3/14/2014 4:28 P.M. ET
Hammel getting his work in against Minor Leaguers
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel has been spending too much time in the Minor League camp.
"[Anthony] Rizzo just came up and said, 'Are you afraid to pitch in big league games?'" Hammel said, laughing.
That's because Hammel has made just one Cactus League start, but has pitched in a "B" game and went six innings Thursday against Cubs Minor Leaguers to stay on schedule. The right-hander is used to prepping on the back fields.
"My first year with the [Orioles], because Florida Spring Training is all [American League] East, I didn't pitch in a big league game until we'd been through two or three rounds of cuts," Hammel said. "As long as I can get my work in and make sure I'm building the arm strength, I'm OK."
On Thursday, he gave up three runs (two earned) on eight hits, did not walk a batter and struck out four over six innings, throwing 75 pitches.
"I'm way ahead of schedule, going from three to six [innings]," Hammel said. "Everything felt good, I felt strong. I didn't feel fatigued at all and I got my work in."
The Minor League players were aggressive.
"For three innings, they were swinging at everything," Hammel said. "I made the adjustment, so it gave me the opportunity to start throwing breaking balls early in counts and I was able to throw a lot of stuff."
Hammel's next outing, by the way, will be Tuesday, and the only downside about that is he'll have to make the long drive to Surprise, Ariz., to face the Rangers in a night game.
Cubs feel Starlin will be ready by opener
MESA, Ariz. -- Starlin Castro is still on schedule to get into Cactus League games next week, and Cubs manager Rick Renteria says there is enough time for the shortstop to be ready by Opening Day.
Castro, sidelined since March 2 with a mild right hamstring strain, has been taking some light swings, but isn't able to run at full speed yet.
"He's progressing well," Renteria said Friday. "For any of us, our biggest concern is to make sure he's ready for the start of the season."
Castro, who missed two weeks last spring with a strained left hamstring, could get some extra at-bats in Minor League camp.
"He's moving and doing things he needs to do and recovering well, and I think he's moving forward," Renteria said.
With Castro sidelined, the Cubs have been able to give top prospect Javier Baez more time at shortstop. Baez belted his third spring home run Wednesday night. He is tied for the team lead with Mike Olt.
"He's shown the ability to adjust from at-bat to at-bat," Renteria said of Baez, who will open the season at Triple-A Iowa. "They might strike him out in the previous at-bat on three breaking balls, maybe a changeup, but he starts to adjust, and within the at-bat he starts to adjust. It seems like the deeper in the count he gets, he starts to zone in on the pitcher, which is a tremendous trait. As experience continues to feed him, he'll only get better."
Kalish enjoys being part of first Cubs review
MESA, Ariz. -- Ryan Kalish is a fan of instant replay in the National Football League, and on Wednesday, his close play at first base was the first Cubs play to be reviewed in Major League Baseball's new system.
There was one out in the fourth inning Wednesday and the Cubs and Mariners were tied at 2 when Kalish chopped the ball to shortstop Brad Miller, who threw to first. Kalish was called out on the close play. Kalish didn't say anything to Cubs manager Rick Renteria, who went to first-base umpire Dan Bellino and challenged the call.
Bellino and umpire Hal Gibson conferred on headsets with an official in the truck at the ballpark, who reviewed the play. The umpires have three choices: They can confirm the call, reverse it, or decide there is inconclusive evidence and the call is upheld. On Wednesday, the call was upheld.
"I felt it was a lot closer -- I thought I was safe," Kalish said. "I talked to the umpires and they talked about all the angles they'll have during the season that they don't have in Spring Training. Come the season, they'll have a lot more angles.
"It was just fun to have my play reviewed. I watched the NFL for so many years, did I ever think I'd be getting my play reviewed in baseball? No. It was just a fun experience. For me, I'm just out there having fun. It was cool."
Renteria was sitting outside of the dugout on the first-base side when the play happened.
"My eyes told me that [Kalish] had beat [the throw]," Renteria said. "It's a 2-2 tie, and the fourth inning. I'm just thinking, 'We've got a chance to get a guy on.' My eyes tell me, 'I think he beat it.' There are times when I'm sitting there and look at a play and if I doubt it, the [umpire] probably got it right. In this case, it was pretty close. It was worth the chance."
Kalish did say something to Bellino, but didn't know Renteria decided to challenge the call.
"This is all new for everyone," Kalish said.
Did Kalish check the replay?
"It was close, that's all I'll say," he said.
What will be different during the season is that the umpires will have more views of the play. On Wednesday, it appeared that there were three angles to watch.
"I think there was inconclusive evidence from what I was told," Kalish said. "I went and talked to the umpire after that inning. He said, 'We'd rather get it right, but obviously, right now, we don't have that many angles.'"
The Cubs are still trying to determine how they'll watch the plays, and whether they'll have someone send a message to Renteria if a call needs to be reviewed.
"It's a work in progress," Renteria said.
Wednesday was the third Cubs game in which instant replay was available. The next games when it will be tested will be March 16 against the Indians, when Renteria will be in Las Vegas, and March 19 against the Rockies.
Beeler, Hatley assigned to Minors; Bryant, too
MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs optioned right-handed pitcher Dallas Beeler to Triple-A Iowa and assigned right-hander Marcus Hatley to the Minor League camp on Friday.
The moves reduced Chicago's spring roster to 54 players.
On Wednesday, the Cubs optioned infielders Arismendy Alcantara and Logan Watkins and outfielder Matt Szczur to Iowa, and optioned outfielder Jorge Soler to Double-A Tennessee.
Five other non-roster invitees were assigned to Minor League camp besides Hatley. They were right-hander Carlos Pimentel, left-hander Eric Jokisch, infielders Kris Bryant and Jeudy Valdez and outfielder Albert Almora.
The Cubs' spring roster currently consists of 27 pitchers (seven non-roster invitees), five catchers (three non-roster invitees), 11 infielders (four non-roster invitees) and 11 outfielders (five non-roster invitees).
• Olt will play first base again on Saturday, but soon he'll switch to the other side of the infield.
Olt has been limited to first base and designated-hitter duties to avoid aggravating his right shoulder, which has been tender. It's not bothering his hitting. On Wednesday, he belted two home runs and hit an RBI single against the Mariners.
"He got brushed back pretty good, up and in, and then they threw him down and in, mid-belt, and then he ended up stroking another knock," Renteria said of Olt, who apparently is seeing the ball just fine and is over the vision problems he had in the past.
"All things being equal, I think he's coming along and showing everybody he's back on track and who he was in the past," Renteria said of Olt, who was a highly touted prospect with the Rangers, and whom the Cubs acquired last July in the Matt Garza deal.
• Jake Arrieta threw a side session on Wednesday, his third of the spring, and he hoped to face hitters in a live batting-practice session his next time. Arrieta has been slowed because of tightness in his right shoulder. He's been frustrated at being sidelined.
"The competitor in me wants to go [full tilt], but the more thought-out side of me knows this is the right thing to do to be a little slower and make sure everything is where it needs to be," Arrieta said. "You want to be functioning for a long season."
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.