Notes: Zambrano deal deadline nears

Notes: Zambrano deadline nears

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs have a few days left before Opening Day, which means the clock is ticking to reach an agreement with Carlos Zambrano on a new long-term contract.

Zambrano, who will be the Opening Day starter in Cincinnati, has set Monday as his deadline to get a new deal done. This will be his third Opening Day start.

"I'm just here to pitch and play the game," Zambrano said Thursday. "The rest, my agent will do. I just have to pitch."

On Feb. 20, Zambrano and the Cubs did reach an agreement minutes before a scheduled arbitration hearing on a $12.4 million contract. The right-hander will be a free agent after the 2007 season, and would like a long-term deal.

"Hopefully, we can get the deal done by Opening Day," Zambrano said. "I want to sign here, I want to stay with the Cubs."

Zambrano was 16-7 with a 3.41 ERA last season, finishing with a career-high 210 strikeouts.

Getting to know you: Cubs manager Lou Piniella will have a team meeting in Cincinnati on Sunday with the final 25-man roster. He prefers to meet one-on-one with the players.

"I think if you have too many team meetings, they lose their focus," Piniella said. "It's not the easiest thing in the world to hold an athlete's attention too long. They've got their mind on things."

The Cubs will play two exhibition games Friday and Saturday in Las Vegas, with Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis scheduled to start those games. Piniella was already reading advance scouting reports on the Reds on Thursday.

"I couldn't be more pleased with a lot of the facets of Spring Training," Piniella said. "Our club's ready to play baseball. We have two games in Vegas, and I hope our players show a little restraint over there."

Everyone was eager to play games that count.

"We've got a good baseball team," Piniella said. "We've got to stay healthy, and I think it's important that we pitch well, and at the same time we play better defense than we've played the last three, four ballgames. We'll see how things shake out once the season starts. I like our team, I really do. It'll be a fun team."

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New job: Ryan Theriot is not only a backup infielder but also a backup outfielder. He's played a few games in right this spring, and it's definitely different.

"For me, the outfield is slowing everything down," Theriot said. "In the infield, everything's right on you. Making that adjustment, being able to relax and see the ball and then go, knowing where to play, I just stay on [coach Mike] Quade the whole time."

Quade works with the outfielders, and is in charge of signaling the defensive alignment. Sometimes Piniella gets involved.

"There's been a couple times Lou has stood up, and taken his hat off and said, 'Move this way,'" Theriot said. "One of the big things is to stay focused on the dugout. I have an idea of where to go and where I'd like to go, but there are times and situations with the runners, so there's some positioning."

If he can play outfield in Arizona, he should be able to play anywhere. Balls seem to carry farther in the desert air, and also get lost in the high sky. The outfielders have been playing deep this spring.

He is learning by watching, too.

"Cliff [Floyd] hit a ball in the gap, a sure double, and Gary [Matthews] caught it in stride and even slowed up a little bit to catch it," Theriot said of the Angels outfielder. "Cliff said, 'Watch how he positions himself.' Every pitch, he'd move a little bit."

Theriot can't see the catcher's signs from the outfield, and can't tell what's coming. He's going to have to be quick on his feet.

Quote of the day: "I think he's the perfect superstar. He just wants to be one of the guys, even though we hold him to a higher standard." -- Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa, on $136 million outfielder Alfonso Soriano

Extra bases: The Cubs finished Cactus League play with a 16-12-1 record, and posted their second straight winning spring. ... The Cubs drew a record 12,917 to HoHoKam Park Thursday for the finale, and drew 175,891 fans for the season. The old single-game mark was 12,903 was set March 4 against the White Sox. ... Theriot was 7-for-7 in stolen bases this spring. ... The Cubs will take a few Minor League players to Las Vegas for the final exhibition games, including Micah Hoffpauir, Casey McGehee, Chris Walker, Rocky Cherry and Carmen Pignatiello. Hoffpauir hit a tie-breaking three-run homer on Thursday in the 7-4 win over the Diamondbacks. ... Wade Miller started Thursday, and threw 30 pitches in the first inning, which made it tough for him to be stretched out. He will pitch a simulated game Tuesday in Cincinnati, and start the third game of the Cubs' upcoming series in Milwaukee. Rich Hill and Zambrano will start the first two games of that series.

On deck: The Cubs are headed to Vegas, baby. Lilly will start Friday night for the Cubs against the Seattle Mariners, who will counter with Miguel Batista in Las Vegas. Lilly will be the starter Wednesday against the Cincinnati Reds in the second game of the regular season. Looking ahead to the Cubs' first homestand, Lilly is scheduled to start the home opener April 9.

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