02/20/12 2:53 PM EST
Samardzija ready to contribute in any role
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
"It's a lot different [in camp], but not because the day-to-day activities are different," Samardzija said Monday. "It's a different regime, it's new people. This team has been turned over, it seems like three times. You're still getting to know everyone in the locker room, still getting to know the staff. They've done a great job, an exceptional job of getting everybody together, having meetings with the front office, getting to know the guys personally and getting this team together so we make that turn a little quicker than normal."
Last season was the first in which Samardzija did not start a game. In 2009, he bounced back and forth between Triple-A Iowa and the big league team -- used both out of the bullpen and as a starter -- and did the same in 2010. In 2011, he compiled a 2.97 ERA in 75 appearances.
Samardzija has said he'd like to start, but he also wants to avoid being tagged as selfish. Asked what he thought if he didn't make the rotation and ended up in the bullpen, Samardzija said that was the "worst question" he's heard.
"It's about the team first," Samardzija said. "When it comes down to breaking for the season, you're going to do what's best for the team. Personally, I have my own goals and where I feel like I want to be but as a team, when it comes down to Game 1, it doesn't matter. All that matters is what your role is that they gave you that day and you go from there."
Cubs manager Dale Sveum watched Samardzija from the Brewers dugout last year and said the right-hander is motivated this spring.
"He's obviously a different guy than he was a year ago or two years ago," Sveum said. "His confidence level is at a peak level, and he's on a mission right now."
Samardzija will get stretched out, and could be in the mix along with Chris Volstad, Randy Wells, Travis Wood, and Andy Sonnanstine for a spot in the Cubs' rotation.
"It's fun to almost not be throwing that day so you can sit by the cages and watch these guys throw," Samardzija said. "We've got a lot of strong, young arms mixed in with some very good [veteran] arms, too."
Russell eager to help fill void in bullpen
MESA, Ariz. -- With Sean Marshall gone via trade, the Cubs are looking for a new left-handed setup pitcher going into the new season. James Russell is up for the challenge.
"I'm more than happy to take on a bigger work load," Russell said Monday. "I'm excited. You don't want to see your friends leave, but it's part of the business. If it opens up something for me where I can go on and succeed, so be it. I'd be happy to do it."
Last season, Russell compiled a 2.19 ERA in 59 games in relief. He also subbed in the rotation after Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells were sidelined with injuries, but that didn't go as well, as Russell went 0-5 with a 9.33 ERA.
The other lefties in camp include Scott Maine, Trever Miller, Jeff Beliveau, and John Gaub. Last season, Russell held left-handed hitters to a .250 average, while right-handers hit .312 off him.
"I want to work on some stuff this spring so I can have an even repertoire against righties and lefties, if I do have to face righties," Russell said. "I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be exciting."
Bunt tourney a fun way to jump-start camp
MESA, Ariz. -- Kerry Wood apparently is the early favorite in the Cubs' bunting tournament, being conducted on the half field at Fitch Park.
The field is marked with a point system, so bunts can be worth from 10 to 40 points, depending on where they end up. There's also a 100-point bull's-eye, but a player has to call the shot.
"You can't just bunt a crappy bunt and end up in the bull's-eye and get 100 points for it," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Monday. "You have to call it, kind of like [the basketball game] 'H-O-R-S-E.'"
There's a bracket for the 64 players in camp, similar to the NCAA basketball tourney. Seeding is determined by seniority.
"We're obviously emphasizing fundamentals, and it's a fun way to introduce it and get guys bearing down more," Sveum said.
A winner will be declared among the pitchers and the position players, and after two weeks, there will be a championship game.
"The guys really get into it, and it just makes them focus a little more," Sveum said.
Will there be a prize for the winner?
"There might be," Sveum said, smiling.
Don't count anyone out. Carlos Marmol may not have had a hit since 2006, but he's a candidate. Wouldn't most hitters prefer a home run contest?
"A lot of guys won't have an absolute chance in that," Sveum said. "At least in bunting, we have our good bunters and our bad bunters. In this game, anybody can surprise you on a day-to-day basis."
Cubs closer Carlos Marmol says he's dropping the cut fastball from his repertoire, and will rely on his fastball and slider. The cutter gave Marmol troubles last season. "To be honest with you, I lost a lot of confidence in the last month," he said of last season.
There are three spots apparently set in the Cubs rotation: Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Paul Maholm. Cubs manager Dale Sveum said six pitchers are competing for the other two spots. Chris Volstad is one of those candidates. "I haven't put a whole season together yet and I really think I can," Volstad said. "I've had my ups and downs. I think they're all learning experiences. This could be the time."
Infielder Blake DeWitt has accepted the assignment and will be in the Cubs' camp as a non-roster invitee. DeWitt was designated for assignment on Feb. 6 and cleared waivers. He had to decide whether to become a free agent or rejoin the Cubs as a non-roster invitee.
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.