ANAHEIM -- Manager Joe Maddon still had some numbers to look at before finalizing his Opening Night lineup. He was debating how he will take advantage of the designated hitter as the Cubs open against an American League opponent for the first time in franchise history.In Sunday's exhibition finale, Jorge
ANAHEIM -- Manager Joe Maddon still had some numbers to look at before finalizing his Opening Night lineup. He was debating how he will take advantage of the designated hitter as the Cubs open against an American League opponent for the first time in franchise history.
In Sunday's exhibition finale, Jorge Soler was the designated hitter in the Cubs' 6-4 loss to the Angels, but Maddon also could insert left-handed hitters Kyle Schwarber or Tommy La Stella in that spot against right-hander Garrett Richards on Monday. The Cubs have to take into account the large outfield in Anaheim, too.
Soler didn't have a great spring numbers-wise, but Maddon is quick to point out that the outfielder is working hard. Plus, Maddon said he learned from former Angels coach Preston Gomez to be patient with young Latin players. Soler is still assimilating to living in the U.S.
"I think he's getting more comfortable," Maddon said. "I heard him say 'Thank you' at Starbucks this morning, which I thought was a big step. All those things matter."
Ben Zobrist will bat either third or fifth, sandwiching Anthony Rizzo. Zobrist, who has hit everywhere in the lineup, is prepared for whatever Maddon wants to do.
"I spent so many years being shuffled up and down the lineup with Joe before, I'm used to that and I can deal with that," Zobrist said. "As the game goes on, things change position-wise, and the batting order changes day to day. Just roll with it."
• In 2011, Yasiel Balaguert, 23, started taking English classes offered by the Cubs. This spring, the Cuban player officially "graduated" from class, and the Cubs' Minor League staff celebrated with a ceremony on the back fields. Balaguert even had a Cubs-blue gown to wear.
"I told myself I have to speak English," Balaguert said Sunday. "I'm not afraid to talk to my teammates or anybody now."
One of the Minor Leaguers on the travel squad for the Cubs' final exhibition games in Las Vegas and Anaheim, Balaguert was proud of his accomplishment. He could not speak any English when he started.
"I feel really good about it and about myself," he said. "That's my goal -- to speak English. I'm trying to do better every day."
• Jason Heyward is prepared for anything. He said he has a first baseman's glove in his locker. ... David Ross, beginning his final season, is four home runs shy of 100. ... The Cubs finished 11-19-2 in exhibition games. They're also already behind in the standings as the Pirates beat the Cardinals, 4-1, on Sunday in the season opener. Joked Rizzo: "We've got an uphill battle already."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.