SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The Cubs are in wait-and-see mode with Starlin Castro and Matt Garza, hoping their All-Star shortstop will be cleared soon and making contingency plans for their rotation.
Castro took batting practice on Saturday and was expected to field groundballs and do some light jogging on Sunday to test his left hamstring. Manager Dale Sveum said Friday’s MRI showed minor inflammation in that spot.
Castro pulled up running to first base on Wednesday and hobbled off the field. Sveum said Castro’s no longer feeling the same tightness.
“We might be a little more cautious than normal,” Sveum said before Saturday’s 9-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants at Scottsdale Stadium. “You’ll probably see him on the field in three or four days.”
Garza threw again on Saturday and the hope is that he’ll be on the mound in about a week as he recovers from a strained lat muscle on his left side.
Garza – who spent the winter rehabbing after a stress reaction in his right elbow ended his season last July – couldn’t make it through the team’s first full-squad workout on Feb. 17.
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Sveum said Garza hasn’t lost much of the arm strength he built up, meaning he’ll need about five starts, but it all depends on how he responds to each step.
The Cubs are already taking a cautious approach with Scott Baker, who isn’t expected to join the rotation until mid-April – at the earliest – as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Garza has said that he’s not going to rush back into action. Sveum has kept alive the possibility that Garza won’t open the season on the disabled list. But Sveum isn’t counting on Garza when the Cubs open against the Pittsburgh Pirates (April 1-4 with an off-day) at PNC Park.
“All this stuff is such a wait-and-see,” Sveum said. “But it’s obviously – I’m not going to lie – that opening series is probably a long shot.”
As insurance, team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer made rotation depth the No. 1 priority this offseason. Carlos Villanueva – who got a two-year, $10 million deal – could be the same kind of swingman he was with the Toronto Blue Jays.
“Starting, relieving, that’s just been a part of me since my first day in the big leagues,” Villanueva said. “That’s probably going to be a question I’ll have answered a million times. I don’t think about it. I hope Garza’s ready. I hope all the guys are healthy and we can take the best team north that we can get.”
In three innings against the Giants, Villanueva gave up one run on four hits, walking one and striking out two. He was promised opportunities to start, and will be stretched out that way.
“Whatever Dale and Theo and Jed want me to do, then I’ll do,” Villanueva said. “Like I’ve said before, I’m an employee here. Whatever I can do to make (my teammates) feel like they have a chance to win that day, then I’ll do (it). But it’s not a focus for me. I’m focusing on getting ready for the season. And if they need me to go out there every five days, then I’m ready for that challenge.”