After heaping praise on his pitching staff for its command of the strike zone in spring training,…
It's Finally Opening Day
The rookies are lefty James Russell (son of former big league closer Jeff Russell) and right-handers Justin Berg and Esmailin Caridad. Russell has not pitched in the big leagues, and Berg and Caridad saw only limited action with the Cubs last season. Right-hander Jeff Samardzija opened last season at Class AAA Iowa (Des Moines), and lefty Sean Marshall began in the starting rotation before moving to the pen in '09.
"We've got some good arms in the bullpen that should get better as the season progresses," Piniella said. "You may have a bump in the road here and there with young pitchers, but it's a club that should play well."
Rookie outfielder Tyler Colvin made the club out of spring training. He was the Cubs' leading hitter, but he's not in the Opening Day lineup in Atlanta. Piniella says he will "rotate" his outfield so that Colvin and Xavier Nady get playing time.
From left to right, the Cubs will start Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and Kosuke Fukudome in the outfield.
--RHP Carlos Zambrano will make his sixth straight Opening Day start. The Cubs' record for Opening Day starts by a pitcher is seven, by Fergie Jenkins from 1967-83.
"He sets the tone, in a way, for our starting staff," Piniella said of Zambrano, who has been known to lose his composure on the mound. "As far as the other, I'm sure there might be a little slippage. I hope not. It's hard to be perfect, and we'll leave it at that."
--LF Alfonso Soriano will open his first Cubs season as something other than the regular leadoff hitter. Soriano, who is coming off left-knee surgery, will bat sixth and Piniella says it will stay that way. Soriano batted second on Opening Day 2008, but he quickly moved back into the top spot. Piniella moved Soriano from first to sixth last July.
--OF Xavier Nady saw limited action in right field during spring training as he comes back from Tommy John surgery to his right elbow, performed last July.
"What we're going to try to do with Nady, if I can, I'd like to use him in left field," Piniella said before the season started. "The throws are a little shorter. He doesn't have to throw that long throw from right field to third base. When I get Nady in the lineup, I'd like to be able to give Soriano a breather that day. Then I can use Colvin a little bit in center and a little bit in right."
--C Geovany Soto, who had a rough year last season, batted only .216 in spring training. Piniella cited Soto and Soriano needing bounce-back years and 3B Aramis Ramirez needing to stay healthy. Soto won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2008, but he slumped to .218 last year. Koyie Hill is the backup catcher.
"One thing they both do is call a good game," Piniella said.
--2B Mike Fontenot, who bats left-handed, makes his second straight Opening Day start. He beat out the right-handed hitting Jeff Baker for the job. Fontenot, however, may see time at shortstop as Ryan Theriot's backup. Baker can play third base as well as second. The Cubs officially added veteran 1B/3B Chad Tracy to the roster Sunday. Tracy beat out Kevin Millar in spring training as both went to camp as non-roster players.
BY THE NUMBERS: 6 -- The Cubs opened with six new faces in their bullpen from Opening Day of last year with Marmol being the only constant.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The length of the sale was a completely unpleasant surprise. That was difficult. I told my wife it's as close as I'll ever get to childbirth. She said, 'How do you know? You were at Starbucks.'" -- New Cubs owner Tom Ricketts on the sale of the team, which took three baseball seasons-plus to complete.
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