Cubs see pitching plans coming into focus

Cubs see pitching plans coming into focus
July 28, 2013, 5:00 pm
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SAN FRANCISCO – The Cubs will be holding auditions during the final two months of the season. They want to see if Jake Arrieta can rediscover what once made him an elite prospect. They need to know where Scott Baker’s at after Tommy John surgery before giving him another prove-it deal.

But Chris Rusin – the next man up from Triple-A Iowa once the Cubs finally traded Matt Garza to the Texas Rangers – is making a case to stay in the rotation.

“When you perform, you change the way people think,” manager Dale Sveum said Sunday. “Performance is everything in this game. Usually when you perform, you don’t lose your job. There’s no doubt he’s changed a lot of minds moving forward.”

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The night before, in front of a sellout crowd at AT&T Park, Rusin pitched seven strong innings during a 1-0 win over the San Francisco Giants. The 26-year-old left-hander joined the team last week in Arizona, missing one flight from Dallas and landing in Phoenix the same day he beat the Diamondbacks, giving up two runs in five innings.

Rusin made his big-league debut last season, putting up a 6.37 ERA in seven starts as the Cubs traded away Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm and shut down Garza and Jeff Samardzija.

“I feel a lot more comfortable,” Rusin said. “I’m not as nervous. It just goes away each outing. I feel more and more comfortable.

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“This year, it’s a lot more free and easy. I’m not tensing up in big situations. I’m able to calm myself and really make the pitch.”

Baker, who will make his next start with advanced Class-A Daytona on Monday, is said to be learning how to trust his stuff again after missing the entire 2012 season. In three starts with Class-A Kane County, he gave up 13 runs on 17 hits in 8.2 innings.

There’s a mental side to recovering from elbow-reconstruction surgery. Baker and the Cubs went into this one-year, $5.5 million deal with the belief it could lead to another contract. But that will depend on what happens in August and September.

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The Cubs are eager to get a look at Arrieta, a key piece in the Scott Feldman trade and an Opening Day starter with the Baltimore Orioles last season. Arrieta – who’s 1-2 with a 4.03 ERA in five starts with Iowa – will face the Milwaukee Brewers in the second game of a doubleheader on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

“You’re curious. (You want) to get your eyes on him,” Sveum said. “The stuff is 95 to 97 (mph) and the guy can throw a 91 mph slider or cutter, whatever you want to call it, as well as a changeup and curveball. You got a plus arm and plus stuff that can strike people out.”

Pedro Strop definitely has swing-and-miss stuff, putting together 12 scoreless appearances since coming over in the Feldman trade. Sveum confirmed Strop would be next in line as closer if the front office trades Kevin Gregg as expected. Those deals could come together closer to Wednesday’s non-waiver deadline, 3 p.m. Chicago time.

“That’s the nature of the animal, just because everybody’s trying to get a little more,” Sveum said. “Things can evolve on that last day, just because of injuries and the needs of some of these contending teams.”