First spring game brings butterflies
Too many errors to suit Piniella, but optimism, excitement high
MESA, Ariz. -- Opening Day is one month away, and the Cubs' lineup for Thursday's Cactus League game was a close indication of who will start April 2 for manager Lou Piniella. However, he's looking for different results.
The Cubs made three errors that led to seven unearned runs in the San Francisco Giants' 9-2 victory in front of 8,079 at sunny, but chilled, HoHoKam Park. Before the first pitch, Piniella talked about how much he wanted to see good, crisp baseball.
"I don't like throwing the ball around, even though it's Spring Training," Piniella said after the game. "From that standpoint, I'm not pleased. We got our feet wet, and we'll continue to work."
The lineup could be the same on Opening Day with Carlos Zambrano starting in place of Jason Marquis, who gave up one run on three hits over two innings in his Cubs debut. At least, it could be the lineup if Alfonso Soriano can make the switch from left to center field and if Matt Murton can handle the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Those are some of the issues Piniella has to deal with in the next 30 days.
"It's exciting for me personally," Piniella said. "We have a lot of work to do here in the next 28, 30 ballgames, and it'll give me a chance to familiarize myself with the players so I can utilize them the right way. At the same time, I can start the evaluation process."
Piniella had not filled out a lineup card since the end of the 2005 season, his last with Tampa Bay, but he wasn't nervous on Thursday.
"I've been off the field for a year and a half myself, so it's new to me," he said. "But this isn't about me, it's about our team and our players."
Soriano, who signed an eight-year, $136 million deal in November, will be in the spotlight. In his first at-bat with the Cubs, he struck out against Barry Zito, the Giants' $126 million pitcher, after an eight-pitch battle.
"It's the first game of Spring Training," Soriano said. "I'd like to see that matchup again in the season. When they go to Chicago or we go to San Francisco, it could be different. It's the first game he pitched, that was my first at-bat. I think it'll be more exciting when he's more ready and I'm ready, too."
Marquis was ready.
"We're working real hard on keeping my sinker down in the zone, getting ahead of hitters and eventually getting to two strikes and putting them away," he said. "I'll take that every time -- 20 pitches, two innings, five, six ground balls."
Finally, the Cubs could face someone in another uniform. Marquis admitted he was a little nervous.
"I've been looking forward to this since the day I signed," he said. "I'm very excited to be wearing blue and white pinstripes."
"I definitely had butterflies," second baseman Mark DeRosa said. "It was good to put pinstripes on. Besides photo day, we'd been wearing those gray pants."
Derrek Lee's first at-bat should put all worries about his wrist to rest. He slapped a broken-bat single to left off Zito.
"I don't even think about it," Lee said of his wrist. "It won't be an issue."
Piniella will likely be the center of attention as he returns to the dugout after a one-year hiatus to do TV broadcast work.
"I'm proud of this day," he said. "I've only been in this organization a few months, but I feel like a Cub, I really do. I'm looking forward to a very successful season, and it starts with Spring Training games."
Hiring Piniella and spending more than $300 million this offseason on re-signing players and adding free agents such as Soriano, Marquis, DeRosa and Ted Lilly has raised expectations among Cubs fans.
"There should be expectations," Piniella said. "I like the idea. I like the idea of more expectations than no expectations. We have a good baseball team here. If our team plays anywhere near its talent level, and I'm confident it will, we'll have a very good season here in Chicago. The fans will enjoy watching this team play, and I think everybody will be pleased with our summer.
"I've listened to a few of the television shows about the Cubbies," Piniella said. "I get a kick out of watching the shows. Everybody has different ideas and opinions. I think the people around baseball like our talent level."
"We added a lot of good players," Lee said. "That alone will make us better. With Soriano, you're talking about one of the top three players in the game offensively. Any time you add guys like that and the depth in the rotation, you're better. But that doesn't mean anything -- you still have to go out and play."
DeRosa got a firsthand look at the expectations during the Cubs Convention in January.
"I don't consider myself a big-name guy, and you've got a private bodyguard and you're climbing the back stairwells of the Chicago Hilton because you can't go through the lobby -- this is just icing on the cake," DeRosa said.
His three-year deal seems small compared to the figures Soriano and Zito received.
"That's fine," DeRosa said. "It doesn't get lost in my house."
OK, the money's been spent, the games have begun and it's time to move on. Piniella is looking forward to not having to answer questions about last season's 66-96 record and last-place finish in the National League Central.
"It has no bearing on what happens starting April 1, or actually, starting today," Piniella said of the Cubs' past. "I look at the present and the future, and I think that's the best way to do it. The past -- what can you do but learn from it?"
"Last year, things got away from us," Lee said. "This year, we have a clean slate. Guys have dedicated themselves, guys are motivated and I think you'll see a different team."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.