MESA, Ariz. _ Wanted to report on the "POP" on Rich Harden's fastball today, but he didn't get up on one of the 10 bullpen mounds right outside the press room here. Instead, he threw from "flat ground" (no towel was involved) under the watchful eye of trainer Mark O'Neal. Lou cautioned all of us not to read too much into it, that the Cubs are taking it easy on Harden during a long spring, which features an ungodly number of exhibition games: 39. So far, everybody, including Harden, is saying he'll be ready to start the season on the active roster. More in tomorrow's paper on that. Lou said the 25 starts the Cubs have talked about Harden making were just a number the Cubs picked, and Lou said he hoped Harden could go 32 times. He also added that during the summer, he'll need one or two other arms.
Saw shortstop Ryan Theriot today and second baseman Mike Fontenot. The two LSU guys weren't far from each other. With Paul Bako, Joey Gathright and Chad Gaudin here, we're going to have quite the Louisiana connection.
Speaking of Bako, the Cubs are making it clear that the competition for the backup catcher's job is wide open between Bako and Koyie Hill. In other words, Cubs people are saying Bako wasn't brought in just to be handed the job. The Cubs like Hill a lot. They also indicated the pitchers liked throwing to Hill last year, even more than they did to Henry Blanco, the respected backup who was not brought back.
Reliever Kevin Gregg threw today. He's got a short, quick and compact delivery with not much of a leg kick.
Lou was a beauty today. He referred to pitcher Aaron Heilman as "Heidelman."
When asked about Big Z's mustache, he said: "Zambrano, the first thing I noticed, I just came from Tampa where they have the Gasparailla (Pirate) Parade, with all those pirates running around. He reminded me, with that mustache, of those pirates in the Caribbean."
Chad Gaudin has a long goatee. Lou: "He reminded me of Smith Brothers cherry cough drops." For you oldsters (like me), Lou didn't say if Gaudin reminded him of Smith Brother "Trade" or "Mark."
The Cubs had canopies covering the pitchers' and catchers' areas today because of a threat of rain that never materialized. Lou said this: "The first day, all the pitchers look like 20-game winners, throwing on the mound. In fact, I told a few of them that we should have some pina coladas with little umbrellas. We've got tents and everything else. We might as well have a lounge here and serve up some cocktails."
No arguments here.