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Cubs size up pitching in first workout

Cubs size up pitching in first workout

MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs pitchers and catchers got to work in earnest on Thursday at Fitch Park with several position players getting a head start as well.

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On the first official day for pitchers and catchers, all of the pitchers threw bullpen sessions except for Ted Lilly, Angel Guzman and Jeff Gray. Lilly is rehabbing from arthroscopic surgery and was able to play catch for 10 minutes, but he then left to have his right knee examined. He may need an MRI.

Guzman, projected to handle late-inning relief duties, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee a couple weeks ago.

"We feel he will be ready for the season," manager Lou Piniella said. "It'll be another couple weeks before he can do what everybody else is doing."

Guzman is needed this year. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, who flew to Tampa, Fla., on Thursday for shortstop Ryan Theriot's arbitration hearing Friday, has been looking for veteran relief help. Youngsters like Guzman and Esmailin Caridad may be pressed into that role if the Cubs can't work a trade.

"We were counting on Angel to be our seventh-, eighth-inning right-hander," Piniella said. "Right now, let's get his knee well and go from there."

Gray, who has a moderate groin strain, was wearing No. 34, which hasn't been used since Kerry Wood left the Cubs. Gray asked for the number.

"Hopefully I can live up to it," Gray said. "It's big shoes to fill. It's going to be some fun. I'm pretty excited about it."

There was another familiar number on the field: Greg Maddux was in uniform, wearing his No. 31, which was retired in honor of the right-hander and Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins.

Maddux, a special assistant to the GM, spent most of his first day on the field watching the pitchers' throwing sessions.

"It's good to have him here," Carlos Zambrano said. "He's one of my mentors."

The Cubs are looking for any edge to get back on top in the National League Central. Ryan Dempster, Tom Gorzelanny and Jeff Samardzija trained together this winter in the Chicago area.

"You push each other to get to be the best you can," Dempster said. "We did a lot of that this offseason and had a lot of fun. It'll continue in Spring Training, and now we just have a bigger group of guys."

There were 15 position players in camp, including Mike Fontenot, Micah Hoffpauir, Bobby Scales, Xavier Nady, Marlon Byrd, Sam Fuld and Andres Blanco.

"That's encouraging in itself," Piniella said.

The main issue this spring for the Cubs will be sorting out the pitching staff.

"We've done some really nice things over the winter," Piniella said Wednesday. "We didn't need a major overhaul -- all we needed was some fine-tuning. That's exactly what Jim did here. We've got some work to do with our pitching. That's an area we're going to have to work hard here in Spring Training."

Lilly could be ready by mid-April, but in the meantime, the Cubs will be auditioning starter candidates to sub for the lefty as well as fill the fifth spot. The contenders include Gorzelanny, Carlos Silva, Samardzija, and Sean Marshall.

"We've got enough people to look at," Piniella said.

Silva, acquired from the Mariners for Milton Bradley, has some work to do.

"We have to get him in a little better shape here," Piniella said of the right-hander. "Let's hope we get him back to where he was in Minnesota when he had that good hard sinker working, nice little breaking ball."

In Minnesota, Silva finished with double-digit wins in 2004, '06 and '07, but went 5-18 the last two seasons in Seattle.

"I don't know what happened in Seattle," Piniella said. "Seattle is a really good park to pitch in. They tell me his ball straightened up a little bit last year and he got it up a little more. He was good enough to get himself a real nice contract for four years with the Mariners. Let's hope we can get him back to where he was."

Silva may need to do a little more cardio work, but plenty of the other players reported in good shape. Piniella and Hendry felt the players were motivated by last year's disappointing second-place finish in the National League Central.

"We had a real good feeling about the group," Hendry said. "They had a little edge to them. They came to the [Cubs] Convention [in January] looking like they wanted to get started already."

"That's possible," Lilly said. "Failure is a major motivator. In my opinion, us not getting to the playoffs is considered failing. We have a lot of talent, and we expect that from ourselves. Success tastes really good, and you want to continue to be a part of that. Our club, and with the guys we have and the guys who have been around, is just going to get hungrier."

This could be Piniella's last chance at getting to the playoffs. He's in the last year of his contract.

"I've got enough confidence in my ability to do the job," Piniella said. "I'm going to go out and try to win as many games as we possibly can. We have a new ownership group here, they're excited about owning the Cubs, they want to win, they're competitive and that's what we want to do for them. My situation, we can worry about that at the end of the year."

This is his 23rd season managing, and Piniella said he does not want his status to be a distraction.

"Nothing's changed," Piniella said. "I've never really wanted to talk about my situation. My disposition as a manager is to stay in the background and let the players stay in the forefront. They're the ones the people come out to the ballpark to see play, and they're the ones who win and lose baseball games for you."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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