3/7 Extra bases – UPDATED

* If Thursday was Opening Day, Starlin Castro would be in the Cubs lineup, but because it’s early March, the shortstop is still rehabbing. Castro has been sidelined since Feb. 27 with a tight hamstring. He could return Monday, or the team may take advantage of Tuesday’s off day and give the shortstop one more day before having him play Wednesday.

“If it was Opening Day, he’d be playing,” Sveum said. “I don’t think he has to worry about his job.”

Castro was able to take batting practice and also take part in the bunting tournament. More on that below.

Brent Lillibridge, who injured his groin on Feb. 27, also was projected to return to the lineup either Monday or Wednesday.

* Scott Baker threw a two inning simulated game on a back field at HoHoKam Stadium Thursday and the Cubs were encouraged by the velocity of his pitches. The next step will be to pitch in a Minor League game next week. If all goes well, the right-hander, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, would then make his first Cactus League appearance.

“He got up to 89 miles an hour today in the second inning and let it go today a lot more,” Sveum said of Baker. “He felt good, finished good. It all went really well, especially the second inning when he cranked it up a little bit.”

* Rule 5 Draft pick Hector Rondon continues to impress. He gave up one hit and struck out one on Wednesday against the Rangers. He has given up two hits over four innings in four outings this spring.

“His fastball was OK, but it was impressive how he snapped off the breaking balls that he’s been working on,” Sveum said. “It wasn’t really in his tool box coming into spring and [pitching coach Chris Bosio] has been working on a little bit better breaking ball. [Rondon] pulled them off in some key spots.”

* Some of the Cubs played a doubleheader on Thursday, appearing in both the early “B” game and the regular Cactus League game against the Rangers. Sveum called it a learning experience for some of the young players, who saw some big league pitching most of the day, and saw quite a variety of arm action, including some sidearm delivery.

“They got a little taste of everything to understand what 162 games of Major League pitching is all about,” Sveum said. “That’s where you have to evaluate yourself as a player like maybe, ‘Whoa, I might have to adjust some things to hit this kind of pitching 162 days.’”

* The Cubs bunting tournament resumed Thursday with sweet 16 matches between Edwin Jackson and Casey Coleman, and Starlin Castro and defending champ David DeJesus. Jackson narrowly beat Coleman, who won the defending champion among the pitchers last year. DeJesus needed 35 points in the final round to beat Castro, and he got that on his first three bunts, hitting the “20″ mark, then “10,” then “5.” Well done.

* Looking ahead to Friday’s game in Goodyear, Nick Struck will start and be followed by Chris Rusin. It’ll be Struck’s second Cactus League start. He held the Angels to two hits over three innings in his last outing. On Saturday, Brooks Raley and Alberto Cabrera will face the Indians. The Cubs have been strugging to score runs.

“We’re all looking forward to that day when we have [Anthony] Rizzo back and [Starlin] Castro is healthy and you have your core players out there,” Sveum said.

– Carrie Muskat

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