Chicago Cubs: Chris Rusin

Chris Rusin recalled, Blake Parker optioned

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
7:22
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs have recalled left-handed pitcher Chris Rusin while optioning righty Blake Parker to Triple-A Iowa, the team announced Wednesday.

Rusin is needed as the Cubs bullpen is taxed after a 16-inning game on Tuesday, during which catcher John Baker got the win over the Colorado Rockies after throwing an inning in relief. Seven relievers combined to pitch 12 scoreless innings in the tilt, leaving the Cubs down several bullpen arms for Wednesday night’s game.

Parker threw two innings on Tuesday night in the victory. He’s been up and down with the Cubs several times already this season.

Rusin has appeared in two games for the Cubs this season and is 7-11 with a 3.76 ERA for Iowa.

Cubs bid farewell to Samardzija, Hammel

July, 5, 2014
Jul 5
4:13
PM CT
By Benjamin Standig
ESPNChicago.com
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Professionally speaking, Jeff Samardzija grew up with the Cubs. Chicago selected the 6-foot-5 pitcher in the fifth round of the 2006 amateur draft. Samardzija made his big league debut in 2008, made 83 starts over the next six seasons and made plenty of friends in the locker room along the way.

Those days are done, with the Cubs anyway. After yearlong rumors, Chicago sent Samardzija and pitcher Jason Hammel to the Oakland A's late Friday night in a trade that looked more toward the future than the present.

Starlin Castro
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesStarlin Castro isn't concerned that the Cubs traded for top prospect Addison Russell, who also plays shortstop.
Samardzija's teammates focused on the past when asked for reaction before Saturday's road game against the Washington Nationals.

"We shared a beer and a cigarette and sent him on his way," reliever James Russell said. "It's not fun. We have been through this before. It's just tough to see your boys leave."

Second baseman Darwin Barney had a more difficult time finding the proper sendoff.

“It’s always hard to say goodbye to a dude. What do you do? Do you slap hands? Do you hug? It’s tough," Barney joked. "We’ve known each other for so long and we have built a relationship. He throws ground balls and I catch ground balls.”

Samardzija (2-7, 2.83) was scheduled to pitch Saturday. He is also scheduled to become a free agent after the 2015 season. The two sides could not come to terms on a long-term extension.

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Villanueva (inexplicably) gets another start

April, 26, 2014
Apr 26
5:57
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MILWAUKEE -- Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva is getting another start in the rotation despite giving up 30 hits over his last three, all losses.

“I think right now, the way everything is set up, he’s still scheduled to throw Wednesday,” manager Rick Renteria said before Saturday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Villanueva lasted five innings Friday night in a 5-2 loss. He gave up all five runs to the Brewers on 11 hits. For the season, he’s thrown 19 total innings while giving up a whopping 40 hits. His .412 batting average against is the worst in the league among anyone that’s started four or more games.

The Cubs are awaiting the return of starter Jake Arrieta from a rehab assignment -- that’s the only reason Villanueva has been starting. Arrieta is due to throw a few innings Saturday night for Double-A Tennessee before rejoining the team but he won’t be able to pitch Wednesday without going on short rest. So that’s why Villanueva and his 10.42 ERA get one more turn.

“Right now, he’s still on track,” Renteria said.

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Cubs recall Parker, option Rusin

April, 13, 2014
Apr 13
12:46
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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ST. LOUIS -- The Chicago Cubs recalled righty pitcher Blake Parker from Triple-A Iowa and sent lefty Chris Rusin back down to Triple-A after he threw five innings in Saturday’s 10-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

“Parker gives a fresh arm,” manager Rick Renteria said Sunday morning.

The Cubs have been using their right-handed relievers often this season, having played three extra-inning games already. Parker was one of the last cuts at the end of spring training.

“I didn’t really pitch the way I wanted to,” he said. “My arm felt good, my body felt good but I just wasn’t getting it done.”

Parker posted a 2.72 ERA in 49 relief appearances for the Cubs last season and is the all-time saves leader for Iowa with 42. The Cubs have an opening at closer now that Jose Veras has been relieved of those duties.

