Team USA in the semifinals, and then beat Korea on Monday night for the World Baseball Classic championship. Lilly started two games, one in each of the first two rounds, and gave up four runs, struck out five and walked three over 6 1/3 innings. He did not pitch Sunday -- it wasn't his turn.

There has been some criticism that the U.S. team does not have its best players in the event. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig told ESPN's broadcast crew Monday night, "We need to pick up the intensity of our selection process."

Lilly noted that other teams were missing key players. Carlos Zambrano, for example, didn't pitch for Venezuela.

"There's really no excuses," Lilly said. "There's no guarantee you're going to win. You still have to play good baseball. Anything can happen in the game of baseball.

"Looking around, the Dominican Republic didn't have Manny Ramirez or Alfonso Soriano or some of their star players either. I'm sure there are other countries who said, 'If we had this guy, if we had that guy.' The bottom line is there were good teams put together, and Japan played the best baseball."

It's also unfair to assume the U.S. team should automatically win the World Baseball Classic.

"It doesn't work like that, and especially in baseball," Lilly said. "We almost got beat in the first game to Canada, and they were missing some of their guys, too. Anything can happen, any team can get outplayed.

"It was definitely an honor and privilege. There's still some expectation that I had for us to win the whole thing. That was something that was a goal going in, and it's a little disappointing not to."
-- Ted Lilly, on Team USA

"If I'm not making my pitches or throwing well, I could go down to the Minor Leagues and they could hit me around. What I'm saying is, on any given day, you can't take anything for granted."

Watching the Japanese team play and practice was a tremendous learning experience, Lilly said. They are fundamentally sound and do the little things. For example, one of the team's top home run leaders squared to bunt on Monday.

"They spend a lot of time on their defense," he said. "They work on difficult defensive plays, not the routine ones. That's something I don't see so much here. Obviously, their style of hitting is much different -- it's not so much the power game we have here. They don't tend to strike out very much."

Now, it's back to Cactus League play. Lilly said he's healthy and on pace as far as preparation.

"We'll really find out where I am once the season kicks off," he said. "That counts the most. My goal is to make sure I'm prepared to get off to a good start."

Lilly talked to his U.S. teammates about how they do things. There was one constant -- they all work at their craft. Among them was San Diego's Peavy, who was rumored to be traded to the Cubs this offseason.

"I talked to him a little, but it was more in jest," Lilly said of Peavy. "That's something that sounds to me, from what I know, it's something that's out of his control. I don't know what all the details are or if they want to do that deal any more. He didn't have any revealing information for me that I can give to you."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.