03/25/2013 4:27 PM ET
Clevenger strengthening grip on roster spot
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs may not finalize their bench until Sunday, the day before the regular season begins, but it appears Steve Clevenger has the edge for that last spot.
Clevenger, who made the Opening Day roster last year as the backup catcher, entered Monday batting .395 this spring and .526 (10-for-19) in his last 11 games. A left-handed hitter, he's also 7-for-13 off southpaws this spring.
"He had a rough time the last three months of last season and struggled at a little bit of everything and came into Spring Training in the best shape he's ever been in and worked extremely hard at the infield," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Clevenger, who can sub at first or third if needed.
"You can't take away that the guy has swung the bat better than anybody in camp," Sveum said. "The guy's always hit. [On Sunday], he took a [96 mph fastball] and hit it off the center-field wall. The other day, he gets 0-2 and lines a ball through the six-hole. The guy's a big league hitter."
Clevenger scuffled in the second half last season with the Cubs and was unable to make adjustments at the plate. He's wiped the slate clean this year.
The Cubs are looking at the waiver wire for other options but Sveum has made it clear he wants a left-handed bat for the bench. The other position player in camp still in contention is infielder Alberto Gonzalez, a right-handed hitter.
Sveum does like the makeup of the reserves, which include versatile Brent Lillibridge, Scott Hairston, Dave Sappelt and Dioner Navarro.
"We have guys who don't strike out on the bench, we've got guys who put the ball in play, guys who hit the ball out of the ballpark -- they're two-way players," Sveum said. "If Clevenger makes the team, you can pinch-hit for Navarro, pinch-hit for [Welington] Castillo. If Castillo is playing, you can use Navarro and Clevenger as pinch-hitters. It's a very versatile bench and for a National League team, it's nice for me to have all that kind of versatility."
The truck leaves Wednesday for Chicago.
"Hopefully, we get it done soon, but it could be Sunday," Sveum said.
Baker receives good news on elbow rehab
MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs pitcher Scott Baker was relieved to find out there was nothing structurally wrong with his right elbow, and all he needs to do is rest and let the muscle strain heal.
Baker had an MRI on his elbow after feeling some discomfort following his first and only Cactus League start March 17. He was examined Sunday by team orthopedic specialist Dr. Stephen Gryzlo.
"It's always nice to have some clarity when dealing with an injury," Baker said Monday. "Any type of setback is not fun and there's never good timing for any sort of setback, but knowing what we're dealing with helps us deal with it better, obviously. With the type of injury it is, Doc likened it to a scab. You can't pick at it; you have to let it heal and rest and get back after it after that."
Baker said he felt great during all of his throwing sessions leading up to the game. He's coming back from Tommy John surgery last April, and the good news is that he doesn't need any additional surgery. That was a relief.
"You can tell yourself as much as you want that's not the case, but until the doctor sits there and shows you you're fine, it definitely feels good to know the surgery took care of the original problem and this is a little speed bump," Baker said.
There is no timetable for his return, and Baker said he will be a good patient and do what the medical staff says. He doesn't go back to zero in his work, but can continue to condition his lower half and core. He'll work on strengthening his right shoulder and, when it's ready, strengthen the elbow.
He had hoped to return in mid-April, which would have been the one-year anniversary of the procedure.
"It is disappointing in the fact that one, I feel like I've sit out enough," Baker said. "I don't want to sit out any more than I have to. To sit here and say it's going to be at least a month more than we originally anticipated, it's tough. I've come this far. I'm not about to give up or give in. I'm just going to continue to try to get ready to pitch at whatever point during the season it is."
Cubs want Schierholtz to get comfortable
MESA, Ariz. -- This will be the first season in which Nate Schierholtz is projected as an everyday player, and Cubs manager Dale Sveum hopes the right fielder doesn't try to do too much.
Schierholtz, a free agent who signed a one-year contract with the Cubs last December, has not gotten more than 335 at-bats with a team in a single season and that was in 2011 with the Giants. He boasts a .270 career batting average.
"He's kind of working on a few different things than he has in the past," Sveum said of Schierholtz, who was batting .294 this spring entering Monday. "He's having an OK camp. That's probably what he'd tell you, too.
"His defense, his arm, the ability to hit left-handed, that's a guy who hopefully is very consistent but he'll probably be a little more on the streaky side," Sveum said. "He'll have to get used to seeing his name in the lineup every single day and not try to do too much to think maybe he's got to do a lot to stay in that because he's worked so hard."
Schierholtz had spent his entire career with the Giants until last season when he was dealt to the Phillies.
• The Cubs are realistic. They know they don't have much speed on the roster.
"Let's get one thing straight: We don't have a lot of basestealers; we don't have a lot of what I call larceny guys," Sveum said. "You won't see a whole lot of that going on. We're not going to try to trick people, we're going to have to do it by being smart on the bases and being aggressive."
Tony Campana led the Cubs last season with 30 steals, but he's now with the D-backs. Next in line was Starlin Castro, who had 25 steals.
• Every morning, David DeJesus, Anthony Rizzo and Darwin Barney put their "Breakfast" shirts on and go to work. The three have been following a rigorous training program this spring that they hope keeps them strong during the 162-game season. The players had shirts made up that say "Breakfast" to wear and help motivate them.
"My trainer sent me something, [Rizzo's] trainer sent me something and we mix and match," DeJesus said of the workout. "We make sure everything is incorporated. It's core, and we want to build some strength but not go crazy. We're not going to be bodybuilders but want to stay strong.
"People have this myth they want to maintain, maintain, but as the season goes on, it gets hot and maintaining levels go down," DeJesus said. "You want to increase, but very minimal increase weight. You want to stay strong."
So far, no plans for T-shirts that say "Lunch" or "Dinner."
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.