“It’s the hardest job for a pitcher, to get those last three outs,” Parker said. “I just want to get outs whether that be in the ninth inning or the sixth inning.”

Renteria has indicated he’ll use the best matchup when it comes to closing out games right now, until someone emerges as a longer-term solution.

Cubs' closer problems trickle down

April, 12, 2014
Apr 12
6:12
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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ST. LOUIS -- Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer called the pitching problems associated with the Cubs closing situation right now, “collateral damage.” That’s because with blown saves come extra-inning games which can tax a bullpen.

Twice in the first two weeks, pitcher Jose Veras has given up a lead, sending a game (Friday night) into overtime and extending another one (in Pitt) even longer into the night. It’s added six more innings of work for the relief group and some of them have been struggling. The Cubs bullpen has a collective 4.14 ERA, that ranks 18th in baseball right now. Their three blown saves are already the most in the game as of Saturday afternoon.

That was the reason for the emergency call-up of Chris Rusin on Saturday morning. He threw five, good innings of one-run ball in relief of Carlos Villanueva -- and then was sent back down to Triple-A Iowa -- in the Cubs' 10-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday afternoon.

“That was a great pick up for us today,” manager Rick Renteria said afterwards regarding Rusin saving his bullpen. “Right now we’re just happy he was able to give us the (five) innings that he did.”

He helped save a bullpen that Veras has thrown into flux, though Renteria hasn’t been using everyone equally. Lefty Wesley Wright hasn’t pitched since April 4 while Rusin threw five innings the day he was called up.

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Cubs recall Rusin, option Schlitter

April, 12, 2014
Apr 12
1:26
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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ST. LOUIS -- The Chicago Cubs recalled left-handed pitcher Chris Rusin from Triple-A Iowa while optioning righty Brian Schlitter to Iowa.

Rusin, 27, has appeared in 20 games for the Cubs over the last two seasons, all as a starter. He’ll initially pitch in relief as the Cubs have played three extra-inning games so far and seven of 10 have been decided by two runs or less. They’re in need of a long reliever as Carlos Villanueva is in the starting rotation until Jake Arrieta returns from shoulder problems.

Rusin is 4-9 with a 4.69 ERA over two seasons. Schiltter, 28, was a surprise addition to the roster out of spring training but isn’t suited for long relief. He had a 6.35 ERA in six appearances this season.

Samardzija sharp in loss, but not Rusin

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
7:12
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs got hammered by the Arizona Diamondbacks 14-4 after giving up 20 hits, including six home runs.

The good: Jeff Samardzija wasn't a problem on the mound, as he finished his spring with a three-inning, one-run performance. Afterward he declared himself ready for the regular season, which might be his last as a Cub. He'll start Opening Day in Pittsburgh on Monday. Nate Schierholtz had a three-hit day.

The bad: Chris Rusin, vying for the fifth starting spot, got pounded to the tune of 10 hits and nine runs in just 2.2 innings. In fairness, Rusin came on in relief of Samardzija, and that's not his normal routine. It remains to be seen what effect it will have on the starters’ competition. Reliever Alberto Cabrera also got hit for the second outing in a row, giving up a two-run homer in his one inning of work.

Starlin Castro: Castro was scheduled to play six to seven innings in a minor league game on Wednesday. The Cubs will determine afterward if he's ready for a major league exhibition game before the start of the season. Otherwise, Castro will stick to getting time in with the minor leaguers. He's recovering from a hamstring strain suffered on March 2.

What's next: The Cubs continue their Cactus League schedule on Thursday with a 2 p.m. CT matchup with the White Sox. Travis Wood will start as the Cubs will remain in Arizona for two more exhibition games against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Friday and Saturday before leaving for Pittsburgh to play the Pirates.

Roster decisions: Olt's chances look good

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
4:01
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MESA, Ariz. -- With final spring roster moves imminent Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria dropped hints on Tuesday morning on which direction he's leaning when it comes to several issues:

Mike Olt



It's looking more like Olt will make the team after a strong spring where he put vision problems behind him with long home runs and hard-hit outs.

