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posted: 3/20/2013 7:49 PM

Cubs pitching depth will be tested early

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  • Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva delivers against the Texas Rangers in the fourth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game, Sunday, March 17, 2013, in Las Vegas.

    Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva delivers against the Texas Rangers in the fourth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game, Sunday, March 17, 2013, in Las Vegas.


To paraphrase Yogi Berra, one thing you need in baseball is "deep depth."

The deepness of the Cubs' alleged pitching depth is being tested already. Ace Matt Garza, whom the Cubs say will be fine once he gets up to full speed following a lat-muscle injury, will be out until May 1, give or take a week or so. The safe bet is a week or so later than May 1.

And Scott Baker, whom team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer signed for $5.5 million, is shut down indefinitely because of soreness in his surgically repaired right elbow.

Those things have caused a major shuffling of the deck. Jeff Samardzija is the pro tem ace of the staff, and he'll be followed in the rotation by Edwin Jackson (who looks solid), Travis Wood, Scott Feldman and Carlos Villaneuva.

If anybody else runs into a problem before spring training ends, lefty Chris Rusin is No. 6 on the deep-depth chart.

Manager Dale Sveum tried to sound an optimistic note Tuesday, one day before the Cubs enjoyed an off-day in the spring-training schedule.

"Garza's doing really well," Sveum said. "That's something that we have to look forward to there. If there are no setbacks, he's going to be right on track, that first week of May-type guy.

"We just talked about Rusin. He's put himself right in the mix for depth reasons, a guy that had a lot of valuable big-league time last year to learn and do things. That's probably why he's pitching so well this spring training, because of that experience that he got last year that he otherwise wouldn't have got."

Rusin is 2-0 with a 2.50 ERA this spring. He got roughed up a bit early against the Rangers on Tuesday, but settled down after that.

The 26-year-old Rusin made 7 big-league starts last year, going 2-3 with a 6.37 ERA.

"Every year I move up and get my feet wet at that level that they move me up to, the next year it just helps out with confidence and knowing you can do it and that you belong there," Rusin said.

Roster crunchtime:

There were no real battles for starting jobs in spring training. Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston will form a platoon of sorts in right field.

But as spring training heads into its final week, there are backup jobs to be won, and with third baseman Ian Stewart going on the disabled list, somebody will grab one who otherwise would not have made the team.

Here is a look at the position-player roster (assuming the Cubs will carry 12 pitchers and 13 position guys), with those who have jobs and those who have realistic chances at making the team:

• Catchers: Welington Castillo and Dioner Navarro are in. Steve Clevenger, who caught last year, is hoping to stick as a utility man who can catch and play the infield. The Cubs drafted Clevenger as an infielder, and he bats left-handed.

• Infielders: Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Luis Valbuena and Starlin Castro are the starters. Nonroster man Brent Lillibridge is all but guaranteed a spot. He also can play the outfield.

• Outfielders: Schierholtz and Hairston are the two right fielders, with David DeJesus in center and Alfonso Soriano in left. Dave Sappelt, who is on the 40-man roster, may have an edge because of that. Chicago-area guy Brian Bogusevic is in camp as a nonroster man, and he's the other realistic option.

With Tony Campana gone, Sappelt can provide some late-inning speed as a pinch runner and can replace Soriano late in games, if Sveum chooses to go that route. Sappelt has hit .200 (8-for-40, but with 3 homers and 9 RBI) this spring.

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