Coke and a smile: Cubs’ new lefty gets to camp, says ready to go

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MESA, Ariz. – Make all the jokes and puns you want with his name. Just don’t call Phil Coke a “left-handed specialist.”

“I’m not a guy that’s ever felt really good about the title of lefty specialist,” said Coke, the veteran reliever who was signed this week to help the Cubs cover that role. “I get my back up about that. That’s too fine of a pigeon hole. Very limiting.”

Left-handers have hit .243 against him in his seven-year career, with a .648 OPS (compared to righties’ .303 and .818).

“I’m a baseball player, man,” he said. “It’s part of my job. It doesn’t matter what side the guy hits from. You go out and try to get him out. And that’s what I’m here to do.”

Coke, 32, signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs that pays him $2.25 million if he’s in the big leagues (plus appearances incentives).

He joined camp Friday to take a physical to finalize the deal and says he’s done enough throwing in recent months that he expects to be ready for whatever the Cubs want him to do.

“I worked really hard, really diligently, day in and day out, throughout the whole off-season,” he said. “In doing so, I feel as though I’m in a much better place. I’m repeating my delivery, I’m throwing strikes with all my pitches, and I can’t ask for anything better.

“Honestly it was a great offseason for me, and hopefully the next one’s even better.”

Coke spent the past five seasons with the Detroit Tigers, going 5-2 with a 3.88 ERA in 62 appearances last season with a save.

He turned down guaranteed big-league deals to sign with the Cubs, he said. One reportedly came from the Texas Rangers, who, like the Cubs, flew him in from California early this week to tour their facility.

Why the Cubs?

“Because I really like the atmosphere,” he said. “I like what’s being laid down and in place here. I feel like this team is on the brink of doing something very special.”

Coke has a 4.26 ERA in 26 career postseason games, pitching in World Series for the Yankees in 2009 and Tigers in 2012 – when he became a postseason closer, replacing struggling Jose Valverde.

“For some reason I seem to have a knack of finding my way in those situations,” he said. “When I was brought up with the Yankees [in 2008], I mean, yeah, their postseason appearance reign ended in ’08. But then we were right back in it in ’09, and we were able to claim the crown.

“And then 2010 when I got traded to the Tigers [in a three-team blockbuster], we finished .500 and the next season we finished first – the first of four consecutive Central titles. We went to the World Series once. We were in the ALCS twice. So. …”

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