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February 26. 2013 9:28PM

Kevin Gray's Spring Training Notebook: Nashua North grad Zapenas feeling better in Cubs' camp


Nashua North graduate Brad Zapenas is in spring training camp in Arizona. (Julie Takeuchi Photo)

Forget ripping a homer or impressing the Chicago Cubs with crazy arm strength. Minor leaguer Brad Zapenas is thrilled to be wearing a jersey in Arizona and simply playing catch.

Zapenas, a Nashua North and Boston College graduate, is returning from a shoulder injury and looking to regain his place as a versatile infielder in the Cubs organization. A career .250 hitter in the minors, Zapenas was making a successful transition to third base when he injured his right shoulder while diving to make a play for Peoria of the Midwest League. He played in only 24 games last season, batting .273 with three doubles, and spent the rest of the summer rehabbing from a June shoulder surgery.

"It scared me just because you hate to have an injury where you miss a lot of playing time, but I always tried to stay positive with it and think of it as a good experience. It certainly makes you appreciate the game so much more, especially little things that we as baseball players sometimes overlook like playing catch, which I am finally beginning to do again," said Zapenas, who spends most of his time working out at Fitch Park in Mesa, Ariz.

While many minor leaguers have yet to report to spring training, Zapenas is making the most of his extra time in Arizona. This week, he has spent extra time with Cubs minor league hitting coach Bill Buckner. Yes, that Bill Buckner. The former Red Sox first baseman - and scapegoat for the 1986 World Series disaster - has worked wonders with Zap's swing.

"Last season, (Buckner) told me I'm really good hitting (to the opposite field), but I get beat inside. So he started doing flip drills to my front left hip and told me to hit the ball off the L-screen instead of hooking it. This allowed me to drop my hands down, and it helped. The next game, I hit a home run to left field off Travis Wood, who's now in the big-league rotation. I'd say (Buckner) is really big on hitting the ball where it's pitched."

Zapenas isn't sure where he'll end up in April or if he'll need extended time at spring training.

"I'm just excited to be playing catch again, and it feels like I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel for my shoulder rehab," he said.

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GRAPEFRUIT SEEDS: Red Sox starter Ryan Dempster gave fans a glimpse of what to expect on Tuesday. The 35-year-old pitched for the first time in a Red Sox uniform, tossing two innings without yielding a hit. He fanned two batters and did not issue a walk. Red Sox manager John Farrell was impressed with Dempster's overall command and action on split-fingered pitches. Dempster, who owns a career record of 124-124, also won his first mini-press conference in Fort Myers by taking a light approach when dealing with the media.

His goals for this spring?

"I'm going to try to shoot under par. That's a big one, and I'm going to try to swim with a dolphin at some point. I've seen a few of them on the water," Dempster told reporters. "Things went well (today). My body felt good, my arm felt good. I was able to attack the strike zone for the most part. Good first day."

kgray@unionleader.com


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