<
>

Chicago Cubs cut three; roster now at 32

MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs continued to shape their roster on Wednesday heading into this weekend's opening night game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Sent to Triple-A Iowa were pitchers Zac Rosscup and Brian Schlitter along with outfielder Junior Lake. Lake performed well this spring after an awful 2014 season, but outfielder Matt Szczur has become the surprise of camp. He's likely to make the team -- though he remains in a roster battle with Ryan Sweeney and spring invitee Jonathan Herrera.

"You'll never finish the season with the same 25 you start with," manager Joe Maddon said. "Stay ready because the call can come at any moment."

Szczur is hitting .349 with five home runs in the Cactus League after hitting just one home run at Triple-A all of last season. He said he "found" his hitting stroke this past winter after fully concentrating on baseball after years of being a "football guy." But Sweeney has a major league contract paying him $1.5 million this year while Herrera plays the infield. As of now, the Cubs only have one back-up there.

"It would be nice to have it," Maddon said. "You don't have to have it but we'd like to have it. The fact that he's [Herrera] so versatile makes a big difference."

Herrera is hitting .308 with a .357 on-base percentage this spring and accorded himself well around the infield. Maddon said we should know by Friday who the final roster spots will go to.

Sunday catcher: As of Wednesday morning, Maddon wasn't revealing his catcher for Sunday night when Jon Lester takes the mound. He's made the decision, now he just needs to inform the players.

"Talk to both of those guys and let them know who's starting and who's not," Maddon said.

Since the signing of David Ross and the trade for Miguel Montero, the debate over who should catch Lester -- at least in the first game -- has been a good one. With the right-handed Adam Wainwright on the mound for St. Louis, should Maddon go with the left-handed Montero or the weaker bat in Ross? Ross has caught Lester with a lot of success over the past couple of seasons but could be overmatched against Wainwright. Based on the spring, expect Ross to be behind the plate come Sunday.

Fifth starter: Maddon sounded like he's made the decision on who his fifth starter will be, and like his catchers, he needs to inform Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood of their roles. This one seems like an easy decision. Jackson's final appearance last season was in the bullpen. That's where he should start this one.

"Still haven't had those discussions with the players yet," Maddon said.

What's next: The Cubs' roster stands at 32. It has to be down to 25 by Sunday so seven cuts have to be made between now and then. Expect them to come no later than Friday night or possibly Saturday morning. More than likely the 25 who are coming back to Chicago will know by the time the team takes the field on Friday in an exhibition against the Diamondbacks. Those 25 will head home on Saturday morning while the Cubs play a minor-league squad that day against Arizona. It's likely to include Javier Baez and/or Kris Bryant, according to Maddon.

The likely cuts, or disabled list assignments, include pitchers Drake Britton, Jacob Turner (injured), Tsuyoshi Wada (injured) and Dallas Beeler (injured) along with catcher Taylor Teagarden and outfielder Chris Denorfia (injured). The final cut will be either Szczur, Sweeney or Herrera.

April Fools: Joe Maddon had his coaches post a rigorous workout schedule for Wednesday morning in place of batting practice. After the news sunk in, the team was informed it was only an April Fool's joke.