Soriano willing to lead off for Cubs

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Soriano willing to lead off for Cubs

Updated: 5:30 p.m.

MESA, Ariz. Before an intra-squad scrimmage scheduled to last five innings, Dale Sveum was asked about the pitch counts the Cubs would be under, what he wanted to see out of Travis Wood and if Randy Wells facing a major-league lineup was by design.

See what I mean you guys just come up with stuff, Sveum said Friday. Thats just the way it all came out.Theres no meaning to it.

Or, as Allen Iverson once said: Were talking about practice!

The Cubs manager had to laugh several times during a media session in the HoHoKam Stadium dugout that lasted 13 minutes. Lou Piniella grew tired of the daily questions about his lineup, but Sveum is going to have to get used to it.

The first-year manager knew exactly which direction reporters were heading once they saw the lineups posted and Alfonso Soriano batting leadoff for the White team. One mentioned how Sveum might not have known about the public outcry when Piniella put Soriano at the top.

Whether hes leading off a game or leading off the inning, his numbers are pretty incredible over his career, Sveum said. If you want to get into details of why you might come up with something like that, it could be (that) simple. We dont have the bona fide guys at any position in the order.

In 771 career games hitting leadoff, Soriano has produced a .288 average with 197 home runs and 457 RBI. Leading off the inning, hes hitting .289 in almost 2,000 at-bats. He clearly doesnt run the same way he used to, but hes been surprised by how good his legs feel so far.

Im open to any decision that (Sveum) makes, Soriano said. The most important thing for me is Im feeling good and well see what happens.

Im 36 years old, but I dont feel like Im 36. As soon as I put on the uniform, I just feel like Im 25.

The fans that want a prototypical leadoff hitter to steal 60 bases forget that there really arent many left in the game. And the Cubs dont have many proven players you can automatically plug into the lineup.

(Starlin) Castros probably the most sound, best hitter we have to hit third, Sveum said. Do we have that base stealer to lead off and get on base? (David) DeJesus probably fills that. But we dont have a lot of cut-and-dry spots to where you say, OK, this guy is this. This guy is that. Its not that easy with this lineup.

Sveum expects to have his Opening Day lineup settled by the middle of March. He didnt close the door on Soriano hitting leadoff in a real game at some point. He also said you shouldnt read too much into this.

You can possibly see just about anything, Sveum said. During the season, yeah, a lot of things can come up to where it can happen. But you really want Soriano just to be in an RBI spot.

This is life inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl. This is how it spins with the 247 news cycle. There are almost 400 more media sessions left in this season.

I knew the first question was going to be Soriano in the leadoff spot today, Sveum said. You know everythings going to be critiqued and analyzed for a number of reasons. I dont know if it even matters anymore about big-market clubs.

Managers have press conferences every day now. There are always enough people around to pick something and find something: What were you doing here? What were you doing there? Its always going to happen. Thats just part of the game.

Jason Heyward surprised Cubs fans didn’t boo Rajai Davis more

Jason Heyward surprised Cubs fans didn’t boo Rajai Davis more

MESA, Ariz. – The Cactus League crowds are different than the ones packed into Wrigley Field. It was only a meaningless split-squad game on a Saturday afternoon in the Arizona sunshine. Finally winning the World Series must have somewhat dulled the edge.

But Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward still thought Rajai Davis would hear it from the sellout crowd of 14,929 at Sloan Park, the what-could-have-been anxiety bubbling up when seeing the Oakland A's leadoff guy who nearly changed the course of baseball history.

"I was surprised he didn't get booed more, but that's just how our fans are," Heyward said. "They're fun like that. They have fun with the game. They acknowledge it. That's pretty cool for Cubs fans to boo you. If anybody boos you from last year, that's kind of an honor, I would say. To be on that side of things, it means you did something great."

As Alfonso Soriano liked to say, they don't boo nobodies. With one big swing, Davis almost unleashed a miserable winter for the Cubs and ended the Cleveland Indians' 68-year drought.

