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Notes: Dempster to start Cactus opener

Notes: Dempster to start Cactus opener

MESA, Ariz. -- Ryan Dempster, hoping to make the switch back to the rotation after three seasons as a closer, will start the Cactus League opener Feb. 28, with Carlos Zambrano and Jason Marquis following in the next two games.

"'Z' said he didn't want it any more," Dempster said, jokingly, about Zambrano, who had kidded that he didn't want to start the regular-season opener after being winless in three tries.

"It's cool, I'm glad -- glad to start playing games, glad to get out there and start building some innings up," Dempster said.

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Dempster and Baltimore's Kevin Millar have been having a friendly war of words since the Cubs right-hander declared his team would win the World Series this year. Millar's latest comments were captured in a YouTube video.

"He has no command, no control of any fastball he throws, so he can't tell anybody where he's going to throw the fastball or the baseball," said Millar, who also dissed Dempster's All-Star selection in 2000.

The Cubs and Orioles square off June 24-26 at Wrigley Field in an Interleague series. Both players are calling it a heavyweight fight.

"There's a Budweiser sign in Chicago [outside] Wrigley Field," Millar said. "He's going to try to throw the fastball down and away. It might get away from him and hit me. The next at-bat, he'll try to throw a hanging slider, and I'll hit if off the Budweiser sign."

Dempster's response?

"Unless he's hitting it from the bleachers, I don't see him getting it," Dempster said of the sign which is behind the left-center field bleachers. "Let's face it, I think he's a little bit past his prime. Like I said, what has he done the last four years? Ever since he hit the walk-off against [Yankees closer] Mariano Rivera, that's all he's done.

"It'll be good, mano a mano," Dempster said. "I'm going to throw it right down the middle as hard as I can if I face him. I pretty much guarantee it'll be a broken bat rolled over to shortstop like he does 90 percent of the time he's hitting. Lord knows, unless [Ryan] Theriot drops it eight times, he's not beating it out to first base. He's a professional hitter, but he's probably as much an out as I am at home plate.

"You watch -- I don't guarantee it but I know he'll come up with some mysterious [injury] -- he'll get 'Dempster-itis' on that day because he won't want to play."

Getting to know you: Derrek Lee and Kosuke Fukudome have been talking around the cage and in the clubhouse. Are the two developing a bond?

"I'm not sure," Fukudome said through his interpreter Ryuji Araki.

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Not sure?

"Because Derrek talks to me in English, so I'm not quite sure," Fukudome said.

Told that Lee is a good guy, Fukudome said, in English: "I know."

Morning after: Chad Fox threw the obligatory 25 pitches to hitters on Thursday but the key was how he felt on Friday. After not pitching since April 2005 because of problems with his right elbow, Fox is easing back into big league action.

"I commanded the zone, I felt pretty well, I had my pitches working and the main thing is I walked off the mound feeling healthy," Fox said. "This morning, I woke up and did a double check of my body and felt like I could throw again today.

"I trained the right way this offseason for this," he said. "It's a day by day process. I'm not going to go out for one [batting practice] session and say I'm going to make this team."

How pitchers feel the day after is always the key.

"I was very surprised -- [pitching coach] Larry [Rothschild] asked if I'd need two days off," Fox said. "I came in this morning and felt like man, I could throw again today.

"I want to be smart but I don't want to be babied," he said. "If we have to throw a couple simulated games before I get into action, that's fine."

Arms race: Veteran catcher Henry Blanco was impressed by Jeff Samardzija's outing during the live batting practice session on Friday.

"He has pretty good stuff and he throws pretty hard," Blanco said. "We'll wait until the games start and see how he throws. He's going to be good."

Samardzija threw a fastball, changeup and slider, and Blanco said, "He looks like he knows what he wants to do with his pitches."

It's part of the learning process for the former Notre Dame wide receiver, now full-time pitcher. He's most comfortable throwing his sinker so far.

"For me, it's just getting all the other pitches at the same comfort level," Samardzija said. "To be able to have the comfort level to throw them at any time like I can throw that sinker is really big for me. I think we're getting there. The changeup is about 50-50, the slider is a little better than that comfort-wise. The four-seamer is coming, too."

It's been an easier transition this offseason. He signed with the Cubs in January 2007, and was in big league camp that spring after finishing his football career at Notre Dame.

"Everything came so fast last spring, and then it went so fast," he said. "It's been nice to have the last three, four months to really concentrate on getting ready for baseball and getting my arm ready. I haven't been running sprints, I've been running distance, which is nice. It's better to ease into the situation than jump into it."

Samardzija will likely open the season at Double-A Tennessee.

Part-time gig: Bobby Scales and Micah Hoffpauir aren't making Major League salaries, so they have part-time jobs in the offseason as substitute teachers. Scales, 30, helps out at Milton High School in Alpharetta, Ga., while Hoffpauir, 28, teaches kids from fifth grade and up in Jacksonville, Tenn.

"I realized I had to do something," said Scales, a non-roster invitee in Cubs camp.

He has a routine with the students.

"I start, 'How are you guys doing -- I'm Mr. Scales, for those of you who don't know me,'" he said. "'Your teacher is not here today. Your assignment is on the board.'"

He'll ask one of the students he knows to take roll call, then gets another one to start a DVD.

"'I'm going to be right here, reading the paper,'" Scales said of his speech.

Scales has been subbing since 1999. Hoffpauir started in 2004.

"The worst one I had was [advanced placement] calculus for a week," Scales said. "These kids are smart. I didn't do anything for a week. I barely got through regular calculus."

And when Scales wants to play golf, he'll call the school and tell them.

"It's so flexible, so easy," Scales said. "It's enough to pay the bills."

Extra bases: Angel Guzman threw from 60 feet on Friday to test his right elbow, and felt good. Guzman is coming back from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery last fall. ... Sean Gallagher and Kevin Hart threw to hitters during an early session Friday. ... Cold weather Friday made it a tough day for the hitters. "If I were a hitter, I wouldn't want to be swinging too much," manager Lou Piniella said. "I would work on my takes today." ... Get your scorecard ready: The Cubs will have seven pitchers appearing in the first few Cactus League games. One of the things Piniella is looking for is another right-hander for the pen. Among the candidates are Kevin Hart, Jose Ceda, Jose Ascanio, Billy Petrick and Tim Lahey.

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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{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }