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03/04/12 7:06 PM ET

Sveum introduces new situational drill

MESA, Ariz. -- One of the new drills in Cubs camp gets everyone involved. It's a situational drill in which there are infielders, plus a pitcher is on the mound and another is at the plate. Manager Dale Sveum stands in front of the mound and announces whether there are runners on, and how many outs there are. The coaches and players go over the signs, and then Sveum throws to the pitcher.

Sometimes pitchers are expected to get the runners in, sometimes they have to bunt.

"It's just situational stuff -- you've got guys on first and second, what are you going to do?" said pitcher Randy Wells, who hit a single and double on Saturday. "The pitchers can work on baserunning. It was a way to incorporate everything at game speed.

"I liked it," Wells said. "It's better than repeating the same thing over and over again. Here you had a situation where you have to check the runner and you have to think. 'OK, the bunt went to third, you're going to third.'"

Cubs' rotation hopefuls begin game competition

MESA, Ariz. -- Competition for the final two spots in the Cubs' rotation began in earnest on Sunday, with Rodrigo Lopez getting the start in the Cactus League opener against the Athletics.

"We have some tough choices and we want to give every one of them every opportunity in the world to prove to us they should be one of the five guys who are going to start the season with us," manager Dale Sveum said Sunday.

Lopez faced six batters, and he struck out two in an efficient outing. He's been adjusting his grip after a few sessions with former Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, who is a guest instructor in camp and was Lopez's pitching coach in Rookie ball with the Padres.

"He gave me a couple things to work on with the grip [of his slider]," Lopez said. "Today, I tried to work on the new grip. Most of them worked pretty good."

Besides Lopez, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad, and Travis Wood are among those vying for the two spots. Samardzija will start Wednesday against the Royals, and he has been impressive this spring. There also are some younger players whom the Cubs want to look at, such as Casey Coleman and Jay Jackson.

"We're stretching [Samardzija], out and he knows that," Sveum said of the right-hander, who pitched in relief last year. "We're going to see what we've got there. We all know that will be a huge [decision] around March 25. The way he's throwing the ball, it's going to be hard to think anybody will hit him all that good. He's throwing the heck out of the ball, and he's on a mission to win one of those spots."

Lopez was 6-6 with a 4.42 ERA last season with the Cubs and isn't one of the first names mentioned in discussions about who is battling for the spots.

"I don't want to think about what's going to happen or who I'm battling against," Lopez said. "I just felt like, 'Go out there and do my thing.'"

Lopez was hoping to get a chance to return to the Cubs, and he signed a Minor League deal Jan. 9.

"I love the team and love the city," Lopez said. "I've played for a few teams already, but the experience I had last year playing for the Cubs at Wrigley, it doesn't have any match in baseball. They were interested early -- since November they were calling. I felt they really wanted me to go back. I know there's a lot of competition here, but I'm just going to do my thing, and they know what I'm capable of doing."

Anyone who doesn't make the rotation does not automatically go into the bullpen, Sveum said. That's also to be finalized in the next month of games.

The Cubs had the starters throw 45 pitches in their last outings in camp before the games began, and they will be backed off slightly in their first game action. Sveum said they hope to avoid the so-called "dead arm" phase of camp by doing that.

Sveum pleased with aggressive baserunning

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs were able to steal two bases in the second inning on Sunday, but in the fourth inning, David DeJesus and Darwin Barney were both picked off first base by A's catcher Kurt Suzuki.

"[First-base coach Dave McKay] was like, 'Focus on balls in the dirt,'" DeJesus said. "[He said], 'Once the ball is in the dirt, get in the shuffle and go.' We both had good jumps on it, but [Suzuki] picked them both. We were working on something there. Kurt is a quality catcher. It was a great job by him."

Despite the outs, manager Dale Sveum liked what he saw, because it's part of his plan to get the players to be more aggressive.

"The first instinct was right and the second instinct got you thrown out at first base instead of second base," Sveum said. "If we had won that game today, we would've won it because of baserunning."

Guys were advancing on fly balls and making the Athletics hurry their throws, for example. Sveum wants the players to be aggressive and trust their first instincts.

"I've told these guys, 'Your second instinct will always be wrong,'" he said.

Extra bases

• Manager Dale Sveum wasn't happy with the outcome after Sunday's 12-10 loss to the Athletics in his debut game as the Cubs manager, but he could see results from what he's been preaching this spring.

"Obviously we didn't throw enough strikes," Sveum said. "Walking guys cost us quite a few runs, as well as the game-winning run there. That was basically about it."

Sveum was pleased with some defensive plays by Adrian Cardenas and Brett Jackson as well.

"I was pleased with the effort," Sveum said. "Guys ran balls out, ran routine fly balls out. As far as everything went today, besides the score and a couple little hiccups, everything went real well."

• Alfonso Soriano may have led off on Sunday for the Cubs, but his spot in the lineup now could simply be a chance for the left fielder to get him at-bats.

"He's up there and this gives his legs a little bit of a break here in Spring Training," Sveum said. "He's been working as hard as anybody. I was there, even though I had to play all the innings all the time. You try to gradually build into the seven innings on the field, nine innings on the field. You don't like giving guys starts without giving them three at-bats. That's the basics behind that right now."

Sveum said he expects to have the regular-season lineup finalized by March 15.

• Carlos Marmol pitched one inning in Sunday's Cactus League opener, and he retired the side in order. The right-hander will be used in save situations later this spring.

"It doesn't matter right now," Sveum said about when he uses Marmol. "You want guys to face other teams' good lineups and those kind of guys -- the Kerry Woods and those guys. At the beginning, they'll pitch earlier in the game just to get them out. You don't want them sitting around, standing around."

• Three finalists remain in WGN Radio's contest for the next Cubs song. Fans can listen to the songs on wgnradio.com and vote on which will become the official WGN Radio Cubs song of 2012. The finalists are "Cubs Win" by 17 Candle; "Let's Go Cubbies" by The Fold; and "Rockin' Right at Wrigley" by Derrick Procell. Voting will end at 8:30 a.m. CT on March 16.

• At least 10 players took part in extra hitting with coach Rudy Jaramillo after Sunday's game, including Anthony Rizzo, Josh Vitters, Matt Szczur and Steve Clevenger.

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.