Maholm endorsement means 2 spots left

MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum had strong words of praise for left-hander Paul Maholm on Tuesday, essentially setting three-fifths of the starting rotation with two weeks left in spring-training camp.

Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza were always considered rotation locks and so was Maholm to a certain extent, but the Cubs coaching staff was getting their first up-close look at the former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher, who was signed as a free agent in January.

After falling behind early in camp when he missed three days because of a nasty flu bug, Maholm is completely healthy and practically caught up now. He has made just two Cactus League appearances, giving up a run in five innings.

“He’s done well and he’s slated to be one of the starters,” Sveum said. “Right now, with the year he put up last year and the way he’s throwing the ball, I don’t see him not being in the rotation.”

Maholm was just 6-14 with the Pirates last season, but he had a 3.66 ERA and was 6-9 in the first half with a 2.96 ERA. His season was eventually shut down in August with a shoulder strain.

Sveum’s endorsement of Maholm leaves what has been a logjam for the final two rotation spots. Based on their performances this spring, Chris Volstad and Jeff Samardzija are the leading candidates for those jobs, with Randy Wells just behind those two.

Volstad has given up just one run in 10 innings this spring (three starts). Samardzija has given up three runs on six hits in his three spring outings. Both earned praise for their outings this weekend in Las Vegas while pitching in a ballpark that is known to offer a huge advantage to offense. Both went four innings and gave up just one run.

Wells’ chances could be improved if either Volstad or Samardzija falter, but he looks destined for a bullpen role at this point.