Manager Joe Maddon kept pushing closer Aroldis Chapman, who fired 97 pitches in Games 5, 6, and 7 combined. Davis timed seven straight fastballs in the eighth inning – the last one at 97.1 mph – and drove a Game 7-tying two-run homer just inside the foul pole and onto the left-field patio. In a now-famous rain-delay speech, Heyward gathered his teammates in a Progressive Field weight room as the Cubs regained their composure.

"They booed him, but only the first at-bat," Heyward said. "The second at-bat and the third, I was like: ‘Eh, they kind of just let him off the hook.' They let him be."

The fans who stuck around until the end got to hear "Go Cubs Go" after a 4-3 win. Davis parlayed that big moment into a one-year, $6 million contract with the A's. The Cubs will see the Indians again on Sunday afternoon in Mesa.

"As players, we're all onto the season and enjoying this ride and a new journey," said Heyward, who went 0-for-3 with an RBI as he worked on his new swing. "All the teams that we played in the playoffs are obviously out here in spring training, so it's just really fun and it's good for the makeup of your team when you compete that way.

"You're thrown right back into the fire when you talk about the competition and remembering things that happened in the postseason. But we don't dwell on it too much."

Cubs envisioning ‘hybrid' roles for Mike Montgomery and Brett Anderson

Cubs envisioning ‘hybrid' roles for Mike Montgomery and Brett Anderson

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs believe Mike Montgomery will be so much more than just the answer to a trivia question or a cameo appearance in the highlight film.

The symmetry became impossible to miss on Saturday at Sloan Park, where the Cubs put the World Series trophy on display behind home plate and set off fireworks at 1:06 p.m. Three minutes later, the guy who threw the last pitch of 2016 threw the first pitch 2017 pitch in Mesa.

That it came against Rajai Davis added to the moment. Scattered boos greeted Davis when the Oakland A's leadoff guy walked toward the batter's box, a reminder of how he almost turned a dream season into a nightmare when he slammed Aroldis Chapman's 97.1 mph fastball onto Progressive Field's left-field patio just inside the foul pole for a Game 7-tying two-run homer for the Cleveland Indians.

A year that began with Montgomery thinking he might be playing in Japan ended in that mosh pit. A lefty who had been viewed as a low-leverage swingman for the Seattle Mariners notched the final out of the World Series for a franchise that hadn't won one since 1908.

"Be ready for anything," Montgomery said when asked about the "hybrid" job description manager Joe Maddon laid out for him and Brett Anderson, the other lefty in the mix for the fifth-starter job.

"The big thing with both of them (is) neither one has really been stretched out anywhere close to 200 innings over the last couple years," Maddon said before a 4-3 split-squad win over Oakland. "So we're thinking it's almost like a hybrid moment. Maybe fold one back into the bullpen while the other one starts. And vice versa. Or just jump a sixth guy in there now and then to keep the other guys from being overworked too early.

"It's in theory right now. We haven't actually laid it down on paper. We feel pretty fortunate. If everybody stays healthy, you got six guys that you like right there. It's hard for anybody to say that. That's the point. These guys have not been really satisfactorily stretched out over the last couple years.

"How do we keep them both active and helping us? That's going to be our challenge early and through the beginning part of the season."

Anderson (29) is older and more experienced and working on a one-year, $3.5 million deal that could max out at $10 million if he rips off the injury-prone label and makes 29 starts. Montgomery (27) is the more raw talent (23 career big-league starts) the Cubs now control through the 2021 season.

"There's a lot of different possibilities that they could go with," Montgomery said. "For me, it's just continuing to build up my arm strength and getting my timing down, my mechanics down and that way I'm ready to go and do whatever it is that they need me to."

Pitching in front of 14,929 and an All-Star infield, Montgomery walked Davis and Matt Joyce and notched two strikeouts in a scoreless first inning. Montgomery felt the adrenaline rush, but nothing in Arizona can compare to the 10th inning of a Game 7.

"The sky's the limit," Maddon said. "He's like a 10-plus game winner on an annual basis as a starter. I think he definitely has that within his abilities. I've told him that (winning) 10 to 15 games is within his abilities, no doubt. That comes with fastball command and then knowing what to do with his breaking pitches. He's got really high-quality stuff.

"I'd like to think that moment will increase his confidence. But then again, it's a new year. And you have to go out there and pitch."