Soriano wants to lead the way for Cubs

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Soriano wants to lead the way for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. You can ask Alfonso Soriano just about anything and hell say whatevers on his mind.

When the clubhouse opened on Friday, the media staked out the corner by his locker, shoulder to shoulder, oblivious to the two players stretching out on the floor, forcing them to get up and move.

On a Cubs team without many big names, and with so many new faces, there is still Soriano.

Soriano was at ease standing there in front of the waves of reporters, resting his arm against a locker. He insisted that Starlin Castro did nothing wrong. He said he was happy for Ryan Braun, glad the Milwaukee Brewers star overturned a 50-game suspension for a positive drug test.

Carlos Zambrano? Soriano says: Nobody was happy. I think the team was happy they were able to trade him. I think Zs happy, too, now that hes in Miami, so it worked great for both (sides).

Zambrano is hanging with Ozzie Guillen, while Aramis Ramirez will protect Braun in the Brewers lineup. The sweeping changes at Clark and Addison didnt touch Soriano.

The past couple years we had a nice group, but some people (werent) giving 100 percent, Soriano said. Now this group is kind of young. Theyre hungry to play and were ready to compete.

The Cubs were coming off a last-place finish in 2006 when Soriano signed his 136 million contract. Hes a symbol of the old way of doing business, the win-one-for-the-Tribune mentality that overtook the organization.

Theo Epstein is supposed to build it the right way, for the long haul. A 36-year-old outfielder with creaky legs, no-trade rights and 54 million guaranteed through 2014 doesnt exactly fit the vision. But the new president of baseball operations expects Soriano to be a leader.

People respect me because of the way that I work Im not a lazy guy, Soriano said. Im the oldest guy (among the position players). People see me work. People see my attitude, so I think thats a leader.

Soriano believes he will get along fine with new manager Dale Sveum, whos promised to hold players accountable and call out anyone who doesnt hustle.

Its not a problem, Soriano said. We can play hard for him. I think if we play harder every day, well see a difference and I want to try to do my best to make him happy.

The bigger tension might be between the urge to win now and the patience it will take to build an annual contender. Its something Sveum mentioned in his first meeting with the whole team.

The biggest question (all) winter was rebuilding, (that) things are starting over, Sveum said. I just let them know (this is) a team that can compete Were not here to rebuild. Were here to try and win the World Series this year.

Chairman Tom Ricketts even corrected one reporter who used the word patience.

No, were not preaching patience, Ricketts said. Were preaching have expectations. Expect these guys to play hard. Expect them to compete every game. Expect them to have a great season. Its not about patience. We got a good team and were going to have a good year.

As much as the Cubs wanted someone to take on even a fraction of Sorianos contract, they need him now to generate 25 homers, 90 RBIs and anchor the middle of the lineup.

Theyve said nothing about a trade, Soriano said. Im here. I dont want to think about if I want to get traded in the future or tomorrow, whatever. I just got to concentrate and play baseball.

All these years later, and after a winter in which he was booed at the Cubs Convention and all over the trade rumors, Soriano has shown up for another rebuilding project.

I love this organization, he said. I signed here to try to make this team better and win. I think weve got a chance to win and thats my goal. I just want to stay here to see this team win one championship.

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs studied all the MRIs and analyzed every pitch Wade Davis threw last season, poring over the information on the All-Star closer. During the winter meetings, Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore even took the unusual step of allowing the Cubs to give Davis a physical exam.  

The Jorge Soler trade wouldn’t be announced until athletic trainer PJ Mainville met with Davis at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley. The Cubs got another read on the flexor strain in his right forearm that twice put Davis on the disabled list last season.

Davis now has a 19.64 ERA through five Cactus League appearances – and the complete confidence of a manager who isn’t connecting those dots.

“The injury’s really not an issue,” Joe Maddon said Sunday at the Sloan Park complex. “He feels really good right now. He kind of thought that whole thing was a little bit overblown last year, according to (what he told) me. Because even in talking to him in the offseason: ‘I’m fine. I’m good. I feel really good.’”

Maddon managed the Tampa Bay Rays while Davis broke into the big leagues as a starter and began the transition to reliever. Everything clicked in Kansas City’s bullpen, with Davis blowing away hitters and notching the last out of the 2015 World Series.

“I’m watching him,” Maddon said. “He’s throwing the ball really well easily. That’s what’s really encouraging to me. From the side, there’s no bumping and grinding and…” Maddon made a grunting noise to illustrate his point: “There’s none of that. It’s easy. I look up at the gun and I’m seeing 94, 95 and sometimes 96 (mph). It’s like: Wow, I have never seen him do that in camp.”

Across the last three seasons, Davis allowed three home runs while piling up 234 strikeouts in almost 183 innings. This spring, he has twice gotten only one out, like Saturday’s 29-pitch, four-run appearance against the Colorado Rockies. Overall in March, he’s given up eight earned runs, nine hits and five walks in 3.2 innings.  

“Honestly, I’ve known him long enough that it’s not” a concern, Maddon said. “You’re not going to believe this, but he’s actually throwing better than he normally does in spring training. The biggest problem he’s having right now is command.

“Velocity looks good. The break on the breaking ball looks good. He’s just not throwing the ball where he wants it. And this guy is normally the kind of pitcher that can dot it up really well.

“But everything else looks really good to me, (because) I had him back with the Rays and in spring training you always saw him throwing like 86, 87, 88 (mph). I’m seeing easy 94-95. I’m seeing sharp break on some breaking stuff. It’s just bad counts and bad command right now.”

This isn’t the Cubs saying Carlos Marmol or Jose Veras is our closer. A guy with a 0.84 ERA in 23 career playoff appearances doesn’t care about Cactus League stats. As long as Davis is healthy, there should be no doubts about the ninth inning. Check back next week amid the sea of red at Busch Stadium.

“A lot of it’s just an adrenaline rush sometimes,” Maddon said. “A lot it’s just a moment that you can’t recreate here. You can’t do it. It’s impossible.”

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night, downplaying any health concerns about their All-Star middle infielders. 

One week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, manager Joe Maddon spent part of Sunday's media session saying how he had no concerns with his World Series MVP's stiff neck and his franchise shortstop's stiff back.

"You can tell with 'Zo,'" Maddon said at the Sloan Park complex. "He'll come around and let me know specifically if he feels it's going to be anything longer than that. He's talking either tomorrow night or the next day."

Zobrist, who spent nine seasons with Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays, hasn't appeared in a Cactus League game since March 19. Maddon also signaled Russell is close to returning to action after being a late scratch from Friday's lineup.

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Not like this, but the Cubs already planned to schedule extra rest for Zobrist, given his age (36 in May), the playoff stress on his body from back-to-back World Series titles and emerging options like Javier Baez on a mix-and-match team. 

All along, Maddon hasn't worried about finding enough at-bats for Baez, knowing that injuries are inevitable and the Cubs have insurance policies up and down the roster that should pay off across a 162-game season. But in this case, it doesn't sound like the Cubs are testing that theory with Zobrist and Russell.

"None of this stuff is really threatening," Maddon said. "The trainers have no real strong issues with anything. It's almost like you'll be overly cautious right now. And that's all we're doing."