Cubs taking it slow with Baker, looking past Opening Day

Cubs taking it slow with Baker, looking past Opening Day
February 23, 2013, 5:45 pm
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MESA, Ariz. - Scott Baker has been described as a cerebral guy, someone who asked questions and took an active role in his recovery from Tommy John surgery while trying to find the right place to re-establish himself as a big-league starting pitcher.

That won't happen until "probably the middle of April," according to Cubs manager Dale Sveum. Baker took Saturday's 45-pitch bullpen session at HoHoKam Stadium as another step in the right direction.

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The Cubs guaranteed Baker $5.5 million in a one-year deal that could be worth up to $7 million with incentives - even though he didn't throw a pitch for the Minnesota Twins last season - and they weren't the only team going hard after the 31-year-old right-hander.

The Cubs will have to see how Baker feels on Sunday morning, and still need to get him on the mound for live batting practice. Sveum doesn't expect to see Baker starting a Cactus League game until the middle of March, meaning he won't be part of the Opening Day roster.

"He's just right on schedule," Sveum said. "Knock on wood, there hasn't been any setbacks. He's feeling great. The effort level obviously picked up (on Saturday). We're just looking forward to getting him against live hitters."

Between 2008 and 2010, Baker won at least 11 games and averaged 180 innings each season. A few minutes into his first press conference at Wrigley Field last November, he was asked about the possibility of getting flipped at the trade deadline.

Team president Theo Epstein later floated the possibility of a longer-term deal. This is a platform year that will help determine Baker's future.

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"The training staff and the medical staff have been great," Baker said. "That was one thing that I felt was important when I chose to sign somewhere. We had similar opinions on how this thing should go and, man, they've been spot-on.

"We all know there's a lot of great things going on in this organization. They really made you feel like they care about you and (don't view you as) just another pitcher. Their interests are my interests. What more could you ask for?"