Cubs look serious about improving defense

MESA, Ariz. -- One day of expert infield practice doesn’t guarantee a full season of solid defense, but the Chicago Cubs took a step in the right direction on Sunday.

Crisp fielding, accurate throwing and precision cutoff drills were on display as the Cubs went to work on one of the worst parts of their game the last two seasons.

Not only did the Cubs make 134 errors last year, their 260 errors over the past two seasons is the most in baseball.

“I thought that was probably one of the best first cutoffs-and-relays days I have ever seen,” manager Dale Sveum said. “It was pretty impressive. I think that went really well.”

If the players looked like they were focusing hard on the defensive side of things it was for good reason.

“That’s something they’re really stressing is that we’ve gotta get better defensively,” second baseman Darwin Barney said. “We have to get better at the little things. One of the things they are stressing is running the bases and defense. It’s on everybody’s mind. We want to get better and now everyone’s working hard.”

Ian Stewart figures to be a defensive upgrade at third base over Aramis Ramirez. Starlin Castro and Barney should have improved communication heading into another season together. The question mark could be in first baseman Bryan LaHair trying to live up to the standard set by previous first baseman Carlos Pena.

“Pena is one of the best that’s been in the game for the last 10 years or so,” Sveum said. “Those are tough shoes to fill defensively. [LaHair] takes a lot of pride in it and he knows his job. His job is to save errors and do those things too. He’s a good athlete. He can do some things over there too. I’m not worried about his defense at all.”

Barney isn’t either.

“LaHair is very capable at first base,” Barney said. “He’s a guy that I played with coming up and he takes so much pride in his defense and the way he picks balls at first base that I have the utmost confidence in him when I throw the ball.

“You’re never thinking, unless the guy is 5-foot-2, that I would rather miss low than high. With him over there I feel comfortable. I never once thought I am going to think about my throws any more than I did last year.”