Cubs look to get Heyward work in CF

Maddon keeping camp loose; Ramirez feeling strong

Cubs look to get Heyward work in CF

PEORIA, Ariz. -- When the Cubs signed Jason Heyward, they projected him as the starting center fielder. But with the return of Dexter Fowler and the addition of Shane Victorino, Heyward is back in right field. Do the Cubs want Heyward to still play center?

"We do need to get him some work in center field, too," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Thursday of Heyward. "We have other options to play that position now. As it moves forward, you have to look at the eventual roster design, who's going to back up in center field and how good you feel about that.

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"Right now, I'm happy with him settling in. We may want to approach that at some point, but it's not a pressing issue right now."

• The Cubs never know what to expect before the morning stretch. Is this the most fun Jon Lester has had in Spring Training camp?

"Absolutely," Lester said. "[Maddon] really tries to get guys to just relax and be themselves, and he does that by running a loose camp. What can happen a lot of times with that ... is sometimes, guys will take advantage of that and they won't do their work or things they need to be doing. Joe earns everybody's respect easily, so guys don't take mornings off or take the plays off, and they don't take advantage of him and the leash he gives us."

Maddon does other things that help the players handle the long grind of the regular season.

"You don't see a lot of the stuff he does during the season for us to make it fun and relaxed, so all you have to worry about is showing up on time and putting the effort in and being prepared and playing the game," Lester said. "At this level, it makes our lives a [heck] of a lot easier. We're not worried, 'Are we dressed right? Are we doing this right? Am I sitting in the right seat? Am I parked in the right spot?' We can just go play baseball."

• This is a big spring for Neil Ramirez, limited to 19 games last season because of a right shoulder injury. In his last outing Monday, the Cubs reliever gave up two runs on three hits over one inning, but the numbers don't tell how the right-hander is feeling. He's healthy, feels strong and his fastball has registered 94 mph on the radar gun. Now he just has to get his timing back.

"The biggest thing is knowing it's a process and not rushing, and not putting too much emphasis on one outing in Spring Training," Ramirez said. "Everybody's different, too. You watch Jake [Arrieta] yesterday, and it looks like it's July. How does he do that? Some guys, it just takes a little longer.

"I wasn't on the mound a whole lot before I got out here. It's good to get that bullpen yesterday to work on stuff. You get here, have a couple bullpens, and it's right into competing again, and things speed up a little. That's where my timing was a little off. I made some good pitches [in my outing]."

• Maddon said Albert Almora, pulled out of drills Wednesday because of back spasms, was doing better and the injury was not a concern. Tommy La Stella was being held out of games as a precautionary measure as he nurses a strained right calf.

Outfielders Matt Murton (appendicitis) and Matt Szczur (strained lat) are both improving, Maddon said.

• The Cubs will play split-squad day-night games on Saturday, and Jason Hammel will make his second spring start in the first game in Mesa, Ariz., against the White Sox. Trevor Cahill will face the Dodgers in Glendale, Ariz., on Saturday night. Kyle Hendricks will start Sunday against the A's.

Taylor Davis is a popular guy in the Cubs' clubhouse. He was selling Cubs-themed socks, including one that says "When it Happens," another with a "W" flag and another with the Wrigley Field marquee that says "Welcome to the Friendly Confines." The hot seller was a pair with a Cub doing a yoga pose. The socks are not yet available to the public.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.