- Jesse Rogers, Chicago Cubs beat reporter
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MESA, Ariz. -- He might be gone, but former Chicago Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster isn’t forgotten, especially by one of his former protégés. Righty Jeff Samardzija reflected on Dempster’s time as his teammate one day after Dempster announced he would sit out the 2014 season mostly for health reasons.
“For 3-4 years I was down here (Arizona) with him and he was dragging me out of bed at six in the morning to go do Dempster workouts,” Samardzija said Monday morning. “That was great. He really showed me it might be November or December but there are things you can do to prepare for the season.”
Those workouts included climbing desert mountains and even ice skating. Samardzija thinks it’s not the last the baseball world has seen of Dempster.
“He doesn’t make any rash decisions,” Samardzija said. “It doesn’t sound like he’s totally done. I know what kind of competitor he is so sitting around and watching probably is not going to be the easiest pill to swallow so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back
Baez in the infield: Manager Rick Renteria further explained the notion that even though Starlin Castro is the Cubs' starting shortstop -- and signed to a long term deal -- they still want top prospect Javier Baez to play there at Triple-A Iowa to start this season.
“Shortstops are the most flexible of positions to move ... but you never want to remove a shortstop from shortstop,” Renteria said. “So if we have the luxury of Castro at the major league level and Baez at Triple-A, why wouldn’t we do that?
Renteria said he’ll meet with Baez to explain the spring plan, which will see him move around the infield before he settles back in at shortstop in Iowa.
Drug testing begins: Cubs pitchers and catchers are already being tested for PED’s in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement. Reliever Blake Parker had his test Monday morning.
“As you walk in and go to your locker they’ll come over and tell you you’ve been selected,” he explained. “And guys like me who normally get up and go to the bathroom first thing in the morning, it’s kind of hard to go again but I’ll get it done. Drink some water.”
Pitchers are among the most vocal about a strong testing and punishment program as hitters seemingly took advantage of the PED era more than hurlers. Parker was a big fan of Mark McGwire growing up, he skipped school to see McGwire hit his 62nd home run in 1998.
“Looking back it’s kind of a disappointment, but they were so fun to watch,” he said. “He hit that 62nd one with a flick of the wrist. It’s good we’ve cracked down though.”
Opportunity for Wright: The Cubs wanted to lighten the load on lefty reliever James Russell so they signed Wesley Wright this offseason after he was non-tendered by Tampa Bay. The Rays made the playoffs last season.
“I had the opportunity to go from a last-place team to the postseason last year so there really isn’t a big gap,” Wright said. “It’s the small things and doing everything right on a daily basis. You can be amazed at the turnaround you can have.”
Wright is “only” 5-11, tiny compared to some of the other power relievers in camp, like Jose Veras (6-6), but he believes variety is the way to go.
“I think bullpens are a mixture of everything,” Wright said. “It’s so specialized now, you really don’t want all the same guys because you kind of lose the deception part of it.”
General manager Jed Hoyer said all position players are expected to report on time this week.
The Cubs had basketball hoops set up for players outside their locker room but they were replaced by a ping pong table. The chances of injury are significantly less in ping pong.