Hammel excited for his first season with the Cubs

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Jason Hammel has spent five seasons in the American League East. The National League Central won't be any easier. Or anybody else the new Cubs pitcher faces.

"I'm pretty sure that in the Major Leagues, every team is pretty good," Hammel said Saturday.

Reminded that three NL Central teams reached the playoffs last year, Hammel nodded.

"I understand that," Hammel said, "but every team in the big leagues is good. If you think you have any pushovers in the league, you're in the wrong sport. Three playoffs teams, it's going to be a tough division. I've been around long enough to understand there's going to be good days and bad days, and every team will come out with something different every day. I'm learning new lineups now and I'm getting a good feel for it."

The right-hander got his first look at the Reds on Saturday in his first Cactus League start. Rain last weekend delayed Hammel's debut, and he tuned up with a "B" game on Monday. Against the Reds, he admitted to having some "butterflies" when he walked the bases loaded with one out in the first but escaped without giving up a run. He finished with three scoreless innings.

What's helped Hammel is the addition of a two-seamer, which the Rockies tried to get him to add. It didn't click until he worked with Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair. That pitch and his sinker should help him in the NL Central.

"The sinker is something you can get quick outs with, if you're throwing it for a strike," Hammel said. "The command of that was a little off [on Saturday]. As spring goes further and further, I feel I can translate that."

Hammel mentioned that even though he struggled in the first, he did throw some pitches that were "swing-attable," a new addition to baseball lingo.

"My first-ever interview with the media in the Minor Leagues, I used 'flabbergasted,'" Hammel said. "[The media] looked at me and they were shocked. You won't ever get that again."

Russell expects to see game action next week

ATL@CHC: Cubs strike 'em out, throw 'em out

MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs reliever James Russell, slowed because of a tired arm, threw off the mound on Saturday, and the lefty said he felt fine and should be ready for Cactus League games next week.

Russell didn't have any problems this offseason except for the winter weather.

"I got a little tired once I got out here," Russell said. "The weather was so bad in Texas, and I couldn't get out there every day. [I was throwing] every other day, and then coming out here and throwing every day kind of snuck up on me a little bit."

Russell, who has appeared in more than 70 games each of the last two seasons, said he needed one more side session before he'll be inserted into games.

"It was only four days," he said of the time he was sidelined. "I was cranked up, ready to go. All the long tossing went well and I feel strong."

Jackson wrote own script in second start

Outlook: Jackson looks to rebound in 2014

MESA, Ariz. -- Edwin Jackson decided to only throw fastballs on Friday, and apparently didn't tell Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio or manager Rick Renteria, who planned to chat with the pitcher to figure out what happened.

"He threw 50 pitches, 50 fastballs," Renteria said Saturday. "He wanted to work on his fastball."

Making his second spring start, Jackson gave up three runs on four hits in his three innings of work against the Indians.

"I think maybe, as we talk about fastball command, maybe he was thinking, 'I'm going to try to hit the spots,'" Renteria said. "He got into a little trouble yesterday, and he had some elevated pitches and some pulled pitches. I think you have to kind of allow some flexibility in what he's trying to do. In his mind's eye, he had a particular idea of what he wanted to do and he did it for three innings."

Was Renteria surprised at Jackson's game plan?

"I saw a lot of fastballs," Renteria said. "I'll just say that I noticed it."

Jackson is in the second year of his four-year contract with the Cubs, and coming off a season in which he led the National League with 18 losses. Renteria didn't seem bothered by the pitcher's improvisation.

"I'll probably talk to him and have a conversation and clarify what the process was," Renteria said. "That doesn't hurt."

Bryant showing pop in early Cactus League action

CHC@LAA: Bryant goes deep in the seventh for two runs

MESA, Ariz. -- When Rick Renteria was the Padres bench coach last season, he read about Kris Bryant's exploits at the University of San Diego. It was tough to miss the reports on the third baseman, who led the nation with 31 home runs.

"His coverage was extensive," Renteria said. "The Padres were obviously scouting him, also. He was on everybody's radar, I think."

The Cubs grabbed Bryant with the second pick overall in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, and Renteria, now Chicago's manager, gets a first-hand look at the lanky third baseman. On Friday, Bryant hit his second spring home run, and is tied with Justin Ruggiano for most RBIs on the Cubs this spring.

"That was a tough pitch he hit yesterday," Renteria said of the second-inning, opposite-field homer off the Indians' Carlos Carrasco. "It was down and away and off the plate a little bit. He's an extremely strong man. That was a well-driven ball, obviously. It's like a left-handed hitter hit it."

Bryant, who won the Golden Spikes Award as the top collegiate player last year, hit his first home run in his first Cactus League at-bat.

"We know that he's got that type of pop," Renteria said. "His hands work extremely well. It's nice to see him having some success here in the spring. He's a very confident kid."

The 6-foot-5 Bryant has been compared physically to Troy Glaus, and although some scouts predict he will end up moving from third to the outfield, Renteria likes Bryant where he's at.

"He's been playing and working at third and doing well," Renteria said. "I know the argument is that a tall person has a tougher time getting down, but [Bryant's] feet move well and he's working real hard. Time will tell if that's what ends up happening. He's doing real well there now."

Rizzo joining forces with Motte to benefit charity

Outlook: Former top prospect must bounce back

MESA, Ariz. -- Anthony Rizzo is wearing a new T-shirt this spring that he hopes will help cancer patients across the country.

The Cubs first baseman has joined forces with the Cardinals' Jason Motte and his "Strike Out Cancer" movement. One player from each Major League team will promote the T-shirt -- which will be in that team's colors -- and $5 will go to Motte's foundation and $5 to the other player's charity of choice. That will definitely benefit Rizzo's foundation, which has already hosted two walk-a-thons in Florida and a celebrity "Cook-Off for Cancer" in Chicago.

"It's nice that he reached out," Rizzo said of Motte. "I saw the Cardinals wearing them last year, and I liked it because of the cancer angle."

Rizzo does have T-shirts promoting his foundation and has worn shirts given to him from cancer patients he has visited in hospitals. Rizzo is a cancer survivor himself, having been diagnosed with limited stage classic Hodgkins lymphoma in 2008.

"It's really cool that [Motte] is doing this and hopefully one day, my foundation can be as big as that," Rizzo said. "It helps mine, it just helps the cause. That's really the nicest part, that you can help out -- it doesn't matter if it's my foundation or someone else's. It's just to help the cause."

The Cubs version of the shirt is expected to be available for sale on www.108stitches.com later this month. Some Cubs fans apparently couldn't wait for the blue shirt and have purchased the red one now on the site.

"I have had Cubs fans tweeting me, 'Hey, man, I'm a Cubs fan, but my mother just got diagnosed with cancer and I'm showing my support for her,'" Motte told MLB.com.