<
>

Cubs' early rotation an unproven bunch

MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs will start the 2013 season with a rotation that does not have a pitcher with a winning lifetime record.

In fact, with Matt Garza and Scott Baker out for at least the first month, the starters all have career ERAs that are north of 4.00.

But the projection for this staff is not all doom and gloom. Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood appear to be just coming into their own as middle-to-top-of-the-rotation starters. Pitching coach Chris Bosio has imparted some mechanical magic and pitching logic to both young hurlers. Carlos Villanueva, Scott Feldman and Edwin Jackson will fill out the early rotation, all joining the team as free agents this offseason.

The new staff has shown excellent command during the spring, walking three or fewer hitters in 20 of 32 contests so far.

Wood had his worst start of the Cactus League season on Monday, allowing four runs in five innings. Prior to this outing Wood had given up only four earned runs in his previous four spring starts.

“We are not looking at last year,” Wood said. “It is all about this season and continuing to get better.”

But making a case that the 2013 rotation will be better than the 2012 one may be difficult to establish with Baker and Garza on the shelf. Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer did a good job of adding some veteran pitching depth to the roster in the offseason. That depth, however, has already evaporated before the season begins.

Manager Dale Sveum is not planning on the bullpen bailing out the rotation in the early part of the season.

“We are not going to have the luxury of having two long men,” Sveum said. “We will have somebody that can go two or three innings, but not two of them. That can be the way April goes, when the starters aren’t going six or seven innings you will get in a bind somewhere along the line. A lot of teams get into (the bullpen) because you don’t get a lot of days off. It will be very difficult to keep that same roster a whole month.”

The Cubs will have left-handed starter Chris Rusin honing his starting skills at Triple-A. Rusin almost earned a rotation spot based on a strong spring showing.

Of the Cubs five starters to open the season, only Samardzija returns to the staff from the opening day rotation in 2012.