02/21/2013 6:08 PM ET
Whitenack making progress on comeback trail
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- Robert Whitenack is happy to be back in games that matter.
Whitenack began the 2011 season 7-0 with a 1.93 ERA, then was sidelined with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Last season, he appeared in 15 games for Class A Daytona in the first part of his comeback.
On Thursday, Whitenack, 24, gave up one run on one hit and walked two over two innings in the Cubs' intrasquad game at HoHoKam Stadium. How's the arm feeling?
"It's better," said the right-hander, who was the Cubs' eighth-round Draft pick in 2009. "I have to adjust my release point. Now that my arm has full extension, I have a different release point. I have to adjust a little on the fly. But it's feeling really good -- I just have to take a step back and realize it's very early. It's hard not to let it go because it hasn't felt good in 18 months."
He retired the first three batters he faced on Thursday, then gave up a leadoff double to Welington Castillo, walked two, including Jorge Soler, and got Javier Baez to hit into a force at second, which allowed a run to score.
Whitenack wasn't hesitant to start throwing.
"I wouldn't say tentative, but I was kind of scared a little bit to let it go," he said. "When I'd come down here, I'd feel something in there, just a little ache, and I was a little apprehensive to throw. Now I don't feel it, and I'm just letting it rip, letting it go."
Besides regaining a feel for his pitches, Whitenack also is trying to gain weight. He checked in at 184 pounds when he arrived in camp. He's consuming an extra 1,300 calories a day, drinking five shakes a day.
"I'd like to be 200 [pounds]," Whitenack said. "Whatever I'm at, if I'm 185 [pounds], I want to be a strong 185. The weight to me doesn't matter -- you can be 200 pounds and not strong. Whatever weight I'm at, I want to be strong."
Unconventional delivery works well for Lewis
MESA, Ariz. -- Jensen Lewis is among the pitchers scheduled to throw in the Cubs' intrasquad game Friday at HoHoKam Stadium, and fans who may not be familiar with the right-hander should be able to recognize him quickly. He's the one with the high socks and the herky-jerky delivery.
It's a style Lewis has used since he first started pitching. He even throws a football the same way.
"The most improtant thing is it creates a lot of deception and it's hard for hitters to pick up," said Lewis, a non-roster invitee in camp. "That's important to keep guys off balance. It's something I've always had through college and through the Minor Leagues and stuff. I've been fortunate that most of my pitching coaches have said, 'Hey, if it works for you, just keep it going.'
"I think the thing that's come back to me is in talking to hitters, trying to figure out ways to get better, is it's hard to pick it up and that's fine with me," he said. "It's worked so far."
Lewis, 28, came up through the Indians system, and compiled a 7-11 record and 3.68 ERA in 161 games from 2007-10. He has not pitched in the big leagues since '10, and last year, pitched for the D-backs' Triple-A Reno team, where he was 7-2 with a 3.65 ERA in 52 games.
"God willing, I've stayed healthy," Lewis said. "It's something where everybody has their own unique delivery and this is something I've embraced and I haven't known anything any different. When you've done it that way your entire life, you're just used to it."
His style worked early, and he simply hasn't changed.
"You've got guys who throw side arm, guys who throw over the top," Lewis said. "It's just that unique thing. Everyone's different and it's something that's given me a lot of success."
He does not swing a golf club the same, though.
"No," Lewis said, laughing. "If I did that, I'd be looking for a lot of balls."
• Dioner Navarro hit a two-run single and Ian Stewart added an RBI double in the first inning Thursday to help the Cubs' White team beat the Blue team, 7-3, at HoHoKam Stadium.
Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler showed off his much touted bat speed when he launched a solo homer in the second inning. Brian Bogusevic added another in the fifth for the Blue team. Soler, who turns 21 on Feb. 25, hasn't played much organized baseball in the last two years. Spring is important to him.
"You play every day, you learn more about baseball," Soler said through coach/interpreter Franklin Font.
He's also aware of the interest in him from Cubs fans.
"I want to do everything on the field, to do better, to get better for the Chicago Cubs," Soler said.
Soler was in the same lineup and batting ahead of Javier Baez, another potential impact player, who was the Cubs' first-round Draft pick in 2011. Baez struck out, hit a run-scoring fielder's choice and got doubled off first. He also may be getting some extra infield work.
"A little shaky today," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of the shortstop's defensive play. "It's kind of young stuff that's still there that has to be cleaned up, obviously. A lot of stuff, even stuff behind the scenes that everyone else doesn't see that we have to see, some instinctive stuff."
Soler will start in left field again on Friday in another five-inning intrasquad game at HoHoKam, which will be the final tuneup before the Cactus League season begins Saturday in Tempe against the Angels.
"It's just nice seeing these guys play because we've all come across tool guys and bat speed and all that, and it never seems to pan out," Sveum said. "It's nice to watch them, see how they react to things. [Soler] doesn't seem like a real panic type guy."
• Stewart was pulled from the game because of a "mild, slight, very little quad [strain]," Sveum said. Josh Vitters also was unavailable because of a left quad strain as well.
"It's an epidemic," Sveum quipped.
Stewart appeared to injure his leg coming out of the batter's box after hitting a double in the first inning.
"It doesn't seem to be no big deal and it felt like a cramp," Sveum said.
Stewart and Vitters were listed on Friday's intrasquad lineup, but that may change.
• Logan Watkins had an impressive first-round bunting match against Nate Schierholtz and drew comparisons to last year's winner, David DeJesus, from Sveum. Other players to advance: Scott Hairston, Stewart, Anthony Rizzo, Chris Rusin, Scott Baker and Hisanori Takahashi.
Matt Garza was to have participated, but was skipped because he was doing his rehab for a strained left lat. Strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss, who was the runner-up in the front office/staff competition, will sub for Garza in the tourney.
"If it was [Garza's] right side, I'd let him bunt," Sveum said of the pitcher.
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.