Is it Rusin or Villanueva for 5th spot?

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs pitcher Chris Rusin stated his case to open the season as the team’s fifth starter with another impressive performance, this time shutting out the White Sox over five innings on Friday afternoon. He gave up two hits without walking anyone while striking out three.

“I was able to pound the zone with strikes with all my pitches,” Rusin said afterward. “So far, everything is going as planned.”

He’s not just talking about Friday. Rusin is following up a very good spring in 2013 with another in 2014, and more importantly it’s coming together for him as the regular season approaches. In his last three appearances combined, he’s pitched 12 innings and given up just three hits and no runs.

With Jake Arrieta starting the season on the disabled list, Rusin could be the fifth starter -- or it could be Carlos Villanueva.

“It’s a competition,” Villanueva said after his last start Wednesday. “It’s fun and exciting for us and for the people that are choosing a guy.”

Rusin has been down this road before and isn’t trying to think about the roster spot -- at least not for the usual reasons.

“You have to figure out where you’re going to live and all that, so you start thinking about it a little bit,” he said.

Villanueva figures that in six of his nine big league seasons he’s been asked the question or dealt with the issue in some manner: is he a starter or reliever? His ability to do both might be his undoing, as Rusin has strictly been a starter in both the majors and minors the last two seasons.

“If it’s me (going to the bullpen), no problem,” Villanueva said. “I’ve done it before, going back and forth.”

It might come down to matchups. If the Cubs want to keep their pitchers on a five-day schedule as much as possible, there should be a need for a fifth starter April 6 against the Philadelphia Phillies and April 12 against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Phillies have a heavy left-handed lineup and the Cardinals have several from that side of the plate that are dangerous. They might be better suited for the lefty Rusin. And Rusin has gotten better with experience. He followed up a 6.37 ERA in 2012 with a 3.93 mark in 2013 pitching for the Cubs after trades or injuries depleted their starting staff.

“Just keep doing what I’m doing,” Rusin said about the final week of spring.

He should get one more start, as should Villanueva, but Rusin might be the frontrunner after another strong spring performance Friday.