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updated: 2/25/2012 3:11 PM

Drilling down on fundamentals in Cubs camp

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  • After going through several catching drills, Cubs players and coaches talk about what they accomplished and what's needed. From left to right are Jason Jaramillo (38), Geovany Soto (18), instructor Marty Pevey and coach Mike Borzello.

       After going through several catching drills, Cubs players and coaches talk about what they accomplished and what's needed. From left to right are Jason Jaramillo (38), Geovany Soto (18), instructor Marty Pevey and coach Mike Borzello.
    BRUCE MILES | Staff Photographer

  • Marty Pevey runs the pitching machine to get in some extra work for Cubs catchers trying to handle tough pitches thrown in the dirt.

       Marty Pevey runs the pitching machine to get in some extra work for Cubs catchers trying to handle tough pitches thrown in the dirt.
    BRUCE Miles | Staff Photographer

  • Cubs instructor Marty Pevey, center, has some advice for several catchers, including starter Geovany Soto (18) in spring training camp.

       Cubs instructor Marty Pevey, center, has some advice for several catchers, including starter Geovany Soto (18) in spring training camp.
    BRUCE MILES | Staff Photographer

  • Cubs catcher Geovany Soto gets in some work in Mesa, Ariz., with some spring training drills. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

      Cubs catcher Geovany Soto gets in some work in Mesa, Ariz., with some spring training drills. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
    Associated Press

 
 

First impressions of spring training:

• Friday's first full-squad workout for the Cubs got under way about 1 in the afternoon and kept going ... and going ... and going.

It wasn't until long about 5 that players started coming off the field in large numbers. As good a shape as players come to camp in these days, some were huffing and puffing after running the foul-pole-to-foul-pole drills.

"This is awesome," said veteran starting pitcher Ryan Dempster.

While the pitchers were doing their running, hitters were taking batting practice during a full session that lasted well over an hour-and-a-half.

With the Cubs being such a poor fundamental team last year, pitchers fielding practice also has been stressed more.

"Instead of getting maybe five comebackers, we're getting about 30," one pitcher said. "Let's go. Boom, boom, boom."

The Cubs have four full fields at Fitch Park and one infield-only field, and they're using them all. Yes, the short field is being used for the suddenly famous bunting tournament, but coach Dave McKay had position players out Friday practicing leadoffs and getting jumps off first base.

"You want everybody working as much as possible in the 3-3 hours you are on the field," said manager Dale Sveum. "Everybody is covering something.

"You're getting a little bit of everything in, situational hitting, regular hitting, live hitting. The pitchers are throwing, you're getting a lot of groundballs, mixing in the fundamental of the day, the bunt plays today. So it's just something these five, six days, players know they are long days, and you just looked forward to those games starting to where you get on a little more regular routine."

• One of the things that struck me in Mesa was the extra attention being paid to catching defense.

Last spring, manager Mike Quade said he would handle coaching the catchers, but he was spread too thin. Catching instructor Marty Pevey was only in camp for a short time.

This year, all of that has been beefed up. Pevey, a catching specialist who played briefly in the big leagues for Montreal, has been working the catchers hard along with major-league staff assistant Mike Borzello and bench coach Jamie Quirk, who also logged some big-league time behind the plate.

Pevey has manned a pitching machine to fire baseballs into the dirt and have catchers block them. Afterward, all parties gather for discussion.

Geovany Soto has the No. 1 catching job. After that, it's wide open. Nonroster man Jason Jaramillo will get a long look. Steve Clevenger and Welington Castillo are in camp, as is Michael Brenly, son of TV analyst Bob Brenly.

Both Clevenger and Castillo saw big-league time last year. The Cubs would like Castillo to stay healthy for a whole season. Clevenger is intriguing because he's a left-handed hitter whose catching has improved steadily.

• Although it doesn't look like a winning season on the field for the Cubs this year, Dale Sveum is emphasizing the positive. He went around the diamond after Friday's workout and extolled the virtues of each player.

"I think the biggest question of all this winter was rebuilding," Sveum said. "Things are starting over. I just let them know that, look, you have a veteran catcher (Geovany Soto) behind the plate, a guy that won the MVP in Triple-A playing first (Bryan LaHair), a guy that did a nice job, (Darwin) Barney, at second base.

"We had a guy (Starlin Castro) that had over 300 hits in his first two years in the big leagues, a guy (Ian Stewart) that hit 20-plus home runs at Colorado a couple of years ago at third, an all-star center fielder (Marlon Byrd), a guy (Alfonso Soriano) with 340 home runs in left field and a really nice leadoff type professional player playing right field (David DeJesus)."

Sveum wasn't done.

"Obviously, there is the pitching staff with Demper (Ryan Dempster), (Matt) Garza, (Paul) Maholm, (Randy) Wells, (Travis) Wood. You go on and on with the bullpen with (Carlos) Marmol and (Kerry) Wood and (Jeff) Samardzija. You let them know that's a team that can compete and do well. We're not here to compete -- we're here to win the World Series this year."

Wouldn't be "first impressions of spring training" without those sentiments.

• Follow Bruce's Cubs reports via Twitter @BruceMiles2112 and check out his Chicago's Inside Pitch blog at dailyherald.com.

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