02/24/2013 6:16 PM ET
Willis back with Cubs in bid to revive career
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- Dontrelle Willis is back where he started. The left-handed pitcher is in the Cubs' Minor League camp 13 years after he was drafted by the team.
"My arm feels good, the work's been good," said Willis, who has been one of the extra pitchers the last two Cactus League games. "I've been busting my butt to get back in baseball shape. I'm feeling good. The organization has welcomed me back with open arms. It feels good to come full circle and be on the same field I got drafted on 13 years ago."
That seems like a long time ago. There aren't too many people left in the organization.
"I was just telling a story about [Carlos] Marmol being my catcher in rookie ball," Willis said of the Cubs' current closer. "I'm so happy for him and how he's progressed and learned how to pitch. I actually got a chance to face him and that wasn't fun at all."
Marmol could always throw. He was converted from catcher to pitcher because he struggled at the plate. Did Marmol remember catching Willis?
"He was crazy," Marmol said of their days together in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
Willis was selected in the eighth round in 2000, but the Cubs dealt him to the Marlins in March 2002 in a six-player deal in which Chicago got Antonio Alfonseca. Willis, now 31, also has played for the Tigers, D-backs and Reds. He last pitched in the big leagues in 2011.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time, and I know that sounds so cliche and a lot of people say that, but I really count my blessings, one day at a time," Willis said. "It's about the opportunity. Whenever you get an opportunity, you have to make the best of it. This team is going to be good. I expect a lot, and I expect a lot out of myself."
He'd go to the Minors if needed.
"I'm not too proud," he said. "I'd go down there and work my butt off."
He'd prefer to start but right now, he'll do whatever the Cubs ask.
"You do everything you can," he said. "It's no different routine as far as starting and relieving. You definitely have to get your arm in shape and probably a little more because you don't know when you're going to get in a game. That, for me, is the one thing I have to adjust to because I'm such a creature of habit. As funky as I am throwing, I actually have stuff that I have a foundation with. Guys are helping me out a lot."
Samardzija doesn't want opening honor by default
MESA, Ariz. -- Matt Garza has yet to resume baseball activities and Edwin Jackson won't make his first Cactus League start until Tuesday. Jeff Samardzija wants everyone healthy and competing before Cubs manager Dale Sveum picks his Opening Day starter.
"I haven't had that conversation at all," Samardzija said Sunday after his first Cactus League start. "We're still waiting to see what happens with Garz and how he comes along. They know where I stand on it and how I feel.
"It's nice to have a few guys who are capable of doing it," he said. "Hopefully, it gets decided on the field instead of the training room. It's more important to have Garz ready for one of those first five games than rush him along. He's a key part to this team and we all know that. It's more important that he's ready for Opening Day than start one or two here in Spring Training."
Garza is sidelined with a strained left lat, suffered Feb. 17 during his live batting-practice session. He has yet to resume baseball activities.
Samardzija, who gave up one run on three hits over two innings against the Giants on Sunday, does want the Opening Day assignment.
"It's good as an athlete to see your hard work pay off," Samardzija said. "Ultimately, that's what it comes down to. All these dudes in this locker room, everybody works their tail off to be as good as they want to be. When you start getting results like I had last year and things like this, it starts to snowball. I want to keep that good momentum going and we'll see what happens."
Soriano focused on winning with Cubs
MESA, Ariz. -- Alfonso Soriano couldn't get through his first Cactus League game Sunday before the Cubs outfielder's name was mentioned in trade rumors as a possible replacement on the Yankees for Curtis Granderson, who suffered a fractured right forearm.
"I hope [the Yankees] don't look that way because I feel comfortable here and I believe in this team," Soriano said after the Cubs beat the Giants, 4-3, at HoHoKam Stadium. "We have a better chance this year and I hope everybody stays healthy and we have a good April and we'll see what happens.
"I feel comfortable here with this group of guys -- they make me feel young," he said.
However, the Yankees were the first Major League team Soriano played for back in 1999. He played in two World Series with them (2001, 2003) but does not have a ring yet.
