Cubs plan to ease 4 returning starters into pitching duties

MESA, Ariz. - Cactus League games for the Chicago Cubs will begin this coming Saturday, but don't look for any of the big-name pitchers to see action in the first several games.

Because of the short off-season, manager Joe Maddon is going to take it easy on Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey.

Lefties Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery, who will be in the mix for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, figure to get early starts as will some of the prospects. The Cubs have 40 pitchers in camp.

As for the "Big Four," Maddon said Sunday it will be "into March" before they get game action.

Although several teams have announced their starters for the regular-season opener, Maddon says he has not thought ahead to opening night, April 2 in St. Louis. Jake Arrieta started last year's opener in Anaheim. Either he or Lester figures to get the start against the Cardinals.

Life behind the plate:

Kyle Schwarber says so far, so good on the catching end of things. Schwarber has caught one bullpen session, working last week with John Lackey.

Rain washed out mound work Saturday and Sunday, but the Cubs are limiting Schwarber to one or two days a week behind the plate as he makes a comeback from last April's knee surgery. He was able to be the designated hitter in the last fall's World Series games at Cleveland.

"Oh yeah, it was definitely nice to be back there," Schwarber said Sunday. "I haven't done it in almost 12 months, so it was good to be back there. It's fun to challenge yourself in some ways back there. It was cool."

Schwarber set up with one leg out, but he said that's no big deal.

"Everyone thinks it's a new style, but it's not really new," he said. "I did it last year. No one really noticed it. I just did it with my left knee down. It's just a little adjustment from the left knee to the right knee."

Keeping the faith:

Joe Maddon said he has full faith in relievers Pedro Stop and Hector Rondon, both of whom were injured late last year and had a tough time regaining their usual form.

Strop suffered a knee injury while Rondon suffered a triceps strain last August. Strop's was a freak injury, as he hurt his knee trying to field a ball.

"It's not a lack of trust; he just got hurt," Maddon said. "When you get hurt like that at that time of the year, it's hard to play catch-up."

Maddon said he blames himself with Rondon for getting "greedy" in his use of him. Rondon lost his closer's job when the Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman in July. This season, Rondon will work as a setup man to Wade Davis, who came to the Cubs in a trade from Kansas City.

  Cubs reliever Carl Edward Jr. getting ready to catch a ball as the team does a light workout on a cold and wet day. Bruce Miles/
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