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Notes: Piniella pleased with Miller

Notes: Piniella pleased with Miller

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TUCSON -- It's tough to handicap the race for the final spot in the Cubs rotation, but Wade Miller took a slight lead after Tuesday's game against the Diamondbacks.

"He's a veteran pitcher with experience," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "He hasn't done anything here in Spring Training that you don't like. I'll let you know [who's in the lead] after Friday when I see [Angel] Guzman."

Guzman, who looked sharp in three innings last Saturday, will make his first Cactus League start Friday against the Chicago White Sox. The other candidate is Mark Prior, who had a solid side session Tuesday and will throw in a Minor League intrasquad game on Friday.

Miller, 30, made his third Cactus League start Tuesday and gave up two runs on five hits, including a leadoff homer to Eric Byrnes, over four innings while striking out five.

"I think I made bigger strides in this one as far as how I feel and how the ball is coming out of my hand," Miller said. "I have to make a few minor adjustments here or there, but overall, it's the best I've felt so far as far as my arm is concerned."

He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder at the end of the 2005 season, and was able to make five September starts for the Cubs in 2006. He did not pitch past the fifth inning in those games, and felt winded at the end. On Tuesday, he threw about 75 pitches and felt as if he could go deeper in the game. That's encouraging.

"I'm on my way," Miller said. "I wasn't fatigued at all at the end. That was positive for me, to go out there and feel as strong in the fourth as I did in the first."

He was not aware of the radar gun readings, but was averaging between 87 and 89 mph, and touched 90 mph. It doesn't matter as long as he's getting guys out. Hopefully, that's enough to win the fifth spot.

"I'm doing everything I can think of to try and get it," Miller said. "All I can do is pitch to try and get it. It's not up to me. It's what the coaches and manager think."

"He's showing he's healthy," Piniella said. "He's going out every five days and he's pitching. I think he'll get a little stronger, show a little more stamina. You have to be encouraged by what you see."

Center of attention: One issue that appears to have been resolved in Cubs camp is center field. Alfonso Soriano is handling his new job just fine.

"I have not seen anything to tell me he can't play center field," Piniella said Tuesday.

Soriano, who played left field last season with the Washington Nationals in his first year in the outfield, hasn't complained at all about the move.

"He hasn't said anything," Piniella said. "I think I would've heard something by now. At the same time, with the log jam we have in the outfield, that's the best possible scenario for us to start the season.

"I've seen other outfielders struggle [in the Cactus League]," Piniella said. "I think he's handled it well. Do we expect him to win a Gold Glove? Obviously not. I think he'll do a real nice, professional job out there that everybody will be happy with. We brought him in here to hit and give us some nice offense. I want him to feel comfortable with what he's doing."

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Aches and pains: Piniella admitted he was a little scared when he saw Derrek Lee come up limping after a slide into second base on Monday. Lee injured his right groin, but Piniella said the first baseman was removed from the game as a precautionary measure and should be fine.

Catcher Henry Blanco had a welt on his right knee after an errant foul ball on Monday.

"The day off comes at the right time for him," Piniella said. "He was really sore and it purpled up really quick."

Final spot: Piniella said Tuesday he is leaning toward carrying two extra infielders on the final 25-man roster. He's already named Ryan Theriot for one of those spots, which means Ronny Cedeno or non-roster invitee Tomas Perez has a chance at the opening.

Cedeno was the Cubs regular shortstop last season and batted .245 in 151 games, while Perez, 33, hit .212 in 99 games for Tampa Bay. Cedeno was bumped from the starting job when the team acquired Cesar Izturis from the Dodgers for Greg Maddux last July 31.

Piniella had a little talk with Cedeno prior to Tuesday's game. The message was to go deep in the count in his at-bats and try to hit the ball to right. On Tuesday, Cedeno did strike out twice, but he also walked and hit a triple to right.

"I see an athletic kid who has a lot of ability but needs some polish to be able to play at the big-league level," Piniella said. "Anybody can play at the big-league level, but can you play at the big-league [level] to win? That's really what you look for. At this point, we're not really in a developmental stage. We're looking for another middle infielder to help our situation out here."

Not only was Cedeno's offense a problem last season -- he had an on-base percentage of .271 -- but he made 25 errors. Bench coach Alan Trammell will be working with Cedeno on his glove work, while hitting coach Gerald Perry and Piniella will focus on hitting.

"I don't want him to poke it [to right], I want him to drive it that way," Piniella said. "He has a tendency to pull off the ball. Mechanics dictate what you can do and can't do, but it starts with balance and stride. If you're not in good position with stride, it's hard to stay on pitches. I like the kid."

Piniella has said he's never had a team with one backup infielder. Theriot and Mark DeRosa could sub in the outfield if needed.

"We're going to need another infielder here," Piniella said. "It's becoming more and more apparent as we watch this thing."

Chasing October: "Chasing October," a docu-comedy that chronicles a fan's crusade to take the Cubs to the World Series by any means necessary, will open Friday in the Phoenix area. A premiere screening was held Tuesday night to benefit Lee's Project 3000, and the movie will open to the general public on Friday at the Harkins Camelview Theater.

Here's the storyline: Filmmaker Matt Liston quits his job and decides to make a documentary about the Cubs during the 2003 season. His intent was to single-handedly will them to the postseason. The movie features appearances by Bernie Mac, Gary Sinise, Joe Mantegna, Jeff Garlin and Larry King. It also includes songs by Chicago musicians Billy Corgan and Sunday Morning Chameleon.

The film will open in select Chicago theaters on March 23.

Extra bases: Cliff Floyd reported no problems with his foot after his first game Monday, and will be the designated hitter Thursday. The Cubs will use the DH at home Thursday against the Seattle Mariners. Teams are allowed to do that in National League parks as long as both agree. "It's a good thing [Carlos] Zambrano and [Jason] Marquis aren't pitching," Piniella said. "I'd have a headache on my hand." ... Rocky Cherry gave up his first run this spring when he served up an RBI single in the ninth in the Diamondbacks' 6-5 win Tuesday. Cherry now has given up one run on four hits over 5 1/3 innings in six games. "I was curious to see how he would respond after I brought his name up the other day," Piniella said. "I do like the kid. Anybody can get hit on any given day." ... Michael Wuertz and Roberto Novoa both threw in a Minor League intrasquad game Tuesday at Fitch Park. Rich Hill is expected to throw a couple innings there to get him in line for the start of the season. Sean Marshall will pitch on Wednesday at Fitch Park as well. ... The Cubs are working on fundamentals this spring. They take infield practice every day before batting practice. During the season, they'll continue to do so at least once a series. ... Guest coach Rick Sutcliffe was on the bus Tuesday. "It's my first road trip ever to Tucson," said Sutcliffe, who never made the drive while a pitcher for the Cubs. He's extended his stay with the team until next Monday. "This has been special -- having this back on," Sutcliffe said, tugging at his Cubs jersey. ... DeRosa was told to go home Tuesday. He's been battling the stomach flu. Daryle Ward, who also was sidelined, did start at first base Tuesday.

On deck: After an off-day on Wednesday, the Cubs return to action Thursday, playing host to the Seattle Mariners at HoHoKam Park at 3:05 p.m. CT. Left-hander Ted Lilly is slated to make his second start and appear in his third game. So far, Lilly has given up one earned run on four hits over five innings in his two previous outings.

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

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