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Cactus League rotation set through 5 games

2/25/2014

MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria announced his initial pitching rotation for Cactus League games following Thursday's opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Jeff Samardzija will take the mound that day as the Cubs open their new spring stadium.

Then lefty Chris Rusin will pitch Friday against the Los Angeles Angels while Travis Wood takes on San Francisco in a matinee game on Saturday. Edwin Jackson throws in the nightcap against the Diamondbacks. Jason Hamel makes his Cubs debut on Sunday when he faces the Kansas City Royals.

Renteria hasn't committed to an Opening Day starter yet, and although Rusin gets a start the first week of spring play, there's no indication he has the inside track to be in the rotation if Jake Arrieta isn't ready to pitch in April. Rusin, along with James McDonald and Carlos Villanueva, will be vying for that role if Arrieta isn't fully recovered from the shoulder stiffness he experienced over the winter.

Intrasquad on Wednesday: Before starting the long Cactus League schedule, the Cubs will play each other in their new stadium on Wednesday afternoon. Minor league pitchers Eric Jokisch and Kyle Hendricks are slated to start the game, which is open to the public.

The Cubs say stadium access will begin at 12:30 p.m. local time, with first pitch about 1 p.m. The game will last six innings.

New collision rule: The Cubs are still digesting the new collision rules at home plate between the catcher and baserunner, though they've been working with it in mind on things like positioning and sweep tags. Some still don't know how they feel about the rule changes.

The new MLB rule bans most home plate collisions but leaves open an exception if the catcher has the ball and is blocking the runner's direct path to home plate.

"It's been around the game for a long time," spring invitee Eli Whiteside said of collisions at home plate. "You don't want to see anyone get hurt. I don't know. It's a tough call either way."

Whiteside was on the bench when San Francisco Giants star catcher Buster Posey broke his leg in a home plate collision in 2011. In fact, Whiteside replaced Posey in the lineup when he left the game. Since then there's been a movement to change the rule.

"It's a gray area," Whiteside said of the new rules. "It's tough to hold your ground and play the ball at the same time."

The bottom line is catchers can't block the plate without the ball and runners are encouraged to slide and avoid contact. But Whiteside wonders if that gray area could cause problems.

"Even if it's a bad throw and there's no play at the plate, you have to play the ball so the batter doesn't advance on the throw," he said of contact possibly occurring anyway. "We'll see how it plays out, I guess."