03/13/2013 8:26 PM ET
Rowson sees positives in Cubs' spring at-bats
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs got a big piece of their lineup back on Wednesday with Starlin Castro's return. They're still missing Anthony Rizzo, who is playing for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic.
The offense hasn't been sharp, but hitting coach James Rowson isn't concerned.
"I'm focused on the quality of the at-bats, and honestly, there have been some really good quality at-bats," Rowson said before Wednesday's game against the Rockies. "There have been some situations where obviously you can nitpick here and there, but I think the overall quality of at-bats have been good. We've had a lot of hard-hit balls that have been caught. These guys are having quality approaches for the most part, so the positive side is that's what I'm taking out of Spring Training is that each at-bat has some positive stuff to it."
The Cubs entered Wednesday hitting .254, ranked 13th in the National League, and Rowson said he can't wait until the regular lineup is together.
"If we focus now on the quality of every plate appearance, and then we put together those eight guys in the lineup together, we should have some synergy working," Rowson said. "I'm not overly worried about it now and trying to stay the course."
Injuries have allowed the Cubs to get a good look at some of the younger players on the roster, including Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler.
"It's fun to watch him, to be honest," Rowson said. "It's a matter of learning him right now. We're letting him go out and show what he does naturally, his natural ability, and then we'll talk later. His natural ability speaks for itself so far. The power is ridiculous, the ability to lay off some tough breaking balls for a young kid is phenomenal, so obviously, he'll continue in his development, but he's on the right track."
Soler, who started in right field and hit seventh Wednesday, hit .304 in his first 13 games.
"The great part is that he's not intimidated at all," Rowson said. "He goes up there and he's very confident, no matter who he's facing. There's no, 'Oh, this pitcher is in the big leagues.' He's concerned about himself and performing, and he's done a good job so far."
Interpreter on mound helps Fujikawa, Navarro
MESA, Ariz. -- In a rule change this year, interpreters will be allowed onto the field during games to help coaches and managers get their message to the pitchers during mound visits. What was lost in translation in the beginning finally made sense between Kyuji Fujikawa and catcher Dioner Navarro.
Fujikawa, one of two Japanese pitchers on the Cubs' staff, entered in the sixth inning of a 2-0 loss Wednesday against the Rockies. Navarro, who had not caught the right-hander in a game before, went to the mound to go over the signs. Apparently, there was a little miscommunication.
"It was a little rough," Navarro said. "It's part of Spring Training. He's still working on stuff, and we're trying to get on the same page. He battled through the inning and minimized the damage and did a great job. He made the pitches when he needed to make them."
It helped after interpreter Ryo Shinkawa went to the mound with pitching coach Chris Bosio, and Navarro met them.
"It was a little weird at the beginning," Navarro said. "We've got a little sign situation where I wanted to get it right, and after we did, it became a lot easier."
Fujikawa, who had not walked any batters in his previous spring outings, walked the first batter he faced, then gave up a single. He struck out Josh Rutledge before walking Carlos Gonzalez, prompting the visit from Bosio and Shinkawa. Apparently the problem was that the first time Navarro called for a cutter, Fujikawa threw a slider.
"I just wanted to get it right," Navarro said. "It wasn't a big deal, but once the runners got on, I didn't want to make a fool of myself behind the plate. Once the interpreter went out, and we settled that down, it was a lot easier."
Fujikawa did give up a sacrifice fly to Troy Tulowitzki to score Colorado's second run, but struck out Michael Cuddyer to end the inning.
"He's pretty good," Navarro said of the Cubs' new set-up pitcher. "He's got a live fastball -- it gets onto you quick -- he's got a really nice split and the cutter. He uses his cutter a lot. I think he'll be a huge help for us."
As long as they get the signs right. Navarro said he will probably learn more Japanese as the season progresses.
"I'm trying to learn the curse words," he said.
Castro does it all in first action since February
MESA, Ariz. -- Starlin Castro returned to the Cubs lineup Wednesday and passed all the tests.
The Cubs shortstop, who had not played since Feb. 27 because of a tight left hamstring, drew a walk in the first inning and singled in the third to load the bases against the Rockies. He also made three consecutive throws and putouts in the second inning.
"I felt pretty good," Castro said. "I'm ready to play. I'll still play every day, but I want to get going easy, I don't want to be hurt again."
The plan is to ease him into action, and Castro was lifted after three innings in an eventual 2-0 loss.
"I don't want to be too rushed," he said. "I can move pretty good. When I took ground balls earlier in [batting practice], I felt pretty good."
Castro played in all 162 games last season and has said he wants to do the same this year. It felt good for him to be on the field and not working with the medical staff.
"I don't want to be in the training room my whole life," Castro said. "I want to play."
He predicted this would be a big year for himself and the Cubs.
"I think this year is going to be a big year that I have because I feel very good defensively and offensively," Castro said. "Let's see what happens, let's see where the team goes. I think this year will be good."
Garza resumes throwing, targets April-May return
MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs pitcher Matt Garza, sidelined with a strained left lat, will resume his throwing program Wednesday, but still was not expected to be ready for the regular season until early May.
The right-hander played catch Sunday and Monday, and so far, so good.
"It's still small steps," Garza said Wednesday. "I threw Sunday and Monday, and didn't want to say anything because I didn't know how it would come out. It felt all right [Tuesday]. Today, we'll do it again and see how it goes. We'll push it a little more and see where it's at, and see how it responds tomorrow."
He has not thrown off a mound since Feb. 17, when he first felt the soreness during a live batting practice session at Fitch Park.
"[I'm not doing anything] out of the ordinary," Garza said of his current program. "I'm just slowly getting back into it."
He expected some soreness after throwing on consecutive days, but felt OK.
"I was muscular sore, but not the old sore," he said. "I'm activating muscles again. It's just slow."
It's slow and frustrating for the 29-year-old.
"I'm this far in and fully committed," Garza said. "I've got to take it easy and keep going. I'm still working out and doing everything like that. We'll see how it goes day by day."
Cubs manager Dale Sveum said he was encouraged by the progress Garza has made, and Garza said he's optimistic he'll be ready by the middle of April.
"I'm still hoping," Garza said. "We've got three weeks left. Hopefully I can be ready to make an appearance the last week [of Spring Training], and if not, possibly Houston [March 29-30], and then go out and make a couple starts and be ready."
Sveum was a little more realistic.
"He's got to get off a mound just to throw off a mound a couple times," Sveum said. "His Spring Training will basically really start a week from now if everything goes good today."
Fractured rib sidelines prospect Lake
MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs infielder Junior Lake was diagnosed with a stress fracture in the top rib on his right side and will be sidelined four to six weeks, the team announced Wednesday. He will rehab the rest of Spring Training.
Lake, who missed time last spring because of an ankle injury and was then slow to start the season because of a back injury, played third base and some outfield this spring.
"Learning a new position, he's a little bit raw there, but he still did a pretty good job there," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Lake's play at third. "Swinging the bat, he's a very premeditated swinger. He's just not getting good pitches to hit, and he's swinging at arm action a lot. He's a guy who has a lot of bat speed and doesn't have to be a premeditated swinger, but he's still in that mode. He's got all the tools. We didn't get to see him play the outfield but a couple times. It's a nice player to have, but there's still development there."
Lake, who turns 23 on March 27, batted .304 in 10 games this spring.
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.