MESA, Ariz. -- It was only a Minor League game, and Ian Stewart didn't play in the field, but he couldn't believe how good he felt at the plate. That could be great news for the Cubs.
Stewart got his first in-game at-bats since Feb. 21 when he led off every inning Thursday for both teams in a Minor League game at Fitch Park.
"By my count, I was 2-for-5, maybe 1-for-5," he said. "I maybe gave myself one [hit]."
That didn't matter. What did was that Stewart's wrist passed all tests. He was limited to 55 games last season before undergoing surgery on his left wrist. He spent the offseason rehabbing and hitting with Hall of Famer Rod Carew, and this spring, Stewart doubled in his first at-bat in an intrasquad game on Feb. 21. But he felt tightness in his left quad as he ran to first, and had not played since.
If he's healthy and can provide the Cubs with the offense he put together in 2009 with the Rockies, they could have a 20-plus home run hitter who can drive in 70 RBIs.
"I still think I will be [that guy], and I think I will be this year," Stewart said. "It's just been such a relief for me knowing that the surgery that I had worked and I have no lingering issues in my wrist, and my bat speed feels back.
"The toughest part for me last year was I could hit [batting practice] all day because they were throwing it down the middle and you could control everything," he said. "Once the game came, and pitches were moving and breaking, and I just couldn't adjust because the wrist was holding me back. Now there's none of that.
"My confidence is really sky high right now, as far as my hitting and everything goes. I was really surprised at how I was able to feel in the box [Thursday] and tracking pitches and some swings I put on the baseball."
Stewart felt some soreness in his leg on Friday, and the next step will be another Minor League game. He still hasn't run full speed.
"I had a couple ground-ball outs and I wanted to make sure I didn't have a setback or reinjure it," he said. "I took my time to get down the line. I've been saying the running part is the last hurdle for me."
The Cubs signed Stewart to a $2 million non-guaranteed contract, but the only other option at third base is Luis Valbuena, who batted .219 last season. Valbuena did bat .306 in Venezuela in winter ball. Stewart said he feels he has enough time to prepare for the regular season.
"There's 17, 16 days until Opening Day," he said. "Typically, that's not what you want, but I think you can make the most of it by being able to go down to the Minor League games and get eight at-bats. It definitely helps just to see actual live pitching, to see some break on some balls and some spin and some speed of the pitches as well. It's very useful, and I'm just going to have to do that if I want to be ready for the season."
The best news for Stewart and the Cubs is how good he felt in the batter's box.
"I was a little nervous, actually, going down there," Stewart said. "My timing felt great, I felt like I was taking good pitches that were close, laying off some breaking balls and some changeups that were in the dirt, and it just felt really good. It was nice to square a couple balls up knowing I hadn't faced any live pitching since that scrimmage."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.