Notes: Dempster ready for his next test

Notes: Dempster ready for his next test

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Cubs closer Ryan Dempster passed Tuesday's test, pitching one inning in a 4-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies, and said he's set.

"We can start Opening Day tomorrow. I'm ready," Dempster said. "It's nice to get some back-to-backs and two-inning stints to get that extra arm strength, but I feel good. I haven't pitched in a week and I feel good."

Told Dempster was set, Cubs manager Lou Piniella paused, then laughed.

"It'll be 86 degrees in Cincinnati, too, and we'll be drinking pina coladas," Piniella said. "He needs a little more work."

Dempster had been sidelined with a parascapular strain, and had last pitched March 13. On Tuesday, he gave up one hit and one walk in one inning of work. Maybe taking a week off isn't a bad idea.

"I think it should be mandatory for me every year," Dempster said.

He's kidding. Maybe.

"I felt strong coming in, and coming in in shape -- I did a lot of throwing in the winter, and I felt ready to go," Dempster said. "I think I did a good job before I got here to get ready to throw."

Step by step: Kerry Wood threw 25 pitches in a bullpen session Tuesday, and Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said the session went well. The next step could be a Cactus League game Thursday.

"He finished with no repercussions at all, so we'll go forward," Rothschild said.

Wood was able to throw all of his pitches, and the Cubs want to see how the right-hander responds on Wednesday before announcing the next step. He was sidelined with a mild strain in his right tricep.

The Cubs have 11 games remaining. Is that enough time to get Wood ready by Opening Day?

"I wouldn't discount it," Rothschild said. "Until we get him back out there on a schedule, you just don't know. Hopefully he could, but it has to work for the team and [be] in his best interest."

Left-right: Don't expect a straight left-right platoon in left field between Matt Murton and Cliff Floyd when the regular season starts. Murton will likely get most of the playing time while Floyd will be used prudently to avoid reinjuring his left foot.

"One thing with Cliff, we want to make sure he's healthy for the stretch run in August and September," Piniella said. "It gets cold early in the season. The worst thing we can do is get too comfortable and have a setback. He'll get his at-bats, no question about it. But at the same time, overusing him, not only from my perspective, but from the team medical perspective, they said to be very careful."

Floyd would most likely prefer to hear that he's getting the majority of at-bats.

"I'll probably get a knock on my door," Piniella said. "I understand the competitive nature. These kids all want to play and do well but at the same time, you have to be realistic. He's coming off a serious injury and we've had to hold him back in Spring Training. What's the sense of wasting all of that rehab period by going full bore with something that from a medical standpoint won't be good for him?"

Floyd, a left-handed hitter, has a career .281 average against right-handers, and .272 average against lefties. Murton, a right-handed hitter, has a .329 average against lefties and .289 against right-handers. Murton has looked better defensively than Floyd in left. On Monday, Floyd was charged with an error when he lost a fly ball in the sun. It was his third game in left this spring.

"Cliff had a little bit of a rough day but he's only been out there a couple times," Piniella said. "Let's give him some time to acclimate himself."

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Roster moves: The Cubs trimmed six players from big-league camp Tuesday. Catcher Geovany Soto was reassigned to Triple-A Iowa, while catcher Jake Fox, first baseman Micah Hoffpauir, third baseman Casey McGehee, and left-handed pitchers Ryan O'Malley and Carmen Pignatiello were assigned to the Minor League camp.

Fox made an impression on Piniella when he went into his office and asked for more playing time.

"He had a nice camp here," Piniella said of Fox, who hit .462 in 10 games. "We know he can swing the bat. We were told he was a little rough behind the plate but I thought the kid handled himself pretty well."

Among the other youngsters Piniella has seen, pitcher Jeff Samardzija stood out.

"He came in here and looked like a natural on the mound," Piniella said of the former Notre Dame wide receiver now assigned to Class A Daytona.

Young arms: Rocky Cherry came to spring intent on impressing the Cubs. He's done that. The right-hander has given up runs in one of his eight outings, serving up five hits and four walks over eight innings. He and Les Walrond have pitched in the most games this spring for the Cubs.

"I've felt like I knew what I could do, and I was confident in myself and I felt I could go out here and compete for a job," said Cherry, the Cubs' 14th-round pick in 2002 who has been used as a starter in the Minor Leagues until last season. When Cherry talked to pitching coach Larry Rothschild this offseason, the advice was just come out and throw.

"In my mind, I was going to show him that I can throw at this level," Cherry said Tuesday. "It's not a shock to me [that he's done well this spring]. I'm happy it's worked the way it has. I've worked hard and I feel I deserve where I'm at."

Piniella has mentioned Cherry and Angel Guzman as finalists for the bullpen.

"I'm just glad I'm in the mix," Cherry said. "You can't ask for anything more than that."

And if he ends up being the closer at Triple-A Iowa instead?

"I thought about that," Cherry said. "I thought that since I had a couple saves this spring, they might put me in that role. Whatever they want me to do, I'll do. I just hope I can help this year."

Extra bases: Piniella got good reports on Jacque Jones, who started in center field Monday in Maryvale against the Brewers. ... Derrek Lee is batting .513 (20-for-39) this spring. ... Wednesday's game will be televised on Comcast Sports Net. ... Thursday's pitching matchup in Peoria will be Chicago's Mark Prior vs. San Diego's Greg Maddux. Rich Hill also will pitch in that game.

On deck: The Cubs play host to the Texas Rangers Wednesday at HoHoKam Park, and guess who's coming back to Mesa? Sammy Sosa is expected to play for the Rangers. "There are a lot of people in Chicago who love Sammy Sosa and some who don't," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "I asked him about it and he doesn't care. People expect to see him. It wouldn't be right not to take him. We're not shying away from that kind of stuff."

Jason Marquis is slated to make his fourth start for the Cubs against Texas' Jamey Wright.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.