Cubs Spring Round-up

Chris Rusin battling for starting role.

Opening Day is less than three weeks away as the Cubs head to Pittsburgh and some roster spots, including the fifth starter, are still up for grabs. NorthSiders Report takes a look at the pitching battle as well as news and notes from spring training.

The Fifth Starter

Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel are penciled into the starting rotation and the fifth guy was suppose to be Jake Arrieta. But shoulder stiffness early in the spring has pushed back his throwing program and is not expected to be ready when the Cubs break camp.

A bevy of arms are in the running but no one has really come forward as a top candidate. The Cubs may already know who they were going to use for the possible two starts over the first three weeks but for the purpose of this piece we'll take a look at the candidates.

Carlos Villanueva is the favorite based on his 15 starts last year but that's not much of an advantage as he was 1-7 with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. He's appeared in two games this spring, allowing four runs on six hits and two walks.

Left-hander Chris Rusin took the hill 13 times last year for the Cubs, posting a 2-6 mark with a 3.93 ERA in 66.1 innings. Rusin's best outing came against St. Louis with six shutout innings at Busch on Aug. 9. The Cardinals are the second team the Cubs would need to use a fifth starter if they elect to move pitchers up based on the days off early in the schedule. Rusin allowed nine runs over 4.2 innings in his first two Cactus League outings but tossed three scoreless frames against San Francis earlier this week.

It was first reported that James McDonald inked a minor league deal but after Arrieta had problems, they signed the former Pirate starter to a MLB deal and a spot on the 40-man roster. Returning from shoulder problems in 2013, McDonald surrendered six runs in his first spring game but followed that up with two shutout frames. He had no command Wednesday night, walking five as he surrendered two runs in 2.2 innings. His fastball was up to 95 in the first inning but sat around 90-91 the rest of his 67 pitch outing.

Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013, has an outside shot of being named the fifth starter but will likely start the year back in Iowa. He's appeared in two games but has had trouble with his command, five walks in five innings, which have led to three earned runs. Hendricks get the start on Friday.

Dallas Beeler pitched his way onto the 40-man roster after a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League and the right-hander is having some success in his first big league camp. Beeler threw three scoreless frames Wednesday night with a fastball consistently in the low 90s.

Not only will one of these guys get the nod for the fifth spot, the five arms will also be ‘next up' if one of the starters goes down or misses time during the season. Hendricks and Beeler need to compile AAA innings while Villanueva, Rusin and McDonald have the inside track for the fifth spot until Arrieta returns.

Diamondbacks return Marcos Mateo

For the second straight spring, the Arizona Diamondbacks have returned a Cubs pitcher selected in the Rule 5 draft—this year sending right-hander reliever Marcos Mateo back after returning Starling Peralta last spring.

Mateo spent part of 2013 on the DL with an elbow injury but was throwing in the mid-90s in the Dominican Winter League, where he recorded nine saves with 24 K in 21 IP and a 1.71 ERA, promoting the D-Backs to selected the 29-year-old.

Acquired for Buck Coats back in 2007, Mateo made his pro debut for the Cubs in 2010 and appeared in 44 games over two seasons for the North Siders. He missed the entire 2012 season with a right forearm injury. Mateo started 2013 on the DL and after rehabbing in the Arizona Rookie League, appeared in six games for AA Tennessee (1-0, 1.04 ERA, 8.2 IP, 6H 7BB, 7K), before finishing the year at AAA Iowa (0-0 2.76 ERA, 13 G, 16.1 IP, 15H, 4 BB, 15 K).

Because Mateo has been out-righted previously, he can opt for free-agency instead of returning to the Cubs. If he does come back to the Cubs, he will likely return to AAA Iowa.

Minor League Notes

Minor league spring training games are underway in the Cactus League. Big news so far out of camp is the hamstring issue with RHP Pierce Johnson. Injury has pushed back his schedule and he may miss a few starts at AA Tennessee but Cubs' officials have said the injury is not serious.

The "kids" have been the story of the spring, launching bombs all over Arizona. Javier Baez (3), Mike Olt (3) and Kris Bryant (2) have combined for 8 HR, the rest of the team has hit five. Jorge Soler will start the year in AA while Arismendy Alcantara, Logan Watkins and Matt Szczur will begin in AAA Iowa.

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