Maddon: Hot start important for Cubs' hopes

Ramirez encouraged by healthy spring; La Stella, Victorino nursing sore calves

Maddon: Hot start important for Cubs' hopes

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Manager Joe Maddon met with the Cubs' position players Tuesday to discuss the importance of situational hitting and the need to get off to a good start.

"One of the most difficult things is to get behind early in the standings significantly," Maddon said. "You can burn up a lot of energy getting back into it. I'm all about the last 10 days of camp, and I'm all about getting off to a good start."

Spring Training information

Anthony Rizzo, Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant and Jake Arrieta are featured as one of the regional covers for Sports Illustrated's baseball preview issue with the headline, "Cubs: Out of the Desert, into the World Series (Finally)."

Maddon shrugged off the SI cover jinx.

"Let's just get us there," Maddon said. "S.I., please get us there. I'd be happy with that."

Neil Ramirez wasn't unhappy with his last outing, even though the line from the reliever's game didn't look too good. He was charged with five runs on three hits and one walk without retiring a batter against the Indians on Saturday. Three of the balls hit against Ramirez were choppers on the infield, and Maddon told the right-hander to "evaluate what happened properly."

"I was making good pitches," Ramirez said Tuesday after a bullpen session. "Any time you get weak contact, that's good. I was happy with it. It was one of those times when you get off the mound and you're scratching your head and you go back and look, and you're like, 'Where were some of those pitches at?'

"I got the contact I wanted, and they just didn't work out. It looks like it was awful. The walk was the one thing I'm not happy about, but that at-bat, the guy battled some pitches off. Everything was around the zone, everything was down. It's a process now. You just go back and look, and if you're making the pitches you want and your mental process is right and you're happy with it, you go on to the next one."

What's most encouraging for Ramirez is that he's healthy after being limited to 19 games last season because of shoulder issues.

"[Maddon] reiterated to me, 'Just pitch, go out there and pitch. Don't worry about all that other stuff. Go out there -- you're doing a good job pitching,'" Ramirez said. "That's what he wants me to continue to do."

Ramirez strikes out the side

Tommy La Stella, who has been bothered by a sore calf, was to play third base in a Minor League game on Tuesday.

"The big thing would be to keep the bat in order," Maddon said. "Every time you see him, he's hitting line drives somewhere."

La Stella's RBI double

Shane Victorino, also bothered by a sore calf, is not that close to playing. Maddon talked to the outfielder on Tuesday.

"The big thing with him is he has to be well," Maddon said. "To me, the most important thing there is to know he is well. As a player, I'm sold."

Victorino on joining Cubs

Rays
Historic Cuba visit
Historic Cuba game filled with thrills
Manfred seeks relationship between MLB, Cuba
Varona first to play in Cuba after defecting
Cuba visit an emotional time for Archer
President Obama's gameday in Havana

Sights & sounds
MLB returns to Cuba
Santos' sliding catch
Obama greets Jeter
Rays shake hands with Obama
Kiermaier scores game's first run

• Jorge Soler has watched the coverage of the Rays' historic trip to Cuba with interest. The Cuban outfielder has seen familiar streets and buildings and said he played at Estadio Latinoamericano when he was a teenager. But in his games, the stadium in Havana was never packed with 50,000-plus people as it was Tuesday, when the Rays defeated the Cuban National Team, 4-1.

Soler, 24, now calls Miami home and lives there with his mother, father and sister. Someday, he'd like to play baseball again in Cuba.

"Play in Cuba? Yeah," Soler said. "Maybe the Cubs can play in Cuba."

• The top prospects of the Cubs and Rangers will square off Wednesday in a Futures Game in Surprise, Ariz., after the two big league teams meet in a Cactus League game.

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.