Rehabbing Stewart confident in claim to third base

Rehabbing Stewart confident in claim to third base
March 10, 2013, 3:45 pm
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MESA, Ariz. -- Ian Stewart has yet to have an at-bat in Cactus League play this spring, as the third baseman continues to deal with a left quad strain sustained in late February.

Manager Dale Sveum said Sunday morning he doesn't think Stewart will be back until next weekend at the earliest, after projecting a midweek return a few days ago.

"It seems to be getting pushed back every day," Sveum observed.

Stewart, though, took a more optimistic tone when addressing his latest injury. He thinks he could make his Cactus League debut earlier than next weekend, and when he does he fully expects to be the team's everyday third baseman.

"I don't think there's any other way to look at it," Stewart said. "I feel like I'm the third baseman here until they get rid of me. I feel like if I'm healthy and ready to go, I'll be playing third every day."

The Cubs re-signed Stewart after non-tendering him in December, although his contract isn't guaranteed. If the Cubs cut him before March 16 -- less than a week from now -- they'll only owe him $333,000 of his $2 million contract. If he's cut after that and before Opening Day, the Cubs will owe Stewart $500,000.

That contract status and the threat of being cut aren't things that are on Stewart's mind, though.

"I have absolutely no concern about that at all," Stewart said. "Whatever concern there is, I'm not aware of that as far as if the coaching staff is talking about it, they have not brought that up to me. Therefore, I am not concerned about it."

Sveum likes Luis Valbuena and Brent Lillibridge, who's scheduled to return from a minor groin issue Wednesday, has played a bit of third base in his career. And over the last two seasons, Stewart has hit just .183/.272/.389 with five home runs in 103 games.

But watching Stewart take batting practice Sunday, it looked like the power he flashed in Colorado (53 home runs from 2008-2010) still exists in the bulked-up 27-year-old's frame. At this point, Stewart says everything but his ability to run is right where it should be, encouraging news for someone who underwent wrist surgery last summer.

When Stewart initial went out with his injury in February, Sveum said "it will be a cram session" for the third baseman when he returns. That hasn't changed -- "it's getting more crummy," Sveum said Sunday -- and whether Stewart's ready to admit it or not, he'll be behind the eight ball when he finally hits the field.

"I know Dale has talked about cramming to get ready for the season, and that's understandable because the goal is to be on the team, be there Opening Day," Stewart said. "But I think the ultimate goal is to be healthy for as much of the season as I can be. And whether that's being there on Opening Day playing and not being 100 percent and just trying to do it, or taking our time just a little bit, making sure I'm 100 percent healthy so I can be there for the long haul without risk of re-injuring it."