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Cubs' spring training has been anything but easy
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/4/2008 12:15 AM

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MESA, Ariz. -- Not long ago, Cubs manager Lou Piniella was talking about how smoothly spring training was going.

Then Mark DeRosa had to go back to Chicago because of an irregular heartbeat.

Then Aramis Ramirez came down with a sore right shoulder. Instead of Ramirez playing today, as the Cubs had hoped, it's looking more like Thursday.

Piniella and pitcher Jason Marquis had a teapot tempest Saturday before smoothing things over Sunday.

And star left fielder Alfonso Soriano broke his right middle finger Sunday. Soriano was soaking the finger in a cup of ice Monday morning, and it now looks like he'll be out at least a week and not the 3-5 days the Cubs optimistically had hoped.

"I thought this was going to be an easy spring training," Piniella said. "I really did. Is there such a thing as an easy Cubs spring training? No, we've encountered some problems here early, and we've just got to ride them out. Thank God we've got time."

Piniella added that infielder-outfielder Daryle Ward (glute muscle) also should return Thursday, not today, as hoped.

"I was expecting to put a nice team on the field that we wouldn't have to tinker with too much," Piniella said. "Just get them in shape and let them play. It just hasn't happened that way."

More for Lou: Lou Piniella reiterated Monday that the Cubs will be his final managerial stop. Piniella signed a three-year deal with the Cubs before the 2007 season, but he's open to staying longer if the organization wants him.

That doesn't mean Piniella is lobbying for an extension.

"I didn't say anything," Piniella said when pushed on the subject. "All I'm saying is I've got this year and next year. That's all I've said. Nothing more, nothing less. As long as I'm enjoying it and as long as the club is playing well and the ownership group here and the front office is satisfied, I'm open for discussion. But I'm not looking ahead. I'm looking to this year and this year's team and doing the best I can, and next year will take care of itself."

The subject came up when a Seattle reporter asked Piniella how much longer he'd like to manage.

"We'll see. There's no timetable," he said. "This'll be my last job, though, I can tell you that. Maybe a little consulting job somewhere, but outside of that, no."

Quick work: Jon Lieber started Monday's game and threw 26 pitches over 2 innings. He worked quickly, as usual, but he didn't think so.

"Was it really quick? Did it look like it?" he asked. "I thought I was in slow motion, to be honest with you."

Lieber added he was glad to be back out there after last season with the Phillies was cut short by a ruptured tendon in his right foot. He took a comebacker off the left foot Monday but said he was OK.

Lieber looks to have a job in the rotation, but he's not lobbying to stay away from the bullpen. The Cubs have seven starters for five spots.

"I learned a lesson last year," he said. "I went through the same situation that's going on right now. It's kind of unfortunate, but it's always good to have extra arms. But I feel like I approached it the wrong way last year and really had a bad attitude about it. I was a little disappointed coming into camp. I was figuring the way I was pitching down the stretch of '06, I didn't think I was going to be fighting for a spot in Philadelphia, but obviously, I was."

Lieber opened last season in the bullpen after coming off the disabled list. He said he'd be happy with whatever the Cubs need him to do.

Cubs 6, Mariners 5

Cubs' record: 2-3

At the plate: Ronny Cedeno, getting a start in center field, singled three times and was caught stealing once. Jake Fox tripled home a run and led off the sixth with a double. Ryan Theriot had 2 singles.

On the mound: Jon Lieber threw 26 pitches, 18 for strikes, in 2 innings. He gave up 3 hits and 2 runs. Sean Marshall pitched 2 hitless and scoreless innings, but he walked three. Jeff Samardzija was impressive over 2 innings hitless innings. He walked one. Bob Howry gave up 5 hits and 3 runs in the ninth, prompting manager Lou Piniella to call Howry's early struggles a "mystery."

In the field: The Cubs made their fourth baserunning mistake in two days, according to Lou Piniella. Included was a missed sign by Cedeno.

Next: The Cubs return to HoHoKam to play the Brewers. Ryan Dempster pitches for the Cubs against Claudio Vargas.

-- Bruce Miles