Notes: Ramirez returns swinging

Notes: Ramirez returns swinging

MESA, Ariz. -- In Aramis Ramirez's third Cactus League at-bat on Friday, he was called out on strikes by home-plate umpire Mike Everitt. Ramirez didn't exactly agree with the call.

"You're a competitive guy and you want to do your job," said Ramirez, the Cubs' third baseman who had been sidelined because of a sore right shoulder. "It doesn't matter if it's Spring Training or during the season, when you're out there, you don't think if it's Spring Training. You think about hitting the ball and doing your job. I was a little upset."

It looked like Everitt was right. Ramirez disagreed with a smile.

"It was away," he said.

In his first spring game, Ramirez went 0-for-2 with a walk. He also made a nice play when he snared Raul Ibanez's popup in foul territory.

"What a play he made -- that's a pretty good play going over the line," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "He's ready to go. He was ready to go a week ago. We gave him a little time, because of his shoulder. He's in good shape."

His shoulder didn't bother him when he hit, but when he threw. On Friday, Ramirez did not have to make any throws. He had the same problem last season, and isn't quite sure how to correct it. As far as hitting, that shouldn't take long.

"You don't need 32 [Spring Training] games," Ramirez said. "How many do we have left? I'll be ready for the start of the season."

Ramirez is expected in the Cubs' lineup on Saturday in Mesa, Ariz., against Arizona. The Cubs play Kansas City in Surprise, Ariz., on Sunday.

"It'd be a surprise if he's on that trip," Piniella said, laughing.

Start me up: Ted Lilly, projected to pitch second in the Cubs rotation, gave up two runs on one hit over three innings on Friday, in his second spring start. He walked Ichiro Suzuki, and then served up Yuniesky Betancourt's first home run in the first. After that, Lilly retired the next nine batters that he faced.

Lilly admitted after his outing that he wasn't "aggressive" enough in the first inning. However, he's close to where he needs to be.

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"I don't think I'm there -- this was the most pitches I've thrown and it was probably 40 pitches," he said. "A couple more outings, and if I can get my pitch count up, I'll be ready to go."

Lilly didn't have much velocity on his pitches in the first, but that changed. Piniella noticed the same thing from the left-hander last spring.

"It's a formula that worked for him," Piniella said. "Let's leave it at that."

Closing time: Piniella expects to have the closer competition sorted out by the third week in March. So far, Carlos Marmol, who picked up a save on Friday, appears to be ahead of the other two candidates, Kerry Wood and Bob Howry, but that could be because the right-hander pitched this winter.

"We'll be fine with it, it's just a question of how we go," Piniella said. "I'll tell you the truth, I don't know [who it will be]. I know this -- whatever decision we make, it'll be the right one because we have three very capable people."

Piniella wants just one closer, not three, which he had in 1990 with the Cincinnati Reds.

"Randy Myers was really our closer," said Piniella, who was the Reds manager that year. "When he pitched a few days in a row, we had the luxury of using [Rob] Dibble or [Norm] Charlton. That's a difficult thing, and it's difficult to ask of a player.

"And what [the media is] going to be asking me after a ballgame, if it doesn't work is, 'Why did you use this guy?' and, 'Why didn't you use the other guy?' Matchups, we'll use for setup roles. For the closer's role, you give it to one and you go from there. If you have to make adjustments, you do. There are 30 Major League teams, and they all have one closer for a reason."

Welcome back: Alfonso Soriano is expected in the Cubs' lineup on Saturday. Soriano, who has been sidelined with a non-displaced fracture of a finger on his right hand, took batting practice on Thursday and Friday.

Good cause: The Cubs wives will host the 11th Annual Food Drive to benefit Paz de Cristo on March 14 at HoHoKam Park. The first 400 fans who make a donation of 10 non-perishable food items or $20 will have the opportunity to randomly select a Cubs autographed baseball grab bag featuring former and current Cubs.

Extra bases: The Cubs are looking for another right-handed pitcher for the bullpen, and Kevin Hart may have the edge. "He looks confident out there, he's got some poise, and he's throwing strikes and he's throwing the ball well," Piniella said. Hart took a line drive off his left Achilles in the eighth inning on Friday, but stayed in the game. ... Geovany Soto was OK after being hit on the left side of his face by a thrown ball running to first on Thursday. ... Jeff Samardzija got his hair trimmed. "It was getting a little long," he said. ... Carmen Pignatiello may become tri-lingual. His locker is located between Jose Ceda, who is from the Dominican Republic, and Japanese pitcher Shingo Takatsu. ... Sunday's game was listed on some schedules as a home game. The Cubs will actually travel to Surprise to face the Kansas City Royals. That game will be broadcast on WGN TV and WGN Radio.

On deck: The Cubs have a split squad on Saturday, sending half the team to Phoenix to play the Oakland Athletics while the other half stays at HoHoKam Park to play host to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Sean Marshall was slated to pitch against the A's while Jon Lieber will start against the D-Backs. Also, Alfonso Soriano was expected in the Cubs lineup for the first time this spring, and will likely play in the home game. The home game against the D-backs will be broadcast on WGN TV.

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