Castillo move was toughest for Cubs

Wellington Castillo losing out to Steve Clevenger as the back-up catcher was a surprise Thursday. Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs made a number of roster moves Thursday in order to close in on a 25-man Opening Day roster, and not all of them were expected.

Also announced was the starting rotation, which was a little more predictable. The Cubs starters, in order, will be Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm. Samardzija was able to seal his fate with six scoreless innings against the Indians on Wednesday.

The bench was also set with Joe Mather and Blake DeWitt earning spots, as well as Steve Clevenger, who won the hotly contested backup catcher role. Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson will be on the bench as expected.

The most surprising news Thursday was that right-hander Randy Wells had been optioned to Triple-A Iowa. Wells was not expected to make the rotation, but he figured to have a spot in the bullpen as the long man. That role now appears to be going to Rodrigo Lopez, although the Cubs haven't committed to that just yet.

Other players optioned to Iowa included left-handed pitchers Scott Maine and Travis Wood, outfielder Dave Sappelt and catcher Welington Castillo, who lost his battle with Clevenger.

Four more players were sent to minor-league camp. Those included right-hander Blake Parker, infielders Edgar Gonzalez and Matt Tolbert and catcher Blake Lalli. Pitcher Casey Coleman was also told he would not make the 25-man roster but his move was not made official Thursday.

"Welington Castillo was probably the most difficult [decision], and one where you had to make him understand that he's an everyday catcher and will make a lot of money and probably play in All-Star Games," manager Dale Sveum said. "He just needs to go down and play every single day."

The Cubs also tried to let Wells understand the positives of his demotion, telling him that he needs to be stretched out as a starter because he will be the first person recalled if a need arises in the rotation.

"That was a hard decision but a decision we feel really comfortable with given how those guys threw," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "We talked about Randy in the long-man role but ultimately we feel like you're going to need a lot of starts out of your sixth starter. We're not going to play with five starters al year. That's not realistic."

Still up for grabs appear to be two bullpen spots assuming Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, Jeff Russell, Rafael Dolis and Lopez have all earned spots. The final two bullpen jobs will go to a group of right-handers that includes Frankie De La Cruz, Shawn Camp, Lendy Castillo and Manny Corpas.

Since Russell would be the only left-handed reliever if the Cubs stuck with in-house candidates, they admittedly will look for possible options outside the organization.

"I think that that's a fair thing [to say]," Hoyer said. "I think we will probably look at a second lefty right now. If nothing happened we will have one in Russell so we will probably be on the lookout for another one."

The Cubs now have 31 players in major league camp: 16 pitchers, two catchers, seven infielders and six outfielders. The club breaks camp in Arizona on Tuesday and will open the season next Wednesday at Wrigley Field against the Washington Nationals.