Outlook: Former top prospect must bounce back

MESA, Ariz. -- Anthony Rizzo did not hit a single home run last spring, then belted 23 during the regular season. Does Cubs manager Rick Renteria need to see the first baseman connect to know if Rizzo is ready for the season?

"No, I know he's got power," Renteria said Sunday. "Once you start to get into the flow of the game and you're swinging the bat well, a gentlemen like 'Riz' who has pop, those come."

Last spring, Rizzo batted .229, and so far this year, he's 7-for-16 (.438) with two doubles and a triple.

"I actually don't use the [Spring Training] stats as much as you might think," Renteria said. "I'm more concerned with the approaches they're having at the plate. One thing we want him to do is focus on his strength, which is the left-center-field gap. His approach has been working, and I think it's a conscious effort."

Mom and Dad on hand for Hendricks' start

Kyle Hendricks allowed two runs in three innings Sunday. (AP)

MESA, Ariz. -- Sunday's game was much better timing-wise for Kyle Hendricks' parents. They didn't have to drive 11 hours in one day to see the right-hander pitch.

John and Ann Marie Hendricks were among the record crowd of 14,770 at Cubs Park to watch Kyle start in the Cubs' 10-8 win over the Brewers. They arrived Saturday. If Hendricks was pitching on a weekday, his father would've left their Newport Beach, Calif., home around 4 a.m. for the 5 1/2-hour drive. The Hendricks don't want to disrupt Kyle's routine, so Ann Marie doesn't call her son before a game. They will treat him to dinner after, and then get in the car for the return trip to California.

"We give hugs and kisses and get back on the road so we can go to work in the morning," Ann Marie said.

It's hard to miss Kyle's mother. She's the one wearing the dangling Cubs earrings, a Cubs jersey and her lucky Cubs necklace made of Hawaiian nuts.

His success has more to do with his maturity as a pitcher than paraphernalia. Last season, Hendricks was a combined 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA in 27 Minor League starts at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. This is his first big league Spring Training, but he looks as if he belongs.

"He's intelligent, and I think he has a real good feel for himself, and he understands what he has to do to be successful and his routine and his plans are all very, very good," said Derek Johnson, the Cubs' Minor League pitching coordinator. "He knows he has to stay poised with his stuff. I think he's more rattled now, and you'd never know it. That's the unique part of it. He's in big league camp, a little bit nervous, and you'd never know."

The question, though, is whether Hendricks is ready for the big leagues.

"He's a guy who, over his career and as we've seen, he's a pitcher," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He can really dominate the zone. He tries to work both sides of the plate. ... When we saw him in the [intrasquad] game, he was doing exactly what he does -- he stays down in the zone, hits both sides of the plate, mixes his pitches well. That's the same thing he'll have to do at the Major League level. Is it possible for him to do that? Absolutely."

Johnson feels the same way.

"I think he understands what he has to do to get hitters out," Johnson said. "He pays attention to what they're trying to do against him. He understands situations. It's about him being able to take that from Double-A to Triple-A, and then Triple-A to the big leagues, if that's the case. I feel like he will."

Hendricks struck out four on Sunday, but he also walked two and gave up three hits in three innings in his second Cactus League start. He felt better able to control the tempo of the game. What does he need to do to take that next step to the big leagues?

"As far as during Spring Training, I'm a lot further along than I have been in the past, so I'm happy with that," Hendricks said. "My fastball command is good, my changeup was good today, and my curveball, I threw some good ones. I just have to get on the mound and get more consistent and I'll be a lot better."

Parker knows stakes are high for 'pen candidates

Blake Parker has had mixed results this spring. (Morry Gash/AP)

MESA, Ariz. -- Blake Parker knows it doesn't matter what he did last year, or the year before. The right-hander is fighting for a spot in the Cubs' bullpen, and he's not alone.

"There's tons of guys here," the reliever said, glancing around the Cubs' clubhouse on Sunday. "You look around and you start putting yourself in places, and there's a lot of competition in this locker room. There's some unbelievable pitchers. [Arodys] Vizcaino is coming back from an injury, and I saw him the other day and he's unbelievable to watch.

"It's good for the team that you have a lot of competition. It only makes you better."

But Parker has been a little inconsistent. In his first outing, he cruised through one inning of work. In his next two, he gave up five hits and walked four over 1 1/3 innings. The problems, the right-hander said, are mechanical and mental issues.

"I felt like my last outing, I had a strong start," he said of his relief appearance Friday. "I got a strikeout, and got 0-2 and threw a bad pitch and gave up a hit, and another hit, and kind of got away from attacking guys and got a little timid out there, which is what I meant by the [mental issues]. From that, [I tried] to make the perfect pitch, and my mechanics started to get out of whack, and then it spiraled downhill.

"It's time for me to get it going and really focus on the things I need to focus on and get after it and work on the things I need to work on so I'm ready when the season starts."

Parker is competing for a spot in the bullpen with right-handers Vizcaino, Hector Rondon, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, Alberto Cabrera, Pedro Strop and Carlos Villanueva.

Extra bases

Arodys Vizcaino is pleased after his two Cactus League outings. The Cubs right-hander, who has not pitched since 2011 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, was clocked at 98 mph on Friday in his relief outing against the Indians.

"I'm so happy right now," Vizcaino said.

"His story is a great story, because he's trying to come back," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Sunday of the right-hander, who was acquired from the Braves in July 2012 in the Paul Maholm deal. "He's worked very hard to get back to where he is right now, and it's still a progression. There are still some things that he'll have to work through. We'll be extremely patient with how we move forward with him."

• Renteria said Sunday he had yet to speak with pitcher Edwin Jackson about the right-hander's last outing in which he only threw fastballs. Jackson said he wanted to work on his fastball command, but he didn't tell Renteria or pitching coach Chris Bosio about his game plan.

George Kottaras, 30, has played for the Red Sox, Brewers, Athletics and Royals, and he has had several different catching coaches. He likes the feedback he's gotten from Cubs coach Mike Borzello.

"We have the same theories, and we're coming from the same background," Kottaras said. "I had [coach] Gary Tuck back when I was in Boston, and he had Gary a long time ago, too. Same philosophy, so right away we were on the same page. Sometimes over time, things change but not purposely. Sometimes you get out of whack, per se.

"[Borzello] saw a little something in my stance with runners on and brought it up, and I said, 'You know, you're right,' and it changed everything. It was just a reminder that helped. We're not afraid to talk about things. He'll ask, 'What do you have on this? What do you have on that?' That's how you learn."