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Cubs manager likes versatility Lillibridge offers

Published: Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 10:42 a.m. CST

(MCT) — MESA, Ariz. — Cubs manager Dale Sveum conceded there are only a few roster spots available this spring, which is unusual for a team following a 101-loss season.

Sveum mentioned two bullpen spots, a couple of bench spots and third base, where Ian Stewart has a non-guaranteed contract.

Former White Sox infielder Brent Lillibridge, in camp on a minor league deal, is the odds-on favorite to win one bench spot because he can play center field, back up Starlin Castro at shortstop and Anthony Rizzo at first base.

“Unless I stand on the base I’m quite small over there at first,” said Lillibridge, who’s listed at 5 foot 11. “I just want a bat in my hands.”

Sveum suggested Lillibridge is the kind of versatile player he wants.

“That gives you a huge edge in the National League,” Sveum said. “Especially when our center fielder (David DeJesus) and right fielder (Nate Schierholtz) are left-handed (hitters). He can play first, runs very well and has some sock in the bat for someone who looks like he’s 150 pounds soaking wet.”

Lillibridge loved playing on the South Side and said he already is looking to rent a place outside Chicago.

“I told Dale when I talked to him I wasn’t afraid to compete and I knew that my skills and what I could do on a baseball field would be valuable to the Cubs, and I was excited to showcase it for the whole season,” he said.

Sveum also mentioned Welington Castillo, Dioner Navarro and Stewart as possible back-up first basemen, though Rizzo rarely will be out of the starting lineup.

Power trio: Sveum’s bromance with Jeff Samardzija continued Wednesday after Samardzija’s throwing session.

“You would have thought it was playoff time,” Sveum said. “That was probably as dominating of a bullpen that you’re going to see. It was pretty impressive to watch him throw those 30 pitches or whatever he threw today.”

The Big Three of Samardzija, Edwin Jackson and Matt Garza all threw at the same time Wednesday. They’re expected to lead the rotation back to respectability after Justin Germano, Chris Volstad and Jason Berken struggled through the final month of 2012.

All three can throw in the mid-90s, which Sveum said “can save a disaster” from happening when they’re in a jam.

“It’s nice as a manager, (and for) the players and the organization to know that you have three guys who have no-hitter stuff when they walk up to the mound.”

Numbers game: Scott Hairston, the son of former White Sox player Jerry Hairston and the brother of former Cub Jerry Hairston Jr., recalled sitting in the bleachers as a teenager watching Sammy Sosa. The Cubs assigned him Sosa’s No. 21.

“I’ll take it,” he said. “It’s a nice number. Who wouldn’t want to be 21?”

Of course, Sosa said last month he believes the Cubs should retire his number.

“(I’ll) enjoy it while I can,” Hairston said. “I think it will be (retired).”

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