2/19/2013 5:32 P.M. ET
Vitters enjoys short stint in Venezuelan league
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- Josh Vitters' Venezuelan experience statistically lasted two games, but the Cubs' third-base prospect got much more from his short stint.
Vitters, 23, went to Venezuela in November to play for Leones del Caracas. He went 0-for-7, striking out twice in two games, Nov. 16 and 18, playing third base in one game and batting as the designated hitter in another.
And then he was sent home. What happened?
"Our third baseman was playing really well at the time," Vitters said Tuesday. "I went down there and they didn't have a spot for me, so I came back home."
The Cubs' No. 1 Draft pick in 2007, who has a .283 average in the Minor Leagues, Vitters stayed in Venezuela as long as he could.
"They had me practicing in the wings, trying to keep me ready just in case," he said. "It was a first-class organization. It wasn't a bad experience. It was just unfortunate I didn't get more chances to play."
The Cubs wanted Vitters to get more at-bats after he batted .121 in 36 games last season in his first big league action. He'd planned on staying longer.
"It was one of those situations that you really can't control," he said. "I worked hard down there. It was more productive for me than not doing anything. I got to watch games, play in some games and practiced every day and stayed in shape. It was still beneficial."
On Monday, Vitters was working out at first base during drills. He hopes to get more action in the Cactus League than he did in Venezuela.
"I'm going to be playing mainly third, as usual, and playing first base and also corner outfield in Spring Training," he said. "I'm just trying to increase my versatility to be more valuable to the team. I'm excited about it."
He's now spent offseasons in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
"I've got a lot of stamps [on my passport] -- I'm proud of those," he said.
Samardzija expects Garza to be in mix for opener
MESA, Ariz. -- Matt Garza may be sidelined with a strained left lat, but that doesn't mean he's not in the mix to be the Cubs' Opening Day starter.
"I know how Garza is, I know he's a competitor," Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija said Tuesday. "I know how big of a year he wants to have. To sit and count Garza out wouldn't be the smartest thing to do. I want that competition. I want me and Garza and Edwin [Jackson] to go out and compete for that spot. It's only going to make us better and build us as a core of the rotation."
Garza has been shut down pitching-wise since he came out of Sunday's live batting practice session after 20 pitches with a strained left lat -- which an MRI revealed later. On Tuesday, he was working out on the eliptical machine. There's no timetable for when he'll resume baseball activities.
As for Samardzija, he was happy to dodge a possible injury on Monday when he danced out of the way of Darwin Barney's comebacker during the live BP session.
"He sits on my cutter," Samardzija said of Barney. "He's not going to get another one."
Samardzija is on the same schedule he was one year ago and feels strong. The only change has been the absence of his training partner, pitcher Ryan Dempster, now with the Red Sox. The two would run up Camelback Mountain as part of their program.
"I've been up there a few times this year," Samardzija said. "I guess [Anthony] Rizzo went and ran it [Monday] so he's probably hurting today. Of all the things that have changed for me, that's been the big thing. For three years, me and Demp have been here in the offseason working out together.
"When you work out with someone who has a strong work ethic, it's easier to work out," he said. "It's easier to wake up early, it's easier to go climb Camelback, it's easier to do things like that. I've really had to learn how to push myself this offseason and do it alone, which is tough. That was great when Demp was here. You get to learn those things and learn how to work and learn when to work, too."
Couldn't Samardzija get anyone to train with him in Arizona?
"Nobody was down here in the offseason," Samardzija said. "I was talking to my dog most of the offseason. My social skills took a hit."
• Cubs manager Dale Sveum was replaced as the pitcher for the team bunting tournament in the middle of an at-bat because of a nasty blister.
"I've got a pretty good blister and I wasn't feeling the ball too much," said Sveum, whose delivery became very erratic. "I threw a little bit too much to the front office [on Saturday] and my finger's a little bit raw."
Players to advance on Tuesday included Michael Brenly, Jeff Samardzija, Jaye Chapman, Brent Lillibridge, Darnell McDonald, Blake Parker, Brett Jackson and Alberto Cabrera. Cabrera won by default because his opponent, Cory Wade, didn't show. Parker beat Kyuji Fujikawa, who batted right-handed. The Japanese pitcher usually hits left-handed.
"No good," Fujikawa said as he walked off the field.
• Wednesday will be the Cubs' last day at Fitch Park. The team will move north after the workout to HoHoKam Stadium. The Cubs are moving to a new facility in 2014 located in west Mesa. Will Sveum get sentimental after two seasons at Fitch?
"I'll probably tear up," he quipped.
• The Cubs plan to tweak the seventh-inning stretch format at Wrigley Field this year. Jim Oboikowitch, Cubs in-game programming director, said they will focus on former Cubs players, Chicago natives and people who know baseball and are Cubs fans.
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.