March 2014

3/28 Jackson ready for season

On Sept. 9, 2003, Edwin Jackson made his Major League debut in Phoenix against the Diamondbacks. He was pitching for the Dodgers at that time. That’s more than 10 years ago.

On Friday, Jackson had his best spring outing in his last start before the regular season, facing the Diamondbacks again at Chase Field. The right-hander gave up one hit over four scoreless innings and struck out two.

“It’s the last game to really go in and fine tune things before we get started officially,” Jackson said. “I just wanted to end on a positive note going into the season. I’m feeling pretty good and just came out throwing strikes.”

The right-hander led the National League in losses last year with 18, and was eager to start with a clean slate.

“I’m excited,” Jackson said. “Last year was a crazy year and it wasn’t a year I wanted to have. I’m going to go out and play the way I know I can play. I haven’t lost any confidence — I never lost any confidence last year. It was a tough season but at the end of the day, I came in the clubhouse, the same person, day in and day out. I’m ready to go out and show what I can do.”

– Carrie Muskat

3/28 Cubs lineup

Cubs face the Diamondbacks on Friday at Chase Field. Here’s the lineup:

Bonifacio SS
Lake LF
Rizzo 1B
Olt 3B
Schierholtz RF
Sweeney CF
Baker C
Barney 2B
Jackson P

3/28 Bullpen decisions

The Cubs’ rotation is set. The bullpen is still being evaluated. The Cubs headed into the final two exhibition games with some decisions to be made. Jose Veras, James Russell, Pedro Stop and Wesley Wright are set. There is still some debate about Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm and Hector Rondon, and the Cubs also are looking at some of the relievers who were assigned to the Minor Leagues earlier this spring.

Cabrera had looked sharp early but in his last two outings, he’s struggled, including a game against the Angels March 25 when the right-hander gave up five runs on four hits over one-third of an inning. Cabrera is out of options.

Among the pitchers at Chase Field on Friday for the final two games against the Diamondbacks were Brian Schlitter, Zac Rosscup, Neil Ramirez, Blake Parker, Armando Rivero and Jonathan Sanchez. All had been in big league camp at the start of Spring Training.

“We’re still winding it down,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “We haven’t finished our decisions and we’ll work through it in the next 24, 48 hours.”

The Cubs don’t need to set their 25-man Opening Day roster until Sunday in advance of Monday’s opener against the Pirates at PNC Park.

On Friday, Carlos Villanueva, who had been an option for the bullpen, was named the fifth starter.

“I think we have a way better team than we did [last year],” Villanueva said. “The fact that a lot of tough decisions came down to the wire let’s people know that we’re not all thinking about the future right now, we’re thinking about the present, and guys are thinking about now. We want to win now.”

– Carrie Muskat

3/28 Villanueva named 5th starter

Carlos Villanueva was tabbed as the Cubs’ fifth starter, and Chris Rusin is headed to Iowa. Cubs manager Rick Renteria announced the final rotation spot Friday at Chase Field before the game against the Diamondbacks.

As for the rest of the bullpen, that’s still being decided. They had 16 pitchers on the spring camp roster, including the five starters and three who will open on the disabled list (Jake Arrieta, Kyuji Fujikawa and James McDonald). Jose Veras, James Russell, Pedro Strop, and Wesley Wright are set. It also appears that Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm are in, too. On the bubble: Alberto Cabrera, who has struggled recently.

One option the Cubs are considering is adding someone who was assigned to the Minor League camp earlier. The pitchers at Chase Field Friday night include Neil Ramirez, Brian Schlitter, Zac Rosscup, Armando Rivero and Jonathan Sanchez. One of them could be an option.

The Cubs currently have 38 players on the 40-man roster. They could put Fujikawa on the 60-day DL, which would open another spot on the 40-man. They need to find room on the 40-man roster for at least three players, Ryan Kalish, John Baker and Emilio Bonifacio.

– Carrie Muskat

3/27 Cubs 4, White Sox 3

Ryan Sweeney hit his first spring home run to lift the Cubs to a 4-3 victory Thursday over the White Sox in front of 15,170 at Cubs Park, setting a single-season Cactus League record. The Cubs drew 213,815 at the new ballpark, breaking the old mark of 203,105, which the team set in 2009 at HoHoKam Stadium. In 15 home games, the Cubs averaged 14,254 fans, tops in the Cactus League, and Cubs Park now has the top 11 single game Cactus League attendance marks.

Travis Wood, who will start the second game of the regular season for the Cubs on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, gave up two hits over three scoreless innings. The lefty is ready to play games that count.

“I think that’s unanimous around the clubhouse — everybody is ready to get away from here and get things rolling,” Wood said.

Wood is coming off his first 200-inning season, and took the same approach this offseason.

“I took the same approach as I did the offseason before last,” he said. “It seemed to work for me last year and I didn’t want to change anything and keep everything in stride and keep it rolling.”

Sweeney made it 2-0 with a leadoff home run in the second, his first this spring. It was the 36th home run by the Cubs this spring, tops in the Majors.

* On deck: The Cubs close the exhibition season with games Friday and Saturday at Chase Field against the Diamondbacks. Edwin Jackson will start Friday for Chicago. Shortstop Starlin Castro, injured in the third Cactus League game March 2, hopes to play both games in his final tune up for the regular season. The game will be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet and Cubs.com.

3/27 Olt makes Opening Day roster

Mike Olt knew from the first pitch he saw in live batting practice that his vision problems were over. On Thursday, he found out he was going to be on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster.

