"[Thursday] was better than what I saw the last time, before he had the setback," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "He was letting it go his last 10, 15 pitches. I don't think he's ever going to exert himself on the mound too much until it counts. It was coming out of his hand pretty easy. Everything is going really well now."
Baker was expected to make four Minor League rehab starts, and if he continues to progress, will give the Cubs a fresh arm for the final two months of the season. That may be key if the Cubs deal Matt Garza by the Trade Deadline.
Baker just wants to pitch in a real game.
"It's been long, it's been tough, but I'm finally getting to the point where I can start this rehab process," Baker said.
Baker had the surgery in April 2012, and had hoped to be ready for the start of the 2013 season. But after the setback in March, Baker apologized to Cubs executives, including general manager Jed Hoyer.
"My reasoning for that was I don't want anybody to ever think I didn't have the intention of being a serviceable pitcher right from the beginning of the season," Baker said. "I guess [apologizing] wasn't necessary, but I wanted them to know [the setback] happened, and it stinks, but I did everything I could to be ready for the start of the season."
It's been tough to stay connected to what the Cubs are doing while Baker has been rehabbing in Mesa, Ariz. Thursday was only his second trip to Wrigley since signing with the Cubs. He visited a few weeks ago for a checkup with the medical staff.
"It's nice, it really is," Baker said, looking at Wrigley Field from the home dugout. "There's a disconnect in Arizona and it's really hard to explain. You're just not around the guys you want to be around. ... This is where you want to be. You want to be healthy, and you want to be serviceable. Being here makes you feel like you're taking a step in that direction."
Even though Baker hasn't thrown a pitch for the Cubs, Hoyer said they would consider bringing the right-hander back in 2014.
"There's no secret that there's a lot of great things going on here," Baker said. "You go through different phases in your career. I've been hurt and things have been taken away from me, and I want to be with a team and an organization that is trying to win, and there's no question that is going on here.
"I'd definitely be interested to see how it goes. The rest of the season plays a big part in me proving I'm healthy and can be serviceable next year. We'll have to see. It's definitely an exciting place to be."