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Cubs’ Ian Stewart passes first test

Chicago Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart takes ground balls during infield practice as workouts continue Tuesday February 28 2012 Fitch

Chicago Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart takes ground balls during infield practice as workouts continue on Tuesday February 28, 2012 at Fitch Park in Mesa, Arizona. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 15, 2013 1:31PM

MESA, Ariz. — Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart said he was “nervous” when he headed to the minor-league side of camp Thursday to play in his first game since a Feb. 21 intrasquad game.

But by Friday morning he had an opposite-field home run to his credit, a renewed confidence in his surgically repaired left wrist and – most importantly – faith that the quad strain that cost him three weeks won’t prevent him from being ready for the season opener.

“I felt really good. I was very surprised,” said Stewart, who homered and singled in five at-bats and then took Friday off for treatment and recuperation. “I was a little nervous actually going down there. I’m like, `I don’t want to do that.’ But my timing felt great. I was taking good pitches that were close, laying off the breaking balls and changeups that were in the dirt. I just felt really good.”

Stewart said he expects to return to Fitch Park to load up on a half-dozen or more at-bats in another minor-league game Saturday and hopes to play in his first big-league spring game next week.

He said he’s not sure how much playing time his quad can take right away.

“I was pretty sore after the game, and was a little worried about that, but I came in today and felt really good,” he said.

But he seems to feel certain he has enough time to get ready for April 1 opener.

“I do. I feel like there is [enough time],’’ he said. “I was just counting the days the other day – 16, 17 days till Opening Day. Typically, that’s not what you’d want, but I think you can make the most of it by being able to go down into minor league games and get eight at-bats.”

If he’s not ready, Luis Valbuena is poised and eager to take the job. He’s had most of the playing time at third so far this spring and is 8-for-24 with three extra-base hits and three walks.

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