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Jeff Samardzija spent time in the Mexican League last fall working on the breaking pitch he needs to be an effective big leaguer.
"He used to look like a football player who was trying to pitch," Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "Now he looks like a pitcher who just so happened to play football in college. He's come a long way."
Chicago has two openings in their rotation. They made a $10 million investment in Samardzija three years ago when they signed him.
After a bright debut, he has struggled over the last 18 months.
"The stubborn side of me ... expected it to happen overnight," Samardzija said. "The realistic side of me kind of knew it was going to take a little bit. I needed to be able to command another pitch. The curve has come along well."
Derrek Lee is tired of hearing comparisons between Marlon Byrd and Milton Bradley.
The Cubs signed Byrd this winter, while Bradley was a free-agent disaster last season.
"It's ridiculous," Lee told Bruce Levine and Jonathan Hood on ESPN 1000's "Talkin' Baseball" when asked about possible racial profiling.
"If it was a white guy who came over [to the Cubs] would he be [called] the 'anti-Milton Bradley'? It just makes no sense. Marlon's a completely different guy. He wasn't traded for Milton. He signed here as a free agent, so why even bring Milton Bradley's name into it? It really makes no sense and it's just, again, the media trying to make something out of nothing."
Bradley's tenure with Cubs was tumultuous. The right fielder accused some fans of hurling racially charged taunts his way at Wrigley Field.
"It's definitely not a positive when you're looking at coming to Chicago," Lee said. "But I think overall, the positives do outweigh the negatives and we're baseball players, so we're pretty good at kind of blocking out all of that outside stuff and focusing on in between the lines. And in between the lines, Chicago's a good place to play."
The Cubs likely won't need to use pitcher Carlos Zambrano as a pinch-hitter this season due to the presence of Kevin Millar.
"We don't need that," Zambrano said. "We've got Millar now. He'll be on the team. He can help us a lot. He can play third, rest (Aramis) Ramirez, rest (Alfonso) Soriano and rest (Derrek Lee)."
Lou Piniella had such a thin bench last season that he called on Zambrano to pinch-hit seven times.
Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano says that his surgically-repaired left knee in finally feeling stronger.
"Yesterday I was doing my running [up to] 85 percent, and I didn't feel anything at all," Soriano said Thursday. "I think I'm building something, because I'm feeling more and more power in my knee.
"I think the work I did in the winter is paying off. I started running, hitting and doing a lot of stuff, and I don't feel any pain at all."
Soriano hasn't fully tested the leg yet, but said that he plans to shortly.
"The only thing I'm doing 100 percent is fielding," he said. "I don't feel any pain at all.
"I think I need to trust it more. Before I felt my knee is good, now I need to trust it 100 percent."
Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee reported to camp on Tuesday and said that he doesn't want to discuss a new contract during the season.
The first baseman said that he won't even worry about it if the Cubs don't contact him or his agent.
"It's something you really don't think about," Lee said. "I'm not going to approach them, I just want to go and play."
Lee hit .306 with 35 home runs and a career-high 111 RBIs in 2009.
"I really haven't thought about it much, probably not," he added of talking during the season. "I wouldn't want it to be a distraction."
Cubs Feb 2010 Archive