MESA, Ariz. (AP) - Bryan LaHair is less than two weeks away from breaking camp on a big league opening day roster for the first time. The timing should be just about right for the Chicago Cubs first baseman, considering he has nearly 1,000 career at_bats in the minors and just 65 in the majors.
``I was struggling early, but I have been working on some things,' LaHair said. ``I'm going to hit no matter what, so it is a matter of timing. I am starting to feel comfortable at the plate and I am hitting balls hard.'
LaHair, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound lefty power hitter, showed some of the comfort level he is feeling in Monday's 2-0 win by the Cubs' split squad over the San Diego Padres.
In the first inning against Tim Stauffer, LaHair hit a double to the right-center field gap that scored Starlin Castro.
Batting only .188 through March 18, LaHair has gone eight for his last 15 to raise his average to .280 with five doubles and four RBIs. Part of the slow start was the result of the Cubs facing a string of left-handers in the early portion of the spring schedule.
LaHair entered Monday's game hitting .125 against left-handers and .367 against right-handers.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum has seen enough out of LaHair to know that he will be fine at first base after the Carlos Pena experiment lasted only one year at Wrigley Field.
``He is hitting almost .400 against right-handed pitching,' Sveum said. ``Confidence is everything, but the fact of the matter is he is hitting the ball well against right-handers.'
LaHair was the Pacific Coast League MVP last season after hitting .331 with 38 home runs and 109 RBIs at Triple-A Iowa. He can't wait for his first opening day in the big leagues after never getting that chance with the Seattle Mariners, the team that drafted him in the 39th round in 2002, or the Cubs, who signed him before the 2010 season.
``I'm counting on it,' LaHair said. ``I will be in Chicago this year and I think I am going to have a good year.'
The way the spring is shaping up, left-hander Paul Maholm could be headed for a good year with the Cubs.
Maholm has given up one earned run in 10 spring innings. He solidified his rotation spot with five shutout innings, allowing four hits while striking out six and walking two.
``I expect to make all of my starts and throw for more than 200 innings,' said Maholm, who is 1-1 with a 0.90 ERA. ``That's my mindset and that is what is going to push me.'
Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol made his first appearance since leaving a game on March 20 because of cramping in his right hand. He allowed a hit, walked one and had a strikeout in a scoreless sixth inning.
``I feel normal and good,' he said. ``I controlled my slider with no problems.'
The Padres haven't announced their starter for opening day. The pitcher who made that start last year - Stauffer - looked good for the second straight outing and might be inching closer to getting the nod.
After throwing six scoreless innings on March 21, the right-hander went five innings and gave up two runs.
``I think I am ready,' said Stauffer, 1-2 with 5.60 ERA in the spring. ``I am working on things I need to work on. It will be fun getting that little extra adrenaline going (once the season starts).'
``I am just getting ready for the season and wherever it falls is just fine by me,' he said.
NOTES: Cubs reliever Kerry Wood is expected to get back in a game on Saturday after pitching only bullpen sessions since March 18. The team backed him off, planning to have him throw eight to 10 innings this spring. ... Chicago signed RHP reliever Shawn Camp, who was released by Seattle last week, to a minor league contract. ... The Cubs released veteran LHP reliever Trever Miller. ... Padres 2B Orlando Hudson (groin strain) took ground balls and could get back in to a game as early as Thursday. ... San Diego INF Logan Forsythe (fractured left foot) was placed on the disabled list.
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