Notes: Lieber back in the saddle

Notes: Lieber back in the saddle

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Jon Lieber looked just like the Jon Lieber of old on Monday. The right-hander, back with the Cubs, gave up two runs on three hits over two innings against the Seattle Mariners in his first spring start. It was pretty efficient, even if he didn't think so.

"Was it really quick? I felt like I was in slow motion, honestly," Lieber said.

This was his first real game since last June. Lieber had problems with his right foot last season, which limited him to 14 games, 12 starts. On Monday, he said he made some mistakes to left-handed hitters, took a comebacker off the middle of his left foot and threw 26 pitches, 18 for strikes. All in a day's work.

"It's like my game plan always is -- let my defense work for me and make quality pitches, and I screwed up on three pitches there," Lieber said.

"He throws strikes," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "For not being on the mound in a while, he was impressive. I thought it was an OK performance."

Lieber, who played for the Cubs from 1999-2002, then went to the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies, signed a $3.5 million, one-year deal to return to Chicago. He's in the running for one of the two vacancies in the rotation, but he doesn't look at it that way.

"I'm glad to be back here in Chicago, that's the bottom line," he said. "Wherever they need me, that's where I'm going to go. This isn't a competition for me. I just want to go out there and show I can still pitch up to my normal par, and wherever they need to put me, they'll put me."

Even the bullpen?

"It doesn't matter," Lieber said. "I'm just glad to be back in Chicago."

Lieber said he learned a lesson last season in Philadelphia.

"I felt I approached things the wrong way last year and had a bad attitude," he said. "I was disappointed coming into camp. I didn't expect to be fighting for a spot. This year, it's the same circumstance, but I'm happy wherever they put me."

He knows it's important to put up the results to get a job.

"Trust me, I'll be the first one to tell you I [stink]," Lieber said.

Spring Training
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Contract status: During a pregame conversation on Monday, Piniella was asked about how much longer he wants to manage. He is in the second year of his three-year deal with the Cubs.

"We'll see," Piniella said. "There's no timetable. This will be my last job, I can tell you that."

Does that mean he's open for an extension?

"I didn't say anything," Piniella said. "All I'm saying is I've got this year, and next year, nothing more, nothing less. As long as I'm enjoying it and as long as the club is playing well, and the ownership group here and the front office is satisfied, I'm open for discussion.

"But I'm not looking ahead. I'm looking at this year, and this year's team and doing the best I can, and next year will take care of itself."

Arms race: Bob Howry gave up three runs on five hits and struck out two in one inning against the Mariners. Piniella would prefer a 1-2-3 ninth.

"It's a mystery why he struggles in the spring and early into the season," Piniella said. "It looked like he was throwing the ball fairly well. I talked to [pitching coach Larry Rothschild] in the ninth inning and said, 'What can we do different?' We're going to talk about it."

Howry, one of three candidates for the closer job, does seem to get better after getting more work.

"I'm sure pitching him every day in Spring Training is not the answer," Piniella said.

One option might be to get the right-hander to throw more offspeed pitches early and use his slider more, so he's not dependent on his fastball.

Aches and pains: Mark DeRosa, sidelined for a week to get treatment for an irregular heartbeat, worked out Monday for the first time in Mesa.

"He looked a little rusty," Piniella said of DeRosa, who underwent a procedure in Chicago last Thursday to correct an irregular heartbeat. "Now we have to take it easy with him and get him ready to play sometime next week."

DeRosa left the Cubs' camp before he had a chance to face live batting practice.

"We're a good week away, at least, from playing games and probably a little more like 10 days," Piniella said. "We can't rush him."

Aramis Ramirez, out with inflammation in his right shoulder, and Daryle Ward, bothered by a sore gluteus muscle, both could play Thursday. However, Alfonso Soriano's right finger was swollen on Monday. He suffered a nondisplaced fracture during drills when a ball hit the tip of his finger. Soriano could be sidelined at least five days, if not more.

"I thought this would be an easy Spring Training, I really did," Piniella said. "I don't know, is there such a thing as an easy Cub Spring Training? We've encountered some problems here early, and we've just got to ride them out. Thank God we have time and these things are happening now as opposed to later on."

Extra bases: Piniella was not happy with the baserunning mistakes on Monday. There were two on Sunday as well. ... Jeff Samardzija, appearing in his first Cactus League game, gave up one walk in two innings against the Mariners and picked up the win. ... Ronny Cedeno, who has primarily played shortstop, started in center field. ... WGN Radio has made a change in its spring broadcast schedule and will not carry Saturday's game against Arizona, but will carry the March 27 game against Milwaukee.

On deck: The Cubs and Brewers will open the regular season on March 31, but first they'll face off Tuesday at HoHoKam Park at 2:05 p.m. CT. Ryan Dempster is slated to make his second spring start for the Cubs, while the Brewers will counter with Claudio Vargas.

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