Pignatiello Looks to Build on Strong Start

Carmen Pignatiello (InsideTheIvy.com/Pam Davis)

Cubs manager Lou Piniella has said that he's content with carrying only one left-handed reliever if no one impresses him enough.

Piniella and the Cubs figure to have one lefty reliever locked into the 25-man opening day roster in Scott Eyre. Hoping to join Eyre is Carmen Pignatiello.

Through five Cactus League games, Pignatiello has tossed 4.1 scoreless innings. He has allowed two hits to 13 batters for a .154 average against.

Those are hard numbers for any manager to ignore – least of all Piniella, who doesn't seem all that caught up in whether his relievers throw from the left or right hand side of the mound, so long as they get outs.

"With Lou, he's going to take the best guy no matter (what)," Pignatiello agrees. "He wants the guy that's going to give his team the best chance to win."

At the moment, Pignatiello is one of those guys.

Drafted in the 20th round of the 2000 draft from Providence Catholic High School in Indiana, Pignatiello is now in his ninth season with the Cubs.

He has spent the past four seasons primarily at Triple-A Iowa and at Double-A, having made his big league debut a season ago in August. He went on to make four appearances with the Chicago club, allowing one run and three hits in two innings.

Having been in big league camp the past few years, Pignatiello, 25, believes this spring is his best chance to date of making the Cubs' opening day roster.

"I would say so," he said. "I've heard they're thinking about carrying two lefties and my goal is only to compete here, do well and see if I can make the team.

"Just have to go out there and pitch well," he added.

Pignatiello continued to do that on Sunday, tossing a scoreless inning against Kansas City in the Cubs 13-1 rout of the Royals at Surprise, Ariz.

Pignatiello retired all three batters he faced. Since making his big league debut a season ago, he has now yielded just two earned runs over his last 17 appearances.

"It's just about throwing strikes and getting guys out," Pignatiello said. "I'm not really working on one specific pitch; I'm just concentrating on getting guys out. My command's been good of late and my breaking ball has been there my whole career. I've been using my fastball pretty well early and getting a lot of groundballs."

Pignatiello knows he'll have to keep his performance up because there are other left-handers like veteran Neal Cotts that are vying for a spot in the Cubs' bullpen. Others lefties such as Ed Campusano and Sean Marshall are also still in contention.

One person that Pignatiello won't have to compete with, though, is Will Ohman. The Cubs traded the left-hander to Atlanta in the off-season, and from a competition standpoint, Pignatiello wasn't sad to see him go.

"It helps me out a lot," Pignatiello said of Ohman's departure. "He'd been (with the team) the past couple of years. Now he's gone and it's opened up a spot for another lefty in the organization to pitch up at that level. It obviously didn't hurt me."

Neither did Pignatiello's off-season workout regime. He hired a personal trainer to help whip him into the best shape possible going into Spring Training.

Pignatiello says the work has paid off.

"I haven't lost any weight, but I've lost body fat," said the 6-foot, 205-pound pitcher. "That (weight) wasn't a real concern; just getting physically stronger.

"I didn't play any winter ball (but) I took two weeks off at the end of the year and got a personal trainer in Dan Bojar, who did a great job giving me a diet to follow," he continued. "This is the best I've felt coming into spring training. I've seen the results."

So far, the Cubs have, too.

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