Notes: Glovework backs up strong Lilly
Health Piniella's goal for opener; Murton speeding up release
MESA, Ariz. -- If Ted Lilly can get away with mistakes on April 4 the way he did Sunday, the Cubs left-hander will be fine.
Lilly threw six scoreless innings, and got some great defensive help, in the Cubs' 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
"By far, that's the best he's thrown this spring," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "Let's get that for the second game of the season in Cincinnati and everybody will be very, very pleased."
Jacque Jones made a great catch of Garret Anderson's fly ball on the track in right to end the first, and Mark DeRosa, starting at third base, snared a few potential extra-base hits as well.
Asked what mistakes he made, Lilly had a list.
"Leaving it up and falling behind in the count and getting in situations where I have to throw a strike," he said. "That's what we're trying to do is get ahead right away and get that hitter to be defensive."
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has been working with Lilly on getting his legs more into his throws, and Piniella said the lefty's fastball had some life on it.
Countdown: The Cubs have one week remaining before they open the regular season. Piniella's goal?
"Just stay healthy, that's the biggest thing," he said Sunday. "Probably the hardest thing for me personally will be the cuts coming in the next few days. I don't enjoy those. It's part of my job. Outside of that, it's staying healthy and getting a little lucky in Las Vegas."
Piniella was thinking about the final decisions Saturday, and wasn't looking forward to telling players the news. He's had a few meetings with players that didn't go well.
"Yeah, I've had, 'Who the [heck] is making decisions around here? Do you people know what you're doing?'" Piniella said. "One thing about our situation here is everybody's gotten an opportunity to play and pitch. That doesn't make it any easier.
"I've been on the other side, too, as a player, so I can understand," Piniella said. "It hurts. What are you going to do? You can only take 25. You do what you have to do."
Stopwatch: Coach Mike Quade has been busy working with the outfielders, and Matt Murton was one of his projects.
"One of the things we wanted to address was my release time on my throws," Murton said. "You want to be around 1.3 [seconds] from glove to release, and I was probably standard 1.5, 1.6, and on certain throws I've gotten down to 1.1."
The clock starts from the point of picking up the ground ball to getting rid of it, Murton said. Quade has tried to eliminate some of the steps to cut down on the time as well as work on his jumps and footwork. You don't want to sacrifice accuracy for speed.
"That's the concern -- you don't want to go too fast to where you lose anything behind your throw or accuracy," Murton said. "So long as you can keep your accuracy and velocity behind the ball, you'll be fine."
Piniella has been pleased with Murton's progress.
"Obviously, he's not as fleet-footed as [Alfonso] Soriano or [Jacque] Jones in right, but he'll make the plays that need to be made," Piniella said. "He has gotten better. He's getting better jumps."
Flashback: Remember a Cubs-Astros game on July 25, 2003 in Houston? It was Carlos Zambrano vs. Wade Miller, and Zambrano picked up the win, a 5-3 decision. He also belted a two-run homer off Miller in the seventh inning.
"I remember everything, like it was yesterday," Zambrano said Sunday about the game against Miller, now his teammate on the Cubs.
It would seem to be bad form for a pitcher to bring up something like that to another pitcher.
"I never said anything," Zambrano said. "[Miller] reminded me about it last year. When we're in batting practice, we talk about it -- the other pitchers say, 'Hey, did Zambrano take you deep? Is that true?' I don't like to talk about it."
But Zambrano did, one of his 10 career homers. Big Z struck out seven over 8 1/3 innings in the game.
"It was exciting," Zambrano said. "I think that was one of the most exciting games of my life. I pitched well, I contributed to win the game with my bat."
But he is not about to tease Miller, who could break with the Cubs and take the fifth starter spot.
"You just have to have respect for everybody else," Zambrano said. "If that was against [Kerry Wood], or someone I've known for a long time, I might make fun of them. [Miller's] only been here two years."
Zambrano is scouting his teammates. He watched Saturday's game on his computer via MLB.TV.
Cubs catcher Henry Blanco is 4-for-12 lifetime against Miller and has struck out five times. He remembers how nasty Miller was when he pitched for the Astros.
"I think he's gotten better," Blanco said of the right-hander. "He still has that big breaking ball -- it's not as effective as it was before. He's learned how to pitch without a curveball. The changeup has been a good pitch for him in Spring Training. He has better command of all his pitches."
Miller still does throw a curve, and threw about five in Saturday's game among the 68 pitches.
"I'm not saying he has a bad [curve]," Blanco said. "But now that everybody knows him, he's changed a little bit. That's good -- that's what guys need to do, especially guys like him coming off an injury. He's looking better. He's stayed healthy and he's trying to help us out."
Arms race: Angel Guzman also had a solid outing on Saturday, giving up two runs on four hits while striking out four over 3 1/3 innings. The runs came on Mark Sweeney's homer in the eighth on a changeup that got away. It was the only bad pitch.
Guzman, whose career has been slowed because of arm injuries, said he felt strong. The minor adjustment of moving him to the right side of the rubber has helped, too. He's hoping it's enough to win a spot on the final 25-man roster.
"I feel I can perform for whatever innings they want me to do out there," Guzman said. "That's a good feeling. At least I have my consistency back."
Extra bases: Outfielder Buck Coats will undergo an MRI on his right knee Monday. Coats woke up, after playing Friday, with stiffness in the back of his knee. "Like everything else, I thought it would go away and it didn't go away," said Coats, who is batting .333 in 20 games this spring. "It might not be anything." ... The Cubs opted to use the DH at home Sunday. "I've got the pitching coach complaining that the pitchers need at-bats, so we'll send a couple pitchers down to the Minor League complex," Piniella said. ... Sometimes you have to ignore the Spring Training numbers in making decisions regarding the roster. "With a lot of these kids, you look at the back of the bubble gum card and it tells you a little different story," Piniella said. "You can't go totally on Spring Training."
On deck: The Cubs play the Angels again on Monday, this time traveling to Tempe for a 3:05 p.m. CT game. Jason Marquis is slated to start for the Cubs against lefty Joe Saunders. This will be Marquis' fifth start. The game will be broadcast on Comcast Sports Net and available on MLB.TV.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.