3/18 Two weeks to go
The Cubs have a night game Tuesday in Surprise against the Rangers. There are 13 games remaining in Spring Training. Is it crunch time?
“I think some people are slow Spring Training guys, and a lot of us are like, ‘OK, let’s get going,’ so they’re hitting their stride when the season starts,” Donnie Murphy said. “I wouldn’t say it’s ‘crunch time.’ It’s more getting more hits, having more solid at-bats the closer you get to the season more than anything.”
What do the Cubs still have to do? Here’s a list:
1. Complete the rotation
Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel are set. James McDonald threw two pitches on Monday, and was pulled because of shoulder stiffness. That leaves Chris Rusin, who has looked really good, and Tsuyoshi Wada as options for the fifth spot. Carlos Villanueva also could step in if needed, although Rick Renteria says they like the right-hander more as a swing man. Villanueva will start Wednesday.
2. Finalize the bullpen spots
Jose Veras is set at closer. Who sets him up? James Russell should be fine after being slowed with a tired arm. The Cubs have to decide what to do with Jonathan Sanchez, Neil Ramirez, Justin Grimm and Blake Parker. Alberto Cabrera has given up one run on three hits in five innings over five games, and he’s out of options. The surprise this spring has been Arodys Vizcaino, who has served up two hits and one walk over three innings in three games. He’s throwing 98 mph.
3. Third base
Do the Cubs go with a combo of Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy, or do they give the job to Mike Olt? Olt has been unable to play third because of a tender right shoulder, but will get time there this week. He’s batting .241 with 11 strikeouts, but also shares the team lead with three home runs.
4. Figure out the bench
Junior Lake has struggled this spring. Is he ready for full work? Or is Ryan Kalish a better option for the outfield, even though he’s another left-handed bat. Chris Valaika can play anywhere but is batting .207 this spring. They like Emilio Bonifacio as a leadoff option.
5. Enjoy the kid
Javier Baez started at second base on Monday, and the Cubs want him to play third base as well before Cactus League games finish. The front office has repeated over and over that Baez will open as Iowa’s shortstop. These last two weeks will give Renteria and others one last look at their top prospect.
— Carrie Muskat