03/09/12 5:50 PM EST
Sutcliffe sees change in Cubs' attitude
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Sutcliffe played for the Cubs from 1984-91, and had been in spring camp when Lou Piniella was manager, but the big right-hander wasn't as hands-on with the pitchers then as he has been this year.
Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations, contacted Sutcliffe shortly after Dale Sveum was named manager in November, and wanted him to work, not sign autographs.
"I'm doing what I'm asked to do," Sutcliffe said Friday. "Lou and I, we clicked. Dale's a lot younger. I wanted to get to know what was going on here and they've got a great staff. Any way I can help. Chris [Bosio, pitching coach] is phenomenal. Chris has told each one of us coaches to grab a guy and help him. Not everybody is like that. That's been encouraging and a lot of fun. As Theo knew when he took the job, there's a lot of work to do here."
The experience appears to be beneficial for both the pitchers and Sutcliffe. Rodrigo Lopez and Chris Volstad both have said Sutcliffe has been key in tweaking their grips. He may have made more of an impact talking to them as well as young right-hander Jeff Samardzija about the mental side of the game.
On Saturday, Sutcliffe heads home, but he expects to be back. He likes what he's seen so far.
"There's some nice things going on here," he said. "I wasn't here last year. I wasn't on board with what was happening and I love the Cubs, pull for them, but I didn't feel I was welcome.
"I've been around the Phillies and the Yankees, and when you go down to a bullpen and watch five or six guys throw, you sit back and almost every other guy, you go 'Wow, he's got a chance,'" Sutcliffe said. "There wasn't a whole lot of 'wow' going on here [in Cubs camp]. It was disappointing. You've got to know where you're at to get better."
And Sutcliffe sees Epstein, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting and player development director Jason McLeod as the people to get the team on track. Sutcliffe will leave camp with 10 pages of notes on things he's learned from Sveum this spring and will likely utilize that during his ESPN "Baseball Tonight" segments.
Aren't those secrets?
"There aren't any secrets," Sutcliffe said. "There's the truth and the fact that this is a mess. To me, the chain of command was broke, people were going in different directions with no leadership. There's leadership now."
He said the players have to come from within the organization and the Red Sox are the perfect example. Jon Lester was Boston's top pick in 2002, outfielder David Murphy in '03, Dustin Pedroia in '04. All have made it to the big leagues, all have contributed. The Cubs' top selections those years? In '02, it was right-handed pitcher Bobby Brownlie, in '03, Ryan Harvey, and in '04, right-handed pitcher Grant Johnson. None reached the Major Leagues.
"Those guys [they drafted] in '02, '03, '04, they're supposed to be carrying us now," Sutcliffe said. "Those guys are no where to be found [with the Cubs]. That's why Jed was brought in and Jason was brought in. Theo is going to have to evaluate for this thing to evolve, and I really think that's the No. 1 reason Theo asked me to come back as far as our pitching. 'What do you see? What's your opinion?' That's all it is -- nothing more than my opinion."
It's easy to pick up on the change in attitude and energy in Cubs camp under Sveum.
"I tell these guys, I played on some good Cubs teams and I played on some teams that won, and I played on a couple teams that didn't," Sutcliffe said. "But I didn't play in front of empty seats. [The fans] were there through the good and the bad because they liked what they saw. We won as many games as our ability was capable of.
"We played hard, we policed ourselves," he said. "That's what they're going to see here. To me, that's the exciting part about it. They know who's in charge in this clubhouse. When [Sveum] walks through, you know. He's got their respect. Nobody's going to outwork him. There's been a lot of teaching going on. It's a great staff. I learn something every day from each and every one of them. Dale had impact on the guys who are here."
Competition aside, Wells, Wood offer support
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Travis Wood needed Randy Wells to bail him out of a jam Friday, and Wells did. The two may be competing for one of two spots in the Cubs' rotation, but they also support each other.
"We're all pulling for each other and you don't want to see anybody not have a good game or anything like that," Wells said. "We rode over here together. [Wood's] a good dude and teammate and I was pulling for him, and he was pulling for me. That's the way it is with Chris [Volstad] and Paul [Maholm] and Jeff [Samardzija]. I think that's what good teams are made of. You go out and do what you can do and control what you can control and at the end of camp, whatever happens, happens."
On Friday against the White Sox, Wood got the start, his first, and gave up one run on three hits and two walks over 2 1/3 innings. The White Sox loaded the bases against the lefty with one out in the third, which is when the Cubs called on Wells, who got Paul Konerko to ground into a double play on a sinker and end the inning.
"It wasn't ideal for me," Wood said. "[Wells] did an excellent job."
It's a role Wells isn't used to.
