Baker Likes Bench

The St. Louis Cardinals proved last year how valuable a bench can be when they won 100 games even with a rash of injuries.

The Cubs are hoping to use that as a blueprint. The Cubs have had plenty of injury problems of their own during the past two seasons and were not able to make it to the postseason.

The Cubs are proud they have built their bench around speed and versatility. If a key position player goes down, the team hopes someone on the bench should be able to fill in without too much of a downgrade.

The bench features left-handed-hitting John Mabry (who can play in the outfield as well as first and third base) and Freddie Bynum (who can play all three outfield spots and three infield spots).

It also features switch-hitting Neifi Perez (who can play shortstop and second base) and Angel Pagan (who can play all three outfield spots).

Right-handed-hitting Jerry Hairston is a solid backup second baseman and can play all three outfield spots.

"We have speed, we have Neifi and Fast Freddie and use different guys at different positions," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "We can pinch-run for somebody and still have a switch hitter and speed left for somewhere else. I like having those options.

NOTES, QUOTES

--General manager Jim Hendry could be close to signing a contract extension. Insiders say he and team president Andy MacPhail are working on a deal, and it could be announced by the end of the week.

--CF Juan Pierre, who hit just .222 in spring training, made a great first impression for his new team when the games began to count. He had three hits -- including a leadoff triple -- in the Cubs' 16-7 Opening Day win over Cincinnati. Pierre had a lot of trouble trying to bunt his way on base during Cactus League play, but he was able to lay one down successfully in the midst of a seven-run sixth inning.

--LHP Scott Eyre, who pitched 12 1/3 shutout innings in spring training, gave up a run against Cincinnati on Monday. But it was an unearned run, thanks in part to a rare error by 1B Derrek Lee.

--1B Derrek Lee doesn't figure to see a whole lot of great pitches after hitting .335 with 46 homers and 107 RBIs last year. He was walked three times in the Cubs' season opener against Cincinnati on Monday.

--OF Angel Pagan made his major league debut on Monday and came off the bench to go 2-for-3 in a 16-7 victory over Cincinnati. Pagan was in the Mets' organization for six seasons without making it to the majors. He hit .381 with five homers and 10 RBIs in the Cactus League, and it will be interesting to see how he can fare facing major league pitching while getting inconsistent playing time as a bench player.


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