Baker, coming off Tommy John surgery which caused him to miss all of last season, threw a simulated game on Thursday, and how he felt the day after was a “big issue” according to manager Dale Sveum.
“It was kind of a wait-and-see day, how I felt afterwards,” Baker said Friday before the Cubs played the Cincinnati Reds. “I had a pretty good indication yesterday coming off the mound I would be fine, which is the case today. I think I’m ready to move forward to the next step which is a minor league game.”
Baker will throw a minor league game next week and then a Cactus League start isn’t out of the question.
“Barring (any) setbacks he’s perfectly right on the schedule we planned out from the beginning,” Sveum said.
At the Cubs convention in January Sveum said he was hopeful Baker would be able to throw “about 75 pitches” by late March. He’s on schedule to do that, which would put him in the rotation by mid-April. It’s about the time the team also hopes to get Matt Garza back from a lat injury.
“It solidifies a lot of things,” Sveum said. “If he comes back like the Baker we saw in Minnesota before he got hurt and Garza comes back at about the same time, you’re looking at a pretty good starting pitching staff if everyone is pitching up to their capabilities.”
Baker had double-digit win seasons from 2008-10 then produced a career low ERA, 3.14, in 2011 before his injury.
Analysis: Sveum isn’t wrong about his assessment of the staff, but there are a lot of "ifs" associated with it. At this point Baker might actually be more reliable for a timely return than Garza, who needs to recover from his injury and then build up his arm strength. But Baker and Scott Feldman are on missions to prove they were derailed as starters because of injuries. Sveum even mentioned the trickle-down effect considering Carlos Villanueva will be stretched out to start, which could make him more effective as a long reliever. If the Cubs get a magic return to health and productivity from their rotation then a perfect storm of good pitching early in the season is possible. Again, it’s a lot of “ifs."
A look at the outfield
Left field is set with Alfonso Soriano, but Sveum might do a lot of mixing and matching in center and right depending on who is pitching and who is doing well at the plate. Defense will also play a part in the equation.
Nate Schierholtz tripled against a left-handed Carlos Quintana on Thursday then popped out in his second at-bat. He said he thought the hit-and-run was on and swung at a “pitcher’s pitch.” Regardless, Schierholtz has looked good at the plate against righties and lefties this spring.
“He’s had good at-bats against lefties,” Sveum said. “Schierholtz has already won the right field job. He’s our right fielder and the platoon situation will be what it will be.”
Scott Hairston has struggled some at the plate, leading the team in strikeouts, but he started in center field on Friday against the Cincinnati Reds. With David DeJesus and Schierholtz hitting from the left side and Hairston from the right side, it leaves one opening.
“And whoever makes the team is the other right handed outfielder,” Sveum said. “You have to make those decisions because sometimes you don’t want that platoon because you might be giving up too much on defense.”
Analysis: Schierholtz has shown enough that he might get more starts against lefties than first thought. If DeJesus struggles in that area, Hairston could be in center and the other right-handed bat would be in right field if Schierholtz isn’t playing that day. But as Sveum said he won’t do that at the expense of his defense. So in the final weeks of spring training there’s still a lot for the manager to learn. Can anyone but DeJesus play center and can those left-handed hitters continue to hit left-handed pitching? If those questions get answered it’ll help determine playing time come April.
Cubs strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss had an emergency appendectomy this week and has been missing from the team, but is expected back soon.
The Cubs trimmed their spring training roster to 59 after sending out three players from camp. Catcher Michael Brenly and Dayan Diaz were assigned to minor league camp while outfielder Matt Szczur was optioned to class Double-A Tennessee.