"It was weird," Wells said. "I thought I was going in for the third inning, but they said [Wood] was going back out. I was kind of hot and I stood around trying to figure out what to do and get ready and all of a sudden [bullpen coach Lester Strode] said, 'Get hot.' It was weird. I got the blood pumping and excited and I was able to make a pretty good pitch to Konerko to get the double play and help Travis out."
Wells lasted 2 2/3 innings, and gave up one hit and struck out one. Rodrigo Lopez, another candidate for the rotation, struck out one over two innings.
It'll be an interesting decision at the end of spring when the Cubs have to decide who will round out the rotation.
"You don't feel like you're competing, you just feel like you have to go out and do your job," Wells said. "I can't go out there and throw 98 [mph] and blow through hitters like Jeff Samardzija does, but if I can go out there and get ground balls like I did today, that's my game. Hopefully, I put myself in position to earn a roster spot here or whatever they want me to do."
Wells is penciled in to start in his next outing. Cubs manager Dale Sveum said the plan is to give them all starts, even if it's in Minor League games.
"May the best man win, no hard feelings either way," Wood said.
Wells is used to fighting for a spot. He did that last spring, and was the Cubs' No. 4 starter. But he made one start, April 4, and was then shut down because of a strained right forearm.
"It sounds like a broken record, but I just have to do what I can do and pitch well and put my name in the mix," Wells said.
One thing that is different is camp under Sveum and his staff.
"I like the way everything's run," Wells said. "Everything's cut and dry. There's no, 'What are we doing today?' The plans are up and we talk about the previous games and what we can improve on and I guess the word I'm looking for is there's no guessing. Everybody knows what they have to do and if you go out and do it, it makes [management's] job that much tougher. I wouldn't want to be them if everybody keeps doing what they're doing. It's probably the best camp I've ever been in."
Soto could see first game action Saturday
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Geovany Soto said Friday he hopes to be in the Cubs' lineup on Saturday when they play the Brewers, which would be his first game action this spring.
Soto has been sidelined with a strained groin. Backup catcher candidate Jason Jaramillo also is making progress. He has been bothered by sore legs and admits he made it worse by trying to play through it.
"I thought I could get through it, and it didn't go away," Jaramillo said. "It came to the point where I had to say something and had to get it fixed. Where I'm at is I'm getting a lot better. I'm hoping to get out there soon."
The problem was both legs, and he said there's still some tightness in his right leg. However, Jaramillo hoped to hit on Friday for the first time since being sidelined.
"I'm optimistic I can go out there and show them what I've got," said Jaramillo, who is vying for the backup catcher job and is the only candidate with any Major League experience. "I know what I can do. I just have to get out there."
Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger appear to be the front-runners for the backup job.
The Cubs trimmed the spring camp roster by four, sending right-handed pitchers Marco Carillo and Trey McNutt, outfielder Jae-Hoon Ha, and infielder Jonathan Mota to Minor League camp. With the moves, the spring roster now is at 59 players.
McNutt battled injuries in a 5-6 season last year at Double-A Tennessee.
"He's got the stuff, he's got the makeup," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of the right-hander. "He's just got to be more consistent with his breaking ball. He's got to understand how to use it and when to use it. He works as hard as anybody. His makeup is great. It's just a matter of going out there and being more consistent on an every start basis."
Sveum has been on the other side of the manager's desk when he's told it's the end of the line and he's been cut. Now, he's in the manager's hot seat.
"It's tough," Sveum said. "There's a lot of times you're cutting people who have worked hardest or they're the greatest guys. There's a lot of tough decisions that come at the end of Spring Training. A lot of them become emotional times, too, because you grow attached to somebody. A lot of times guys get too old and just can't play at this level any more. I've been there and know that feeling, too."
Some players hide in the clubhouse when they know roster cuts are coming.
"It's the worst thing to ever happen to you -- that tap on your shoulder, 'Hey, the manager wants to see you,'" Sveum said. "We all know it's part of the game."
Alfonso Soriano has hit three homers and led off Friday's game with his second double this spring. The left fielder has shortened his leg kick.
"It might have been time where he came up with it," Sveum said. "As you get older, the bat slows down, and you've got to have a lot less moving parts to your swing, especially that big ol' log he swings. Less moving parts, the easier."
Sveum was looking forward to seeing his friends on the Brewers on Saturday when the Cubs travel to Maryvale Baseball Park for their first Cactus League meeting.
"It'll be interesting," Sveum said. "I'll get to see everybody for the first time in a while. It'll be fun facing them. I'm looking forward to it, to see the guys and say hello. We'll try to beat their butts, but it'll be good to see everybody."
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.