3/24 Looper, pitching, Garza & more

Braden Looper doesn’t seem to have many options left with the Cubs. The right-hander, one of the candidates for the fifth starter spot, threw two innings in relief in the Cubs’ 8-7 win Thursday over the White Sox. Looper, who lives in the Chicago area, has said if he doesn’t make the Cubs, he will likely retire.

“He’s got two options — he’s got the back end of the bullpen and fifth starter,” manager Mike Quade said. “You believe he can do either one, if that’s the way we go. That versatility and the fact he’s a veteran all plays into it.”

Looper, who did not pitch in 2010 after failing to hook up with a team, said he prefers to start.

“You don’t know what they’re thinking or what they’re pondering,” Looper said of the Cubs’ front office. “I’ve come and done the best I can. Obviously, I had the terrible outing the other day but that doesn’t speak for all I did this spring.

“It’s one of those things — whatever happens, happens,” he said. “I’ll feel good about myself and move on, either way.”

* The Cubs have 16 pitchers in camp and need to trim four. Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Garza and Randy Wells are in the rotation. Looper, Carlos Silva and Andrew Cashner are fighting for the fifth spot.

Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall, John Grabow and Jeff Samardzija are set in the bullpen. That leaves lefty James Russell and right-handers Casey Coleman, Marcos Mateo and Jeff Stevens on the bubble. Russell served up back to back homers on consecutive pitches to two right-handed hitters in the eighth but also got Adam Dunn to ground out and end the inning. Quade spoke to Russell immediately after the inning was over.

“The main thing I told him was that he’ll have to get right-handers out, too,” Quade said. “His role will vary from time to time. … The job he did against Dunn in that at-bat was how I pictured using him the best we can.”

* The Pirates announced right-hander Kevin Correia will be their Opening Day starter on April 1 against the Cubs.

* Matt Garza didn’t get caught up in the Cubs/White Sox rivalry. He started Thursday, and gave up three runs on eight hits and two walks over five innings.

“It’s a baseball game,” Garza said of the intracity rivalry. “It’s more for the fans. You step on the mound and you’re just looking at who do I have? It’s not, ‘Oh, he’s wearing a Sox jersey, he’s wearing an A’s jersey, he’s wearing a Padres, Dodgers, Mets, Yankees’ — it doesn’t matter. It’s still baseball. They have a job to do to hit the ball and I have a job to do to get outs.”

Will it be more intense in the regular season?

“Nah,” Garza said. “Shoot, I played in Boston during the playoff run, stretch time, and you’re the most hated person on that hill. I’m pretty sure Chicago will like me a little better than that.”

* Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney turned two very nice double plays behind Garza in the third and fourth innings.

“You got stuff like that going on behind you, it’s a lot easier to pitch,” Garza said. “You’re a lot more confident, a lot more comfortable out there. That’s a good deal. I haven’t played in front of them very often but today they were a very good duo out there.”

Barney, who found out earlier in the day he had made the Opening Day roster, also hit a two-run triple, and Castro doubled and scored two runs.

* Alfonso Soriano hit his second homer this spring to right center in the fourth Thursday.

– Carrie Muskat

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