Lillibridge aiming to make his mark behind Castro

Lillibridge aiming to make his mark behind Castro

March 7, 2013, 2:45 pm
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MESA, Ariz. -- Brent Lillibridge has the photos up in his home, ones snapped of his highlights in 2011. That was a career year for the now-29-year-old utilityman, a benchmark he's hoping to reach as Starlin Castro's likely backup on the 2013 Cubs.

Lillibridge did it all for the White Sox in 2011, saving a handful of games with spectacular defensive plays and hitting 13 home runs in 97 contests. But he crashed hard in 2012, hitting just .175/.250/.274 with the Sox before being shipped to Boston and later Cleveland.

For years, Lillibridge had to scratch and claw for a major league roster spot. A breakout 2011 didn't guarantee him security. And now, as a non-roster invitee with the Cubs, it's back to square one.

"On paper, yeah, that's exactly how it is," Lillibridge said. "For me, it's just doing what I know I can do. I made adjustments last year for a very short time when I was in Cleveland with my swing that clicked for two weeks and I kinda lost it. But I learned a lot from last year. It was a bit of a whirlwind, but I learned so much about what I can control, what I can do to be consistent as a bench guy."

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Strikeouts plagued Lillibridge in 2012 -- 71 in 209 plate appearances, to be exact. But he feels he's made a few adjustments to his swing that'll help out, just as he did prior to the 2011 season.

"I figured a lot of stuff out. It was a little thing, but I figured it out just like I did two years ago with (former White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker)," Lillibridge said. "There was fruit to it, and I believe there's going to be a lot of fruit to it this year."

Lillibridge, though, has been sidelined for about a week with a groin injury sustained running the bases. He says his absence from the lineup is precautionary, just as is the case with Castro.

While the nature of spring training lends itself to a slew of players getting at-bats, Lillibridge hasn't had an opportunity to fill in for Castro in March, just as he may be expected to do come April.

Lillibridge doesn't consider himself to be a lock to make the Cubs, although the numbers appear to be in his favor. Still, he'd rather be healthy and effective than unhealthy and ineffective, so he's taking things slow to get back on the field.

[MORE: Questions remain for Cubs at third base]

"I can't make this team if I'm hurt," Lillibridge said. "That's my No. 1 priority."

Lillibridge doesn't have the physical tools or upside of the 22-year-old Castro, who's already earned bids to two All-Star Games and signed a $60 million extension last summer. But there appears to be a spot behind Castro for Lillibridge, and it's a role he's embraced before and hopes to embrace again.

"I don't have this easy mode that I can play baseball on," Lillibridge explained. "There's some guys that are lucky enough they can, but for me it's one mode and one way to play and I just continue to do that."