Notes: Young arms face live hitters
Session helps Piniella get feel for who can throw strikes
MESA, Ariz. -- Randy Wells' third pitch Wednesday buzzed Alfonso Soriano a little high and tight, but the outfielder stepped back in time. No harm done.
"I heard the 'ooh,'" Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of the Fitch Park crowd's reaction. "That's part of Spring Training for the hitters."
Wednesday was the first day pitchers faced hitters in Cubs camp, and Wells was among the 12 who threw. Others included Angel Guzman, Les Walrond, Carlos Marmol, Juan Mateo, Ben Howard, John Webb, Clay Rapada, Carmen Pignatiello, Jason Anderson, Rocky Cherry and Sean Gallagher.
Wells, who split time between Double-A West Tenn and Triple-A Iowa last year, tried to downplay the one that got away.
"He was the first hitter I faced, and I was trying to throw strikes and keep the ball down," the 24-year-old right-hander said. "I've been working on a two-seamer. I just got under it a little bit too much and pushed it. It's no big deal. Nothing intentional."
It wouldn't have mattered, except Soriano is the Cubs' $136 million man.
Rapada had some issues of his own to deal with. The left-hander has a side-arm delivery, and he couldn't use the protective screen in front of the mound the way other pitchers do.
"I couldn't see the mitt," said Rapada, who instead set up the screen as if he were a right-handed pitcher.
The youngsters appreciated the sessions.
"[Hitters] can give you more feedback," Rapada said. "They can say, 'I saw that pitch really well,' or 'Good job.'"
Piniella monitored the throwing sessions.
"What we asked more than anything else is to concentrate on throwing strikes," Piniella said. "It gives me an idea, too, from watching who I feel can get the ball over the plate and how ready they are to pitch in games. It's an important part of Spring Training, but really a little boring."
The veteran pitchers are expected on the mound Thursday at Fitch Park.
Center of attention: When Cactus League games start March 1, Soriano will likely be in center field. The Cubs need to see if he can make the switch from left to center, and Piniella said he expects to get a feel after a couple weeks of games.
"I want to get some feedback from him also," Piniella said. "It's important how he feels and how he feels he's going to do.
"There's no sense in rushing it, but at the same time, we're not going to sit here four days before Opening Day and not know what we're going to do," he said.
The Cubs' second option in center is Jacque Jones, and the third is Felix Pie. Piniella acknowledged that the team has several veteran players in camp, and that they need to play.
"I like young kids, but the way we're put together, I don't want a steady procession of players coming into my office asking, 'When do I get to play?'" he said. "We'll do what's best for the player and best for the team."
Although he's played outfield, Mark DeRosa will stay in the infield. The Cubs need to determine backups at third and short, something DeRosa could do, but he is primarily the starting second baseman.
Young players like Ronny Cedeno and Ryan Theriot should know there could be spots for them, too.
"I remember when I played for the Yankees, I'd go to camp every year as the fourth outfielder," Piniella said. "By the middle of June, I was an everyday player and in the postseason, I was an everyday player because I was getting the job done.
"Just because we make determinations coming out of Spring Training, doesn't mean we'll stick with that all year," he said. "I'll play the people who are productive and who can help us win baseball games. That's really the bottom line here, and we'll be fair about it."
Quote of the day: "Jim's asked me two or three times, 'Do you need anything else here?' and I said, 'Not at all.' We've got all the ingredients to have a darn good baseball team." -- Piniella, on Cubs general manager Jim Hendry making sure the team has all the tools necessary
Extra bases: Pie not only is very talented, but he has acquired a long list of nicknames in his young career. He's been called "Super Baby," "El Nino," and "El Gato," which means cat in Spanish. Now, he's calling himself "Benjamin" after the reggaeton group, Los Benjamins. ... Sean Marshall, slowed because of his shoulder, also threw long toss Wednesday. "My arm strength is back," he said. ... Individual game tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. CT. Check the tickets section of cubs.com for more information.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.