"That's the team that opened the door for me in the big leagues," Soriano said. "That was a long time ago."
Would he consider going to New York?
"I don't know," he said. "[Granderson's injury] happened today, and I don't know if they want to call or not. If they call for me, I have to think about it. I don't want to make a quick reaction and say 'yeah' or say 'no.' I want to think about it. I'm 37 years old so I have to think first what's good for me and for the team and for my family, too."
Last year at the Trade Deadline, Soriano drew some interest, and there were six or seven teams that he would have considered.
He does have a full no-trade clause.
"That was last year," he said. "At the Trade Deadline last year, there were six, seven teams that were contenders. Now, it's 2013, and no contenders because the season hasn't started yet. I have to see how we play first, the Cubs, and after that, maybe a couple months, if we're not playing good, they can decide what they want to do with me."
Does that mean he would reject any deal right now?
"I don't want to say no; I want to think about it first," he said. "There isn't a contender yet. There's a lot of good teams that have an 80, 90 percent chance to make the playoffs. We'll see. Today is the second game of Spring Training, and there's a lot of games and a lot of days to go, and I believe we have a better chance than last year.
"The first thing for me is to see the Cubs in the playoffs this year," he said. "I'm not thinking about another team; I'm not thinking I want to get traded. I just want to stay here and make the playoffs and go to the World Series with this team."
Soriano has two years remaining on his eight-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs. He came to Chicago for a reason.
"I want to give it one more chance -- I want to win here," he said. "It's been a long time not winning. I signed here to win and I prepared my mind from the first day I signed the contract to win a World Series here. If I go somewhere else, I want to feel good, but my dream is winning here."
Rondon opening eyes in Cubs camp
MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs got their first look at Rule 5 Draft pick Hector Rondon on Saturday and liked what they saw of the right-hander.
"I was impressed," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Rondon, whose career has been slowed because of elbow problems. "Each time he threw a scud, he came back with a strike. That's what I was impressed with all our pitchers [Saturday]. If they got behind, they came back and got back in the count with a strike and didn't let the at-bat get away from them.
"It was nice to see Rondon in action for the first time," Sveum said. "He threw about three or four cutters that were real quality, which is a pitch he'll have to use. He got back in the count one time with a slider after throwing a scud slider. He showed a lot of poise out there."
Rondon has far more experience than last season's Rule 5 pick, Lendy Castillo, who had not pitched above Class A when acquired. In Castillo's first spring outing in 2012, he gave up one run and one hit and walked one. Rondon gave up one hit in one inning Saturday but that was all.
"He was way ahead [of Castillo] a long time ago, before the injury," Sveum said.
• Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro will be wearing unique Wilson gloves this season that the second baseman designed. The black gloves have Cubs blue-colored trim and their names stitched in red. There is no gold to honor Barney's first Gold Glove Award.
"We don't wear gold in our [team] colors," Barney said. "Cassie and I wanted the same color."
The Gold Glove Award is sponsored by Rawlings; Barney wears Wilson gloves. He will not have a patch on his glove.
"People know," he said about not bragging about the award. "We don't need to remind them."
• Cubs catcher Dioner Navarro wants to wear No. 30. He's worn that his entire career. But right now, it's Travis Wood's number. On Sunday in his first Cactus League game with the Cubs wearing No. 4, Navarro hit a three-run home run.
"I don't think I'm going to change it just yet -- 1-for-1, three [RBIs]," Navarro said.
So, will he keep No. 4?
"No. 30 means a lot to me," Navarro said. "I've been wearing No. 30 my whole career. It means a lot to me but on the other side, it's just a number. I'm playing for the Cubs now; I'm playing for myself. We'll see how it goes."
Cubs manager Dale Sveum has agreed to give up No. 33 to pitcher Carlos Villanueva and take No. 4.
• Video staffer Nate Halm and bullpen catcher Andy Lane both advanced in the second round of the Cubs' bunt tournament Sunday. Others to advance include Edwin Maysonet and Wood. Halm won a spot in the field of 64 by winning the front office/clubhouse staff tourney.
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.