MESA, Ariz. – Ian Stewart, the cool, laid-back dude from California, doesn’t feel snake-bitten yet.
But Stewart was scheduled to get an MRI on his left quad on Friday, the day after tweaking it during an intrasquad scrimmage at HoHoKam Stadium. Stewart – who had surgery on his left wrist – hadn’t played in a game since June 12 last year and had to knock off the rust running the bases.
Stewart doubled in his first at-bat and pulled up rounding first base. He felt something turning from the dirt onto the grass, drawing a comment from coach Dave McKay.
“Dave asked me for a little more effort,” Stewart said. “I explained to him what happened. He was like: ‘Oh, OK, because it looked like something was wrong.’ I (told him): ‘Trust me, I would have ran hard. This is my first time on a baseball field in eight months.’”
The good news is that Stewart says he has no issues with his wrist. The Cubs are hoping that he can be the athletic third baseman who generated 25 homers and 70 RBI for the Colorado Rockies in 2009 – not the guy with a nagging wrist injury who accounted for five homers and 23 RBI across the last two seasons combined.
“I felt so good and so bad at the same time,” Stewart said. “I’m going to try and get it taken care of and go back out there. I’m just glad it has nothing to do with my wrist and all the work I put in there. It is frustrating, because you worked really hard in the offseason, but I don’t think it’s going to be anything too serious.”
Manager Dale Sveum – who clearly appreciates Luis Valbuena’s game – turned around a question about this being Stewart’s “job to lose,” saying it’s Stewart’s “to win.”
Whatever, Stewart has something to prove on a non-guaranteed deal. But he won’t be the only player worth monitoring as the Cubs open their Cactus League schedule on Saturday against the Los Angeles Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium:
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• Brett Jackson doesn’t want to hear that the front office has already ticketed him for Triple-A Iowa. After striking out 217 times last season, Jackson revamped his swing and has looked sharp during the intrasquad scrimmages and gotten good reviews from the coaches watching him in the batting cage. It’s time to see how it will play and if the adjustments will stick.
“It’s a big confidence boost,” Jackson said. “To make a muscle-memory-type adjustment is a pain in the (butt). To see results is good, but I’m going to keep pounding on that, to keep reinforcing that it is second nature.”
• Scott Baker will throw a side session on Saturday and be evaluated again as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. There are no immediate plans to give him a Cactus League start. Sveum said there’s a “good chance” the right-hander will be pitching in an exhibition – or a simulated game – within 10 days.
Baker didn’t throw a pitch last season, but when healthy he’s proven to be a nice mid-rotation piece (63-48, 4.15 ERA), which is why the Cubs guaranteed $5.5 million in a one-year deal.
• Kyuji Fujikawa isn’t the closer yet, but that could only be a matter of time, given that he’s under club control through 2015, while Carlos Marmol’s on an expiring contract. Sveum’s office wasn’t big enough to accommodate the dozen or so Japanese reporters on hand to watch Fujikawa pitch in Friday’s scrimmage.
“He’s a veteran guy that’s thrown a lot of innings in key situations in Japan, so he’s not a concern,” Sveum said. “But you do want to see him in key situations against really good National League, American League hitters, just to see how it all matches up.”
• Jorge Soler walked 12 times during his first 132 professional at-bats after signing that $30 million major-league contract last summer. The hyped prospect – who will celebrate his 21st birthday on Monday – has shown more patience at the plate, perhaps a sign that he can evolve into the monster hitter Cubs executives and fans dream about.
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“He’s kind of on center stage,” Sveum said. “So I think sometimes maybe the concentration level picks up for guys like that. But obviously so far he’s showing a lot of poise. The game doesn’t look too fast for him at all.”