Expect the Cubs to use the designated-hitter rule as much as they can this spring in Cactus League games.
The main beneficiary of being the DH will be Xavier Nady, whom the Cubs officially signed Friday to a one-year, $3.3 million contract with incentives that could bring Nady an additional $2 million.
The 31-year-old Nady underwent reconstructive elbow surgery last July after suffering an injury that ended his season with the New York Yankees after only seven games. It marked the second time Nady had Tommy John surgery, the first coming in 2001.
The Cubs insist Nady will be ready to go by Opening Day, when they'll have to ditch the DH for National League play.
All sides seemed pleased with the pace of Nady's recovery.
"On the health standpoint, the arm's been doing well," said Nady, who passed a physical exam Thursday. "It's progressing each week, and I'll continue to do my throwing program for the next two-and-a-half months.
"Right now, it's hard to assess where I'll be in two-and-a-half months. I can't sit here today and say I'll be 90 percent, I'll be 95 percent. What I'm going to do is continue what I have been doing these last six-and-a-half months and work hard on my throwing program and continue to make strides to get to a point where I'll feel comfortable and be close to 100 percent."
Nady added that he would try to throw from 120 feet Friday and then "push it back to 130 feet" next week.
Cubs people seem confident that if the Cactus League season opened today, Nady would be able to hit. Two-and-al-half months takes the Cubs into April, so they will be cutting things close even as they express optimism..
"The hitting hasn't been a problem," Nady said. "The throwing hasn't been a problem. The hitting has been fine. The elbow responds pretty good the next day without soreness. I'll be ready to go. If this keeps up, hopefully they'll get me out there as soon as possible."
Nady enjoyed a good season in 2008 with the Pirates and Yankees. He batted .305 with an on-base percentage of .357 and a slugging percentage of .510 to go along with 25 homers and 97 RBI.
In a career that began briefly out of the draft in 2000 with the Padres and then took him to the Mets, Pirates and Yankees, Nady has a batting/OBP/slugging line of .280/.335/.458 with 87 home runs.
He talked of coming to the Cubs as an everyday player, but the outfield already consists of Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and Kosuke Fukudome. If Nady's arm is good, he and his right-handed bat figure to share time in right field with Fukudome, who struggles against left-handed pitching.
"As you know, we do have other good players," said Cubs general manager Jim Hendry. "'X' certainly knew that and wasn't afraid of that coming in. But one of the problems we had early last year was a couple key injuries. We didn't have the depth. Lou (field manager Piniella) is all about winning, and we're all about the earning business. So whoever earns the playing time on a more regular basis over the course of 162 games, that's who we'd expect Lou to play, and I'm sure that's who he will."
Nady's agent, Scott Boras, also took part in Friday's conference call with reporters. He pointed to a similar injury situation with outfielder Jose Guillen, who underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2006 and then played in 153 games the next season.
"The good thing about this is that when you study the number of throws, what we call 'intense throws' that an outfielder has to make during the course of the season, you can actually narrow those down to really a very small number," Boras said. "The ballpark we're playing in every day (is small). This is a process that I think Jim and I and 'X' all agree we're not going to rush 'X' early on."