A first-round pick by the Rangers in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Olt began 2013 at Triple-A Round Rock, and was batting .139 on April 25 when he asked for some help. In November 2012, he was hit in the head while playing in the Dominican Republic winter league, and was having problems seeing. He’s overcome the vision problems, and battled a tender right shoulder this spring in camp.

“We’re excited for Mike,” GM Jed Hoyer said. “I think he’s proved himself here in Spring Training but he probably feels like he’s got a lot more to prove. This is the exhibition season and now we have to go play real games. I’m excited for him that he was able to come in here and do what he did in Spring Training.”

When did Olt know he was over his vision problems?

“First pitch of live BP,” he said. “Picking up the spin is just what I needed. Last year, I couldn’t pick up the spin. This year, I was able to see the ball and get a good curveball to hit instead of swinging at something in the dirt. I was happy with the swings I’ve made this spring training. Even my strikeouts have been some of my best at-bats.”

Getting the news was a bit of redemption.

“I worked hard this offseason coming from last year,” he said. “It was a tough year. I think it made me a better player, a better person. Just a little bump in the road. I know what I’m capable of doing. I’m just happy I was able to come here and do my job.

“I was extremely excited [at the news]. Just to get an opportunity like this is something that every kid dreams about. Now that it’s really true, I haven’t had time to really sit back and think about it, but it’s something that I’ll never forget.”

He hopes to be able to play every day but the Cubs will monitor his shoulder.

Olt is excited about what he’s seen in Cubs camp so far.

“Theo and Jed have a plan going for the Cubs,” Olt said. “Just listening to it, you get goosebumps with what they’re trying to do. To be a part of that is definitely something special.”

– Carrie Muskat

3/27 Happy birthday, Ryan Kalish

Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein know Ryan Kalish well. The outfielder was the Red Sox’s ninth-round pick in 2006, and had a lot of potential but he was injured after colliding with an outfield wall in April 2011. He eventually needed cervical fusion surgery, which involves the removal of a disc in his neck, and the insertion of a metal plate. It’s the same surgery Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had, and Kalish had the same doctor, spinal specialist Robert Watkins, and even stayed in the same hospital room.

“He’s a solid defender, runs well, puts together a great at-bat, whether it’s against righties or lefties,” manager Rick Renteria said of Kalish. “He been down for awhile with different issues over the past couple years and he’s extremely happy to be a part of the organization and part of the club. He did a nice job this spring.”

After going through the surgery and the rehab and missing all of last season, Kalish admitted he got a little emotional when told he would be on the Opening Day roster.

“I got choked up a little bit,” Kalish said. “It’s been such a wild ride to even think I’d be starting Opening Day for the Cubs this year after being in a cervical fusion recovery room overnight is just pretty wild. This is a really awesome day for myself and everyone who has seen what I’ve gone through. My family is just ecstatic.”

He still has a lot of maintenance work to do on his body. Making the team is one step, he said.

“There’s a greater sense of something bigger going on than one day of being called up,” he said. “I want to be a part of what we want to make happen. This is one really cool day and tomorrow’s my birthday, so today is pretty cool. Tomorrow, we’re working. We have a bigger goal than one call-up on one day. I’m very fortunate and blessed.”

He’ll turn 26 on Friday.

“I’m young,” he said. “I still have a lot of years, a lot of legs left to improve my game, and do what the Cubs want me to do, be a leader, play hard, get on base, steal.”

– Carrie Muskat

3/27 Roster moves – Updated

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer announces Mike Olt and Ryan Kalish have made the Opening Day roster, and Ryan Roberts and Chris Coghlan did not. Roberts has requested and been granted his release, and is now a free agent. Coghlan was headed to Triple-A Iowa.

The pitching moves are still to come. The Cubs have 16 pitchers in camp. Hoyer did say they will have five starters. Of the 16, three will open on the DL — Jake Arrieta, James McDonald and Kyuji Fujikawa. Here are the pitchers remaining:

Starters who are set:
Samardzija
Jackson
Hammel
Wood

Relievers who are set:
Russell
Strop
Veras
Wright

5th starter candidates:
Rusin
Villanueva

Headed to DL:
Arrieta
Fujikawa
McDonald

To be determined:
Cabrera
Grimm
Rondon

3/27 Castro: “I’ve got to be ready”

Starlin Castro will play again in a Minor League game Thursday as he continues his tune up for the regular season. Castro injured his right hamstring on March 2, and hopes to play in the Cubs’ final exhibition games Friday and Saturday at Chase Field against the Diamondbacks.

On Wednesday in the Minors, he was active.

“I hit a double, scored from second to home, hit a triple, ran the bases pretty good,” Castro said Thursday.

Is he 100 percent healthy?

“Yeah,” Castro said. “I don’t feel anything. I moved on defense yesterday, took a lot of ground balls, moving quick, feel pretty good.”

Opening Day is Monday.

“I’ve got to be ready,” Castro said. “No more time. No more Minor Leagues. I bat every time — four every day, five at-bats every day. No more Minor Leagues. The show is coming.”

– Carrie Muskat

3/27 Cubs lineup

Travis Wood gets the start Thursday in the Cubs’ last Cactus League game at Cubs Park in Mesa. They’ll close against their crosstown rivals, the White Sox. Mike Olt will be the designated hitter. Here’s the lineup:

Bonifacio SS
Kalish RF
Rizzo 1B
Olt DH
Sweeney CF
Castillo C
Ruggiano LF
Valabuena 3B
Barney 2B

T. Wood P

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