04/02/12 5:10 PM ET
Stewart hopes for repeat of birthday bash
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Stewart homered that day in his first plate appearance -- and on the first pitch he swung at -- and became the first player in Major League history to homer in his first at-bat in the season opener on his birthday. The only other player to homer on his birthday in the season opener was Scott Rolen in 2000.
Stewart was playing for the Rockies in Milwaukee and connected on a 3-0 pitch from the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo.
On Thursday, Stewart will start at third for the Cubs when they open the season against the Nationals at Wrigley Field. It will be his 27th birthday.
"[Nice] birthday present -- spend your birthday in Chicago playing for the Cubs," he said.
Stewart is definitely ready for the regular season to start. The Cubs third baseman has played solid defense this spring and feels good at the plate.
"I feel like I've been ready for maybe a week," he said. "My swing's been good, my timing's been on at the plate. Usually, it takes hitters two to three weeks at the most to be feeling good. Obviously, we're here longer [in Spring Training] for the pitchers. I'm looking forward to a couple days from now."
What's also been encouraging is how Stewart's left wrist has responded this spring. He was able to steal a base and survived.
"I still have that bad habit of kind of dragging my wrist," Stewart said of his slide. "I have tape on and a padded wristband thing, and I also have a hard splint that I put on for baserunning. That's helped big time. When you've slid that way for your whole life, it's hard to break and I'm trying, but it's comforting to know that the braces and stuff are working, too."
For trivia buffs, there have been two Cubs who celebrated a birthday by playing on Opening Day. Ross Barnes did so on May 8, 1877, when he turned 27. He went 2-for-4 and scored twice. April 2, 2001, was Jon Lieber's 31st birthday, and he started in the Cubs' Opening Day game against the Expos. He did not get a decision.
And Stewart won't be the only one celebrating. Thursday is backup catcher Steve Clevenger's 26th birthday.
Wood ready to go after distraction-less spring
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- This has been one of the quietest, distraction-less Spring Training camps that Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood can remember.
Well, there was a problem when the team switched from Fitch Park to HoHoKam Park and the cooking staff tried to set up outside the clubhouse, but their equipment was blocking the sidewalk. That's it.
"Work must be getting in the way of that," Wood said Monday of the peaceful camp. "I get there pretty early and I'm one of the last guys there. These guys get there early and start working. I know [hitting coach] Rudy [Jaramillo] has kept them after games a few times. We don't have time to mess around."
Wood couldn't remember ever spending as much time on the back field doing defensive drills. When a team leads the Major Leagues in errors, every area needs to be polished.
"It's something they wanted to address and something they wanted to clean up," Wood said. "It won't be for lack of effort or lack of work this spring. We've gone out and addressed it the way we should, which is working on it to try to get better."
On Monday, Wood made his final spring outing, retiring the side on 11 pitches in the fifth and picked up the win in relief as the Cubs roughed up the D-backs, 8-3.
Manager Dale Sveum predicted pregame an 11-pitch outing, and Wood came through. It was the right-hander's seventh appearance and he will leave Arizona with five innings total. The Cubs hope that's enough.
"[We're] just a little more patient this year," Wood said. "We get here [to camp] and we're excited to be around the guys and next thing you know, six days later, we're facing hitters. We backed it off a little bit."
At 34 and entering his 15th season, Wood should know how to prepare. His 2011 season ended early due to a torn meniscus in his left knee, but that hasn't slowed him. The light workload may be more preventive than anything else.
"I feel good, my body feels ready to go," Wood said. "Counting back stuff and side stuff, I've been off the mound enough."
Wood said his command has been good. He's been able to throw his cutter to both sides of the plate and just needs to fine-tune his curve.
Wood has averaged 56 innings over the last four seasons and in his role as the Cubs' No. 1 set-up man, hopes to reach that total again and possibly more.
"The only thing I did tell [Sveum] is, 'If there's a day when something comes up and I can't go, I'll personally come in and talk to you,'" Wood said.
He did that once last year with manager Mike Quade. Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio want to make sure when they get Wood warmed up for a game that they use him.
"I don't think there will be as many up and down's [in the bullpen] as last year," Wood said.
Since 1998, Wood has spent all but two seasons with the Cubs. Does he have a feel for this team?
"It's really hard to get a read," Wood said. "I haven't seen all the guys down in the 'pen. I know the energy level is definitely here, we've put a lot more work in and guys still have energy and are still upbeat every day. Spring has a tendency to get long, especially with the amount of work these guys have been doing. I know they're all itching to get going. We've got a good young team and excited to get rolling."
Sveum not one for motivational speeches
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Cubs manager Dale Sveum has held meetings every morning in Spring Training, but that will stop once the regular season starts.
Sveum does plan on addressing the team before the regular-season opener Thursday at Wrigley Field, but he doesn't feel a need to pump the players up with a fire-and-brimstone motivational talk.
"We'll have our meeting and I'll say something," Sveum said Monday. "It won't be choreographed or anything. It won't be a Knute Rockne speech or anything. I think I say it enough in my morning meetings, so it's nothing they don't know. I'd be repeating myself.
"They know -- they don't need to say a whole lot on Opening Day and when the season starts," he said. "You better not need somebody to motivate you when the season starts on Opening Day."
Count Sveum among those who are ready for the regular season to get started. His players are eager to break camp.
"Spring Training is long," Sveum said. "We're all beat up now a little bit and you see a little bit of the energy drop in the last three, four days -- not so much on the field, but in drills and stuff. That's been going on for 100 years. Guys have just had enough, and it's time to get started and get a whole new energy level built up. It's not that easy to find that energy in Spring Training, at the end of it, because you know what that season is going to be like on Thursday."
The Cubs will continue to meet during the season, usually before a road trip or series.
"It'll just be fun stuff," Sveum said.
David DeJesus, who was batting .207 this spring, may have found something to get him back on track after a few recent sessions with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.
"It's coming along," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Monday of DeJesus. "Sometimes, it's a process for people. Sometimes, they look too deep into things, especially veteran players in Spring Training. It's just wait and see what happens during the season.
"I know Rudy and he have talked," Sveum said. "It's been interesting, actually. It could be a huge impact on why the numbers haven't been there the last year."
Sveum didn't want to reveal the topic, but he said it's something mechanical with DeJesus' swing.
• Chris Rusin, the Cubs' fourth-round Draft pick in 2009, started and gave up two hits over 5 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out three against the Angels on Sunday.
"He's a kid who makes the ball go sideways pretty well," Sveum said. "It was pretty impressive how he was able to get guys to swing over balls by eight to 10 inches constantly, no hard contact but a couple times. It was very impressive how he kept the ball down. Whenever you have guys who can move the ball sideways, as long as you have command, you'll have success in the big leagues. You don't have to be perfect if you can make the ball go sideways."
• The bullpen decisions most likely won't be determined until Wednesday.
"[We're] still in flux," Sveum said. "We'll see what happens."
• Cubs coach Mike Borzello wears a blue T-shirt that says "Militia" on the front and "U.C.G.B." on the back. All of the catchers have one, as well as their own salute. Borzello worked with the catchers this spring, often beginning their drills at 6:15 a.m.
"We looked at it as the catchers are one unit," Borzello said.
Which is why it says "Militia" on the front. The acronym on the back stands for "Unit Corps God Borzy," Borzello said. The last one is his nickname. After all, he's the leader.
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.