Cubs open Cactus League play Sunday vs. A's

Cubs open Cactus League play Sunday vs. A's

Cubs open Cactus League play Sunday vs. A's
MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs and new manager Dale Sveum kick off the Cactus League season on Sunday with plenty of questions still to be answered.

Sveum is still sorting out his lineup options and may test Alfonso Soriano in the leadoff spot a few times. The only players who appear set are Starlin Castro in the No. 3 hole, followed by Bryan LaHair, and that could change, too.

"It's going to be a different lineup every day," Sveum said. "You'll see a different leadoff hitter every day. I told them we'll probably have a set lineup by the middle of March."

The Cubs begin game action against the Athletics at 2:05 p.m. CT on Sunday at HoHoKam Park. Rodrigo Lopez, who was 6-6 with a 4.42 ERA in 26 games last season with Chicago, and is one of the candidates for the two openings in the rotation, will start.

Other than figuring out who will start, Sveum and staff have to sort out the bullpen and the bench. The starting nine appears set, even though they're not sure where they'll bat in the lineup.

So far, Cubs camp has constantly focused on fundamentals, but has also provided some fun with a bunting tournament, which Sveum instituted and competed in himself. Asked on Friday what he's doing to change the culture on the Cubs, Sveum smiled.

"I don't know if I've done anything yet, we haven't played a game yet," Sveum said. "All I'm doing is be myself the way I know how to do things and hold guys accountable. You really don't hold guys accountable yet until the games are played and see where we are then.

"The guys have given as good an effort as I've ever seen in Spring Training, there's no doubt about that," he said. "It's phenomenal the effort and all the fundamentals and defensive work."

Sveum is taking over a team that lost 91 games, has had major roster turnover and features a new front office. There's been talk early about instituting the Cubs way. Sveum is focused on baseball.

"I'm not inventing the wheel by no means," he said. "I'm just trying to get these guys to understand the work ethic and the preparation, and how it all depends on how your game's played by your preparation and holding yourself accountable for defense as well as offense."

The players like the tone set so far.

"We're out there working," outfielder Dave Sappelt said. "This is probably the best group I've been around. It's 100 miles an hour for everybody. I think Dale, coming in here, that's what he's trying to change with the team, and it's rubbed off on a lot of guys."

Sveum has had his hand in everything, such as checking on Castro daily to improve his fielding. He watches Tony Campana bunt and makes suggestions.

"I just try to be myself, and whatever happens, happens," Sveum said. "A team does take on the personality of their manager a lot, not that I have any kind of personality."

Sveum is a low-key baseball guy, who'd probably rather be talking hitting than talking to the media. What helps the players is that Sveum has experienced every aspect of the game, from the highs to the lows. He can relate. He knows how tough the game is.

"I'm not the guy who somebody strikes out with bases loaded and I'll be throwing things," Sveum said. "I can completely understand that. I wasn't a very good player, so I completely understand the trials and tribulations of this game and the pressures they're under. My goal is to get them to prepare like it's the seventh game of the World Series every day, so when they do fail, they can look at themselves in the mirror to say, 'I did everything I could today to make myself a better player and it just didn't work out.'"

Players were eager to get started. After Lopez starts Sunday, Ryan Dempster (10-14, 4.80 ERA in 2011) will go Monday at 2:05 p.m. CT against the Athletics and Matt Garza (10-10, 3.32 ERA in 2011) on Tuesday at 2:05 p.m. CT against the Rockies.

"We're ready to get those [batting] cages out from around us," second baseman Darwin Barney said. "We're excited, and I'm happy with what I'm seeing and I think we're ready to go."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for 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.