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Cubs to begin new era in new spring home

First-year manager Renteria gets first look at club in state-of-the-art complex

MESA, Ariz. -- On Wednesday, the Cubs officially opened their new $84 million Spring Training facility with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Several pitchers and catchers already have gotten to work ahead of Thursday's report date.

Edwin Jackson and Chris Rusin both threw side sessions on Thursday as well as Jason Hammel, whose signing was expected to be officially announced later in the day. The Cubs are expected to add Hammel and free agent James McDonald to the roster.

New manager Rick Renteria will address the players on Friday.

"He seems like he's ready to go," Jackson said of Renteria, who takes over after Dale Sveum was dismissed. "He's excited about being the manager of the team and he can see the potential the team has. I'm sure he's ready to implement his ways of managing to help us have a winning season and help us succeed on the baseball field."

Several pitchers, including Jackson, have been holding informal sessions at the team's facility with pitching coach Chris Bosio, who begins his third season with the Cubs. They may find themselves acting as tour guides as they show off the new facility to the latecomers. There's plenty to see.

The state-of-the-art complex includes a two-level gym, hydrotherapy pools, a theater for meetings, basketball nets and a ping-pong table. There are two clubhouses -- one for the Major League players and another for the Minor Leaguers. In the past, the two were separate, with the Minor Leaguers at Fitch Park and the Major League players beginning workouts there, then moving down the street to HoHoKam Stadium.

Will all the bells and whistles help the team? Time will tell. Last season, Cubs pitchers ranked 12th in ERA in the National League, with Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija among the top 16 in innings pitched, both reaching 200 for the first time in their careers. The Chicago bullpen had the worst record in the NL (21-31) and compiled a 4.04 ERA.

Samardzija, Jackson, and Wood are set for the rotation. Cactus League games will be used to determine Nos. 4-5, and the candidates include Rusin, Jake Arrieta, Carlos Villanueva and Justin Grimm.

Renteria and Bosio will get their first look at new closer Jose Veras, who has an improved support cast in righties Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Blake Parker, and lefties James Russell and Wesley Wright.

There are plenty of questions to be answered. Can Jackson rebound from a season in which he led the NL in losses?

"As an athlete, when you have a season like I had last year, it makes you more eager to start the season up," Jackson said. "That itch comes a little quicker. You're more excited and ready to perform the way you know you can perform."

Is Arodys Vizcaino healthy? The right-hander, acquired from the Braves in the Paul Maholm deal in July 2012, has been slow to recover from Tommy John surgery. He was pitching at the Cubs' Dominican academy this winter. Where does he fit?

The Cubs need to assess some of the new additions this offseason, including lefty Jonathan Sanchez, a 13-game winner with the Giants in 2010. Oak Park, Ill., native Brian Schlitter, 28, pitched for the Cubs in 2010, missed all of 2011 with an injury, and last season, posted a 3.24 ERA in 34 games at Triple-A Iowa.

Another bullpen arm that could be a factor in June is Kyuji Fujikawa, who had Tommy John surgery last June, but has been throwing off flat ground in Arizona.

"He's looking like he's ahead of the curve a little bit," Bosio said of Fujikawa. "I know we'll take our time with him."

In his last session, Fujikawa threw 25 pitches, and 20 were for strikes.

Renteria doesn't have to spend much time worrying about his catcher. Welington Castillo had a solid first season as the regular, batting .274 in 113 games.

Position players report on Tuesday, and the first full workout will be the next day. The clubhouse staff will be busy as tour guides as players try to find their way around the new complex.

The Cubs broke ground on July 11, 2012, at the 140-acre site, which was formerly the Riverview Golf Course. Workers were hustling this week to finish painting and primping and unpacking boxes. The new ballpark, now known as Cubs Park, can seat 14,000-15,000, and includes a left-field party deck and right-field berm area. The first game will be Feb. 27 against the D-backs.

Fans can watch the workouts. Parking is available off Cubs Way, which is at the western edge of the complex off Rio Salado Parkway, near Highway 101.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.
Read More: Chicago Cubs, Travis Wood, Carlos Villanueva, Jake Arrieta, Edwin Jackson, Jose Veras, Jeff Samardzija, Justin Grimm, Chris Rusin