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posted: 3/7/2013 7:13 PM

Cubs stocked up on starting pitching

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  • FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2011, file photo, Chicago Cubs pitcher Matt Garza delivers during the second inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh. Jeff Samardzija will be the opening-day starter for the Cubs, who said Garza will start the season on the disabled list because of an injured muscle in his side that is preventing the right-hander from throwing.

      FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2011, file photo, Chicago Cubs pitcher Matt Garza delivers during the second inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh. Jeff Samardzija will be the opening-day starter for the Cubs, who said Garza will start the season on the disabled list because of an injured muscle in his side that is preventing the right-hander from throwing.

 
 

If you've ever wondered what the mythical "replacement player" looks like as part of the wins against replacement (WAR) system, look no further than the 2012 Cubs.

They trotted out a few of them in their starting rotation last September.

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Starting down the stretch were drum roll rookies Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin and journeymen veterans Chris Volstad, Justin Germano and Jason Berken.

It's a wonder that team lost "only" 101 games.

No disrespect to any of the aforementioned, but that's the best the Cubs could do after dealing away Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm at the trading deadline and shutting down Matt Garza in July and Jeff Samardzija in early September.

So there should be little wonder why the Cubs went out this winter -- and in last year's amateur draft -- and stocked up on starting pitching.

There's another reason: injury.

Matt Garza, the winter-book favorite to start Opening Day, may miss the first month of the season because of a left-lat-muscle strain. Garza was on the comeback as it was from a "stress reaction" in his right elbow, an ailment that ended his 2012 season just after the midway point.

Scott Baker, whom the Cubs signed as a free agent last fall, won't start the season on the active roster as he continues his rehab from last April's Tommy John surgery.

Baker was one of four free-agent starters the Cubs signed this off-season, joining Scott Feldman, Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva.

So assuming that everybody else stays healthy, the rotation to start the season will be Samardzija, Jackson, left-hander Travis Wood, Feldman and Villanueva, who originally was ticketed for a bullpen and spot-start role.

The order is subject to change after opening-day starter Samardzija and Jackson. Earlier this week, manager Dale Sveum told reporters in spring training that Feldman could be slotted in the No. 3 spot.

Feldman had a rough go of it Tuesday in his second Cactus League start, giving up 4 runs on 6 hits over 2-plus innings to the Rockies.

"If you're going to have an outing like today, it's a good thing to have it in spring and not the regular season," Feldman told reporters. "It's an opportunity to kind of sit back and look at things and what I need to work on and make a little bit of adjustment. From where I am right now, second start of spring, I'm just happy I feel good and my fastball is where it needs to be.

"We've obviously got to get Garza healthy and (Baker), too. I'm just going to keep going about my business and try to hone in on getting that off-speed stuff to where I can throw it for a strike at any count. I'm excited about the start of the season and the opportunity (to) get out there and pitch."

Samardzija's story is a great one, and it's hard to know where it will go this season.

Given his history, it's hard to bet against him.

Last spring, he entered camp battling for a job and not knowing, in the extreme case, if he'd make the team.

With the trades and injuries, he wound up as the de facto No. 1 starter, but he has said he wants to earn the title outright and on merit. Samardzija has "willed" and worked himself into every other success he's had, so again, it's tough to bet against him.

"He is one of those guys that guy you want out there," manager Dale Sveum to told reporters. "That intensity he brings ... He is a guy the players rally around because of his bulldog mentality when he is on the mound. It is a very obvious choice, really. He is that guy that it's game-on when he is pitching that day. And the other four days he is not pitching, he doesn't just sit around. He is in every game. He is falling into that leadership role as well."

The Cubs made a good-sized investment in Jackson, signing him to a four-year, $52 million contract, surprising some. He always has been an "innings-eater," but he and the Cubs want more than "just" that this season.

Wood, who came from the Reds in the December 2011 trade for setup ace Sean Marshall, did two stints with the Cubs last year, going 6-13 with a 4.27 ERA. He failed to make last year's club out of spring training, so a great opportunity awaits him now.

bmiles@dailyherald.com

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