Luis Valbuena is Cubs’ third option
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org February 22, 2013 10:02PM
DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 27: Third baseman Luis Valbuena #24 of the Chicago Cubs throws out a runner against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on September 27, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Updated: March 24, 2013 6:15AM
MESA, Ariz. — Though it’s early in spring training for a minor injury, it might not be as early for the Cubs’ Ian Stewart.
Stewart, who had a precautionary MRI exam Friday on the left quadriceps he tweaked running the bases Thursday, is in a time-sensitive, prove-it spring after being released over the winter and re-signing on a non-guaranteed one-year, $2 million contract.
Results of the MRI were not available late Friday.
The contract isn’t unusual for an arbitration-level player. But given manager Dale Sveum’s assertion that third base ‘‘is his job to win, not to lose,’’ any missed opportunity to play during the first half of camp is especially precious to Stewart.
If he doesn’t show enough to win the job by March 16, the Cubs can release him and be obligated to pay only one-sixth of his salary ($333,333). If he’s released after that date but before the opener, it’s $500,000.
Meanwhile, Sveum said Friday that Luis Valbuena has a shot to beat out Stewart for the job regardless of the quad, and Valbuena is in the lineup at third for the Cactus League opener Saturday against the Angels. Valbuena hit a home run off Michael Bowden in the intrasquad game Friday.
Sveum planned to play Valbuena at several other positions until mid-March, assuming regular starts for Stewart, trusting Valbuena’s fielding skills at third and knowing Valbuena would have plenty of time at the position if Stewart doesn’t win the job.
‘‘If things work out that way, then down the stretch [Valbuena will] be playing third base quite a bit,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘But this first half of spring, you’ll probably see him a lot more at other positions.’’
Stewart, who had season-ending wrist surgery last year after playing his final game June 12, said the latest setback is especially frustrating because of all the comeback work with the wrist.
‘‘I’m just trying to stay positive,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve had enough stress and stuff to worry about since June. I’m just going to roll with it and hopefully get this MRI and find out it’s a mild strain and come back soon.’’
Stewart hurt the quad rounding first base on a double in Thursday’s intrasquad game before slowing into second base in his first competitive at-bat since the surgery.
‘‘I pulled up noticeably and even [first base coach] Dave [McKay] asked me, ‘‘A little more effort?’ ’’ Stewart said. ‘‘I explained to him what happened, and he was like, ‘OK.’ Trust me, I would have run hard my first time on a baseball field in eight months.’’
Infield/outfield prospect Josh Vitters, who was scratched from the intrasquad game Friday because of a similar quad strain, is considered day-to-day. He did not have an MRI exam scheduled.
† Right-hander Scott Baker, the free-agent starter the Cubs signed who missed last year because of Tommy John surgery, isn’t scheduled for the first week of Cactus League games, manager Dale Sveum said. But depending on how a bullpen session goes Saturday, ‘‘there’s a good chance that maybe within 10 days he’ll get on the mound in a game or a simulated game,’’ Sveum said.
Baker is expected to miss the first week or two of the season because of the cautious workload this spring.
† The work lefty-hitting Brett Jackson did all winter to overhaul his swing and cut down on strikeouts is showing results at least early on. In two intrasquad games, the outfield prospect didn’t strike out, and on Friday, he went 3-for-3, including a double off lefty Brooks Raley.
‘‘It’s a big confidence boost,’’ Jackson said. ‘‘I worked really hard this offseason. To make a muscle-memory type of adjustment is a pain in the butt, so to see results is good. But I’m going to keep pounding on that to keep reinforcing that it’s second nature.’’