03/30/09 8:33 PM ET
Hill, Hoffpauir in; Bako, Stanton out
Cubs finalize Opening Day roster with several moves
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
The Cubs released Bako and Stanton on Monday, trimming the spring roster to 28, which includes 15 pitchers, two catchers, six infielders and five outfielders. The Cubs' position players are set.
Hill and Bako were battling for the job of backing up catcher Geovany Soto. Hill's reward on Monday? Catching 10 innings of the Cubs' 8-8 tie with the Kansas City Royals on the road.
"First of all, Hill's had a good spring," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "Outside of that, we talked about it long and hard and the decision was made. It wasn't easy. The important thing is hopefully Paul can get a Major League job. He's a capable Major League catcher. If he can get a Major League job, I'll be happy."
Bako, 36, signed a free-agent contract with the Cubs on Jan. 30, and was batting .364 this spring. That was helped by a 4-for-4 game on March 23 at Oakland. He was hitting .231 prior to that outing.
This was Bako's second turn with the Cubs, having played for them in 2003-04. Last year, he batted .217 in 99 games with the Cincinnati Reds. Stanton, 41, was out of baseball in '08 after being released by the Reds on April 10, 2008. The left-hander has a career 68-63 record and 3.92 ERA in 1,178 games.
Hill, 30, was batting .391 this spring. He spent the majority of last season at Triple-A Iowa, coming back from a horrific hand injury suffered after the 2007 season in which he severed three of his fingers with a table saw. The fingers were reattached, he went through a painful rehab, and somehow batted .275 last year at Iowa with 17 homers and 64 RBIs.
"Koyie's worked hard, it's a good story, he's been here before," Piniella said. "When he had a chance to catch here, he caught well and helped us win some ballgames. He had to come in here and compete, and compete he did. He's had one of the better springs."
Hill will celebrate, along with his family in Oklahoma and Wichita, Kan.
"I'm excited," Hill said. "I've got a lot of people to thank. It's a big step for me personally."
He wasn't sure he'd have full use of his right hand, which is his throwing hand, let alone play baseball after the accident. He said he was in the same situation in 2006 when he played for Arizona, battling for a spot, but this time was different. Hill wasn't rebounding from a potentially career-threatening injury.
"You focus on the task at hand, and you stay inside that little bubble and concentrate on what you have to do and things will take care of themselves," he said. "In my mind, I'm confident in the job I do. What else is there after that? You go home, you look yourself in the mirror and you can be happy with it, win, lose or draw. It took a lot of people to get me back to where I am now. I've got a lot of calls to make."
On Monday, Hill and the other Cubs had gone onto the field at HoHoKam Park to stretch, and he noticed they were one player short.
"Guys started coming up to congratulate me," Hill said. "It was nice. Lou had some nice words for me in the outfield. It was good. A good day."
No one went up to Hoffpauir on Monday, but he's done the math and knows how many bodies are left in the Cubs' camp.
"You never know going in," Hoffpauir said. "You try to do what you can to get there. Hopefully, I am there. We'll see."
Hoffpauir, 29, was batting .286 this spring and ranked among the Major League leaders with 24 RBIs, picking up two more on Monday. He leads the team with five home runs. Was he getting anxious, waiting for word?
"I thought I was doing what I had to do," he said. "As far as sweating it out, no. I have no control over that. They'll make their decision on performance. That's the end of it.
"It's a great feeling," he said. "It's a dream come true. To make the Opening Day roster is special. It's the first time for me. Hopefully, I can stick around and help the team out a little bit."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.