2013 Outlook: Baker looking for return to form

LAS VEGAS -- It was only a Spring Training game, but for pitcher Scott Baker, Sunday's start was a big step in his comeback from Tommy John surgery.

"Results are one thing, but getting back out there and pitching in front of fans was something I haven't done yet, so it's exciting to get out there and do that today," Baker told reporters in Phoenix after his first spring start, against the Athletics.

It was an abbreviated start. Baker was scheduled to pitch two innings but was pulled after facing six batters in the first. He gave up three runs on three hits -- including a three-run homer by Chris Young -- and two walks in one-third of an inning.

"I felt like I made some decent pitches," he said. "Occasionally, I got a little jumpy and left the ball up a little bit. I was happy to be out there. It's another step. You go back and work on the things that, regardless of whether you had surgery or not, you work on those things mechanically and just go get them next time."

This was Baker's first game since Sept. 24, 2011, when he started for the Twins against the Indians. The right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery last April, and missed the entire season. The Cubs are targeting a return for mid-April, which would be the one-year anniversary.

"I think that was mainly the reason we chose that date -- as the one year [mark]," he said. "There are plenty of guys that have come back in one year and have done exceptionally well."

As of now, Baker will start every fifth day, which will give him at least two more starts in Arizona before the Cubs break camp. He could then stay in extended spring training.

What was encouraging to Baker on Sunday was that he could throw all of his pitches.

"Did I locate as well as I would like to? No," he said. "That's still part of the process, also. It's another step. The results weren't there. Physically, I did everything I could to prepare for this outing, and that's going to continue to be the case. As long as I continue to progress and build the pitch count up, we're still shooting for that mid-April timeframe."

The right-hander, who signed a $5.5 million contract with the Cubs in November, admitted that he had a few butterflies.

"Trust me, there were some nerves there," he said. "That's a good thing. It means that I still love this game and enjoy pitching. I want to compete. At the same time, you have to combat those feelings and still make good pitches. I made some good pitches, and I didn't. Just didn't work out today."

Stewart running out of time to prep for season

Sveum and Stewart discuss the Cubs' injury sutation

LAS VEGAS -- Ian Stewart is running out of time to get ready for the regular season.

The third baseman will undergo another MRI on his left quad because of lingering soreness that has kept him from running the bases and out of games. Stewart injured his leg during an intrasquad game on Feb. 21 and did not play again until March 14, in a Minor League game. He has been unable to get into another game since.

Manager Dale Sveum said Stewart told the athletic trainers that the latest problem isn't a setback. However, the reality is that the Cubs have two weeks remaining before Opening Day, April 1.

"I don't know if he's got enough time," Sveum said. "It'll be interesting."

Stewart was limited to 55 games last season before of a sore wrist, an injury that needed surgery, though that hasn't been a problem this spring.

Whether Stewart is ready for April 1 will affect how the Cubs put together their bench. Brent Lillibridge and Luis Valbuena can play third, as can Edwin Maysonet and Alberto Gonzalez.

"It just comes down to, what do you want in that spot?" Sveum said. "[Steve] Clevenger's obviously a guy who could be interesting, [and we're watching] all the waiver wires."

Clevenger made the Cubs' Opening Day roster last year as the backup catcher but on Saturday played first and third. He could be an emergency third baseman, plus give Sveum more options with double switches.

Others in the mix for the bench spots are non-roster invitees Darnell McDonald, Brian Bogusevic and Dave Sappelt, all outfielders.

"It all depends, when we sit down and really hardcore look at it, what is our need, how does the pitching set up with the other team, who's their closer, set-up guys, left-handed guys," Sveum said.

Baez heading to Minor League camp on Monday

KC@CHC: Baez slugs two homers in game vs. Royals

LAS VEGAS -- Javier Baez, who hit four home runs over back-to-back games, will officially be assigned to  Minor League camp on Monday. The shortstop has definitely made an impression in his first big league spring camp but still has some things to learn.

"He's still got to face a lot of right-handed pitching," manager Dale Sveum said on Sunday of Baez, the Cubs' No. 1 Draft pick in 2011, who is batting .324 this spring. "There's a lot to be learned and a lot to be learned at the plate when you're going to face right-handed pitching constantly -- sliders, and all that stuff -- and know you'll get quite a few of them and how you're going to react."

Baez, 20, isn't the only one being sent down on Monday. Jorge Soler, Christian Villanueva, Rafael Lopez and Josh Vitters will all be moving to Fitch Park. Soler, 21, will be assigned to Class A Daytona.

Despite the moves, both Baez and Soler are expected to start for the Cubs on Monday, when they travel to Peoria to face the Padres.

The good news for the Cubs is that there's depth in the system.

"There's a trail of guys getting ready to be a phone call away, there's no doubt about that," Sveum said.

Villanueva's next start will be all business

Outlook: Villanueva's arm gives Cubs flexibility

LAS VEGAS -- Carlos Villanueva's next start will be on Friday against his former team, the Brewers, and hopefully they'll understand if he doesn't say hello before the game. He believes that players from opposing teams should not mingle on the field.

"When it's time for business, I'm all business," Villanueva said. "I'm sure they'll try to mess with me somehow."

Last year in Toronto, the right-hander said he would dash to right field during batting practice to avoid mingling with any players from the visiting team headed to the batting cages in left.

"I don't want to see you or talk to you before the game, because if I have to put one in your neck -- hopefully it doesn't come to that -- I won't feel as comfortable doing it," he said. "Outside of the stadium, we can chat all you want. In here, sorry.

"If you're a pitcher, we'll be best buds. You won't be facing me. If you're a hitter, I don't care where you're from. It'll be all business in here. I have to explain it a little bit to some of the guys."

The Brewers know that about Villanueva, but he anticipates some razzing regardless.

"It's just the way I am," he said. "I believe in the rule about no camaraderie before the game. I'm all for enforcing that rule 1 million percent. We're competing out there. Don't go behind second base and chat away. We're going to compete. That's how I see it."

He also feels strongly about supporting his fellow Dominicans in the World Baseball Classic.

"The last game, I got two calls from the front desk at my hotel, telling me to keep it down," Villanueva said of the D.R.'s 3-1 win over the U.S. in Miami. "I'm whistling and clapping. I think I was more nervous than those guys there.

"It's definitely exciting. You see the style of baseball, it's nonstop noise from inning one, and that's why you see all those young Latin guys coming up and they're unfazed by the big leagues. You pitch with that type of pressure -- you've got your family, your friends, and there's a lot of garbage being talked. It's definitely a way to prepare for the big stage here."

He is aware that the Dominican Republic may not have as large and loud a following in San Francisco as it did in Miami.

"We all wish we could be there," he said. "We have to take care of business here first."