TUCSON, Ariz. – One through 12, the Cubs thought their pitching staff could be a strength, an X-factor if they are going to surprise people in another season of low expectations.
But the Cubs already have to think seriously about their 13th, 14th and 15th pitchers and beyond, because injuries will keep 40 percent of their rotation on the disabled list through at least the beginning of May. They need good health – maybe some good luck – to survive the 162-game war of attrition.
Manager Dale Sveum will meet with the front office again on Friday morning to talk about reshaping the roster. Realistically, Sveum said, there’s only one spot still open in the bullpen, with Michael Bowden (out of options) and Hector Rondon (Rule 5 pick) likely to make the team.
The Cubs are braced for bad news after an MRI showed something with Scott Baker’s right elbow. They’re still hoping for the best when Dr. Stephen Gryzlo examines Baker on Saturday in Arizona and reassesses his recovery from Tommy John surgery. But until then, there’s no timetable for when Baker will throw a baseball again.
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Sveum said Matt Garza (strained lat muscle) is at least a week or 10 days away from throwing off the mound. Garza – who recently began throwing on an every-other-day schedule – still has to make it through a few more long-toss sessions before advancing to that step.
The Cubs took out several insurance policies for their staff during the offseason. Scott Feldman – a swingman with the Texas Rangers – grabbed a one-year, $6 million deal (plus $1 million in possible incentives) for the chance to prove he’s a starter.
Feldman lowered his Cactus League ERA from 11.81 to 10.34 after giving up four runs on seven hits in Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“I’ll take a lot more stock in knowing that I can go out there and compete with four pitches,” Feldman said. “A lot of things make Arizona sometimes a difficult spot to pitch. But I’ve had good springs in the past and bad springs in the past and I don’t think it really correlates too much.
“If I was going out there and walking 15 guys a game or something, I’d be a little worried. But for the most part, I’m throwing the ball where I want to.”
With Travis Wood and Carlos Villanueva now locked in as important parts of the rotation, the Cubs are looking for a finishing piece to the bullpen. Casey Coleman and Blake Parker are among those competing for the seventh spot, with Hisanori Takahashi offering a left-handed component and Rafael Dolis still having an option remaining.
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Here’s what Bowden has going for him: Solid spring numbers (2.08 ERA); a strong finish to last season (1.33 ERA in his last 20 appearances); and a Boston Red Sox pedigree (47th overall pick in the 2005 draft).
“He’s had a good spring,” Sveum said. “He’s got a track record. He pitched very, very well the last two or three months he was up (here) last year. He’s basically the one guy in the bullpen that can go multiple innings. That’s a huge asset to have.”
Rondon can’t do that yet, but the Cubs like his upside enough to carry him on their roster. The Cleveland Indians named him their minor league pitcher of the year in 2009 before elbow problems wiped out most of his next three seasons.
The Cubs took on another medical risk at last year’s trade deadline when they acquired a potentially elite arm from the Atlanta Braves in the Paul Maholm deal. Sveum said Arodys Vizcaino is throwing bullpens but hasn’t started spinning breaking balls yet as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
The Cubs aren’t expecting Vizcaino to be ready until the middle of the season. They’re hoping he could be a factor in the big leagues by August or September.
“If there’s no setbacks, yeah, that’s the goal,” Sveum said.