Hard work pays off with Stewart's first homer

Hard work pays off with Stewart's first homer

Hard work pays off with Stewart's first homer
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Ian Stewart began his comeback shortly after he was traded to the Cubs in early December. That was when he called Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.

On Thursday, all the extra swings, all the time in the cage, which began with a mini camp in January, paid off as Stewart hit his first spring homer. He didn't hit any in 48 games last season with the Rockies.

"It's satisfying because I haven't hit a ball like that in a big league game -- even though it's Spring Training -- in a while," said Stewart, whose leadoff blast in the sixth was one of four homers by the Cubs in an 11-4 win over the Rangers.

"It felt good to get that out of the way," Stewart said. "I just felt really good at the plate. All the work that I've put in with Rudy has started to pay off and show and it's giving me confidence going into the game and defensively as well. I just feel good."

He showed his glove work in the Rangers' sixth when he threw out speedster Craig Gentry for the final out.

"[Cubs coach Pat] Listach told me before the game that [Gentry] was in [Las Vegas] on that trip and he'd beat out a couple balls in the infield," Stewart said. "[Listach] said, 'Hey, be ready for a bunt and if you get it, get rid of it.' That's what I as thinking on that play was get it out as quick as I could and luckily I got enough air under it to get it there."

Stewart has been hitting early every day with Jaramillo. All the third baseman wants is to stay healthy. He hit 25 homers in 2009. It's possible.

"I feel if I'm healthy, then I expect to play almost every day and get 400, 500 at-bats," Stewart said. "If I get that, I think the numbers will take care of themselves. I'm just trying to stay healthy and get the at-bats and then everything will happen."

Stewart said he sees similarities between the Cubs and the 2007 Rockies, who won the National League pennant but lost in the World Series to the Red Sox. Colorado surged into the postseason with a 20-8 September.

"The expectations are not real high, but there is a lot of optimism there because we have a lot of good young players," Stewart said of the Cubs. "We have good pitching, good defense and some guys are swinging it real well. If we can take that into the season and continue to play the way we have been the last week or so in Spring Training, you never know.

"The extra Wild Card -- all it takes is just getting in, like in 2007 for the Rockies when we made that run," he said. "If we can stay in it by August, early September, we'll be right there and it'll be an exciting time and I look forward to it."