Notes: Jones impresses in scrimmage

Notes: Jones impresses in scrimmage

MESA, Ariz. -- You knew it was an intrasquad game Wednesday when Todd Walker started as the designated hitter for the Chicago Cubs' "A" team then switched to first base for the "B" team in the bottom of the fifth inning.

"I'm going to try that during the year, too," Walker said jokingly.

Derrek Lee hit a two-run double and Jacque Jones hit a solo homer to lead the "A" Team over the "B" team, 9-2, at HoHoKam Park.

"It was good to finally go out and not know what's coming and let the instincts take over," Jones said. "Today was fun to get out there and be in game situations, and go out and try to have a little bit of fun."

Jones went 2-for-2, and both hits came off left-handers. He homered off Rich Hill leading off the second inning and hit a single off John Koronka in the fourth.

"I'm seeing a fresh start to me," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said of Jones, who hit .249 last season. "I've got a pretty good idea, watching him hit, of his strengths and weaknesses. When the games start, I'll get an even better idea. The thing I don't know yet is, is he a fast starter? Slow starter? It's like with D-Lee -- how many at-bats does he need?"

What Jones will get is more at-bats against left-handed pitching. He's a career .227 hitter against southpaws but last season, he set career single-season highs with six homers and 23 RBIs off left-handed pitchers. In 2003, he hit .269 against lefties.

"The more I see, the more I'll get comfortable," Jones said. "I can do it. Last year wasn't the best batting average, but I hit the most home runs against lefties, the most RBI, the most doubles. Now it's time to put it together.

"Everybody wants to dwell on the negative batting average," he said. "Yeah, it was low. Last year was the first time I [platooned]."

"It's more about being familiar with them and having a theory and philosophy," Baker said. "[Jones] is strong. He's real strong. I think he'll love Wrigley Field. He has tremendous sock to left field and to left-center. He doesn't hit the ball up in the air, he keeps it relatively low. I like his swing. I haven't seen him on offspeed or breaking balls, but he can hit that fastball. If you can hit that fastball, you can hit."

Baker also has talked to Juan Pierre about how much playing time he needs to prepare for the season. Pierre apparently only played in two Spring Training games last year because of a sore calf.

"I asked him how much he wanted to play," Baker said. "[Pierre] said I'd have to monitor him more than he's capable of monitoring himself."

As for Walker, he switched to first base so the Cubs could insert a sub in right field for Jones.

"I like first," Walker said. "It's relaxing for me. Up the middle is pretty tense. At first, you're fighting complacency."

Race to second: The competition between Walker and Jerry Hairston Jr. begins in earnest on Thursday. Both will be aided by a new rule in the Cactus League that allows teams to use the designated hitter, even at the National League home parks. Baker plans to take advantage of that as much as he can.

"I'll use the DH as long as I can until the end of spring, when the pitchers will be going far enough to hit," Baker said. "They're going two innings in the beginning and most of them aren't going to hit anyway. Once they get going four, five innings, I'll start using the pitchers. Initially, I'll try to DH whenever I can to get guys at-bats."

Walker was the DH at the start of Wednesday's intrasquad game and Hairston started at second. On Thursday, in the Cactus League opener against Oakland, the two are expected to switch places.

"I don't mind," Walker said about being the DH. "I'm at the point now, if I get some at-bats and get to play -- like I've said, if I can play for the team I want to play for, I'm happy.

"There aren't too many DH's in there [in the National League]," he said. "I've got to try to fight it out out there on a daily basis."

"I've got a game plan," Baker said when asked how he'll figure out the starter. "Some of it depends on how healthy Todd feels, how his legs feel. He's still recuperating from last year at the end of the year. With the hard ground down here, it puts pressure on your legs."

Walker was bothered by a sore right knee at the end of the 2005 season. He was able to run from first to home on Lee's double in the first inning Wednesday without any problems.

"That was a good test right there," Walker said. "I was telling Dusty, you never really know. You come out here and run, and you're conscious of it. When you're in the game, that's when the test comes, and I feel good."

The new DH rule could make a mess of scorecards. The Cubs could opt to use a DH at home, but the visiting team has the option of letting its pitcher hit.

"They don't have to [use the DH], but they probably will," Baker said.

Classic matchup: Carlos Zambrano will start Thursday's game against Oakland, and throw between 35-40 pitches. Zambrano then leaves on Friday for Orlando, Fla., to begin preparations for the World Baseball Classic. Venezuela opens against the Dominican Republic on March 7. The right-hander was wearing his Team Venezuela cap in the clubhouse on Wednesday.

Lee and Michael Barrett both will start for the Cubs on Thursday, and will work out Friday with Team USA, which opens play March 7 against Mexico. Baker would like to have Barrett and Lee come back and practice with the Cubs if the U.S. team doesn't need them.

"We want to see if we can get both of them to maybe come back and play rather than just practice," Baker said. "I know [Team USA] has to have some sort of semblance of a team."

Mr. Cub: Ernie Banks urged the Baseball Hall of Fame to reconsider adding Buck O'Neil and Minnie Minoso, who were not elected in the latest special committee election.

"I wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame if it weren't for the support, love and abilities of Buck O'Neil as well as the inspiration, courage and dedication demonstrated by Minnie Minoso," Banks said in a statement.

O'Neil, the first black coach hired by the Cubs in 1962, signed Banks to his first pro contract. Banks was elected into Cooperstown in 1977.

Extra bases: The Cubs will monitor how much playing time third baseman Aramis Ramirez should receive to reduce the risk of injury to his legs. "He's fine, but we still have to watch him," Baker said. "Most of the time you get hurt when you're tired. We have to build him up to nine innings so he'll be ready when the season starts." ... Kerry Wood and Wade Miller could be close to throwing to hitters. "They're looking good -- they're looking real good," Baker said of the two right-handers, both coming back from arthroscopic shoulder surgery. By May, both could be healthy and ready to join the rotation. "Who knows what you may need [by then]," Baker said. "Before it's over with, who knows? We may need all of them. I've been on teams who look like we have too many, and it's barely enough." ... Former Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston is a guest coach this week with the Cubs.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.