MESA, Ariz. -- New Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria oversaw his first official workout Friday as pitchers and catchers hit the practice fields and mounds to run the usual spring drills while a couple of groups threw bullpen sessions.
This all came after Renteria, the eternal optimist, addressed those in camp for the first time. With the Cubs not expected to compete for the playoffs in 2014, Renteria’s positive attitude will be tested.
"We know people look at us and think there is no chance that anything can happen," Renteria said after workouts were complete. "That’s on everyone else -- that’s not on us."
It’s clear what his message to these Cubs is: First place or last place, they’ll work on their game the same way.
"Everything that we do has a purpose, and everything does matter," Renteria explained. "Today was the beginning of what our mind needs to be thinking about, which is accomplishing the task, which is winning as many ballgames as we can possibly win."
He knows other managers -- including predecessor Dale Sveum -- have delivered similar missives throughout some trying years.
"I’m not reinventing the wheel in the message," Renteria noted. "Sometimes, a different messenger says the same message and it takes hold."
The problem right now, however, might not be with the message but with the talent on the team.
Bullpen sessions: Pitchers are split up into groups and will throw every couple of days. In between, conditioning and fielding drills are on the menu for Cubs hurlers. On Day 1, bullpen sessions included Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and newcomer James McDonald. The sessions are watched closely by pitching coach Chris Bosio as well as the Cubs manager and members of the front office. Renteria was asked what he looks for.
"I want to see how many times they hit the mitt that they set up in the zone more than anything," he said. "How many misses did they have on that particular side? How winded were they? Were the catchers doing a good enough job communicating?"
Castillo’s training: Like any catcher, Welington Castillo has a huge task in front of him during spring training: He has to learn the new pitchers while advancing his own game. He and catching coach Mike Borzello -- tasked with bringing Castillo, 23, along -- picked up where they left off last season. On Friday, Borzello was seen showing Castillo how he wants him to catch the ball -- a little closer to his body. Castillo says the practice will help in framing pitches. That aspect of the game hasn’t been a strength for Castillo in the past.
"Less movement is good," Castillo said. "Catching the ball closer to my body will help eliminate that."
The pitching staff: Renteria wouldn’t commit to any roster battles -- at least not on Day 1, he said. But that doesn’t mean we can’t examine things.
The potential starting staff was outlined Thursday, while the bullpen looks to have seven players -- based on last season -- with jobs to lose: Hector Rondon, Jose Veras, Pedro Strop, Wesley Wright, James Russell, Blake Parker and Carlos Villanueva. They would be considered the incumbents. Wright is included due to his experience and the fact that the Cubs would like two lefties in the bullpen.
There are no guarantees, as several players will be pushing these seven, including Justin Grimm and Arodys Vizcaino; Villanueva could also be a starter. Anyone else battling for a job would be a surprise unless the Cubs decide Chris Rusin or McDonald, for example, should pitch in relief.