Saturday, February 23, 2013
Valbuena impressive early as replacement
By Jesse Rogers
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Is it a coincidence in the days after Chicago Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart injured his left quad, that his replacement has taken off? Luis Valbuena has home runs on two consecutive days -- the latest against the Los Angeles Angels in an 11-2 win to kick off the Cactus League on Saturday.
“I’d be so happy if I win that job,” he said after the game. “Happy because of the work I do all year. Winter ball and spring training, that’s what I try to do -- put everything together.”
Valbuena says he’s being aggressive at the plate, and the results are starting to show. He wasn’t supposed to play in Friday’s intra-squad affair, but after Stewart and Josh Vitters were injured the day before, he promptly hit a ball out of Hohokam Park. Then came the long one on Saturday. Third base might be his job to win while Stewart is healing.
“It’s not my decision,” Valbuena said. “I’m just competing. I do my job like I know how to do.”
Cubs pitcher Travis Wood knows he’s in a numbers game to make the rotation. When all are healthy, the Cubs have seven starters for five spots. With two (Matt Garza and Scott Baker) behind in terms of health, Wood has a great chance to be there come April.
“I like it, where I’m at,” he said after throwing two innings against the Angels on Saturday. “There’s still other guys out there, and everyone is competing for the same spot. It’ll be fun the rest of camp. We’ll see what happens.”
Wood was inconsistent last season but better in the second half; that’s what he wants to build on. He started Saturday’s game surrendering a walk and a double but got the next six batters out before departing -- though not before those two runners scored.
“I hate leadoff walks, but it was nice to get back out there and get in the flow of things and game situations,” Wood said. “It was nice to go out and have a good second [inning] once I calmed down and got the first out of the way and back to business.”
He struck out two in that second inning, while the two runs he gave up came on ground outs.
The first two at-bats of the Cactus League for Jackson resulted in triples, which is not bad for a guy who is re-tooling his swing. Like Valbuena, he’s carrying over a hot bat from an intra-squad game the day before in which he had three hits. Jackson has stated he expects to start the year with the Cubs, though the team has been adamant he’ll begin in Triple-A Iowa. It remains to be seen if their minds can be changed.
Jesse Rogers covers the Cubs for ESPN 1000 and ESPNChicago.com