"He's really seeing the ball well," Renteria said. "He's obviously putting a charge into the baseball. And he's looked like the guy from the offensive side that everyone expected to see a few years ago."

Analysis: A sore shoulder slowed Olt's progress in the field, but he's been playing third base for about a week. Although he made two errors in one inning over the weekend, he's reporting no issues with his throwing shoulder. At this point there is no reason Olt shouldn't make the 25-man roster.

[+] EnlargeDarwin Barney, Eric Sogard
Lance Iversen/USA TODAY SportsDarwin Barney is facing several threats to his job at second base.

Second base



Renteria backed off earlier statements this spring regarding Darwin Barney being his full-time starter there. Renteria was asked again on Tuesday if Barney was the man at second base.

"As we go into the season we have certain guys that are going to play a particular position and the second day you might see a different lineup," Renteria said.

Analysis: That can be a nod toward Luis Valbuena, who leads baseball this spring with six home runs. Or Renteria could be referencing Emilio Bonifacio, who is one behind for the lead in triples. And with Javier Baez potentially getting a call-up at second base later this season, the heat is on Barney from all over. But Renteria was right to point out that Barney's defense has great value. The bottom line is there will be more mixing and matching at several positions this season.

The closer



Despite a rough spring, Jose Veras is still the closer. Veras has a 7.88 ERA and has given up 11 hits in eight innings this spring but at least his eight strikeouts show he can still bring it at times.

"Veras knows how to get himself ready," Renteria said. "Most closers during the spring don't have the best outings. I'm not concerned ... When the lights turn on sometimes it's a whole different ballgame."

Analysis: Pitching in the middle of games and in spring save situations isn't close to the adrenaline rush a closer feels in the ninth inning of a packed major league stadium so Renteria is on the mark to a certain extent. But any pitcher this side of Mariano Rivera probably would like to know his stuff is ready for real action, and we have yet to see that from Veras. This isn't a grizzled veteran with 100 saves or more. This will be just his second year closing.

Starlin Castro



Even though Starlin Castro hasn't played in a Cactus League game since March 2, it still sounds like he will be ready for Opening Day as his recovery from a strained hamstring is almost complete.

"I'm totally comfortable with his health," Renteria said. "Totally comfortable."

Analysis: That means the Cubs won't have to make any dramatic roster moves to accommodate a disabled list stint or Castro's limited ability to play next week. Castro will participate in another minor league game on Wednesday after spending the day doing non-game drills on Tuesday. He'll play six or seven innings in the field before the Cubs decide if he's ready for exhibition games at the end of the week. It's not the perfect scenario for the start of his season, but if he's 100 percent on Opening Day then the Cubs took the right precautions.

Fifth starter



This was the only storyline in which Renteria didn't show his hand as he chooses between lefty Chris Rusin or righty Carlos Villanueva to start in the place of the ailing Jake Arrieta.

"We're putting our heads together," Renteria said of discussing the decision with Cubs brass and coaches.

Analysis: Rusin had a strong finish to last season and a better spring plus he would be on pace to start against the Philadelphia Phillies opening weekend. Renteria already pushed lefty Travis Wood to throw against the left-handed dominant lineup so it would only make sense that Rusin pitches against them as well. It would leave Villanueva in his long man role which he'll have anyway when Arrieta returns later in April.

Will Olt make Opening Day roster?

March, 23, 2014
Mar 23
1:35
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Mike OltJoe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsMike Olt's spring has made him a real contender to start the year at third for the Cubs.
MESA, Ariz. -- It’s that time in spring training when the roster crunch is on. With less than a week before camp breaks the Chicago Cubs have some decisions to make, none bigger than what to do with third base prospect Mike Olt.

Olt has re-found his swing (.275, 4 HRs, 9 RBIs) this spring, and what looked like an early-season platoon at third between Donnie Murphy and Luis Valbuena has become more complicated. In a good way.

Meanwhile, pitcher Chris Rusin (0.84 WHIP) has given manager Rick Renteria something to think about as the Cubs will need a new fifth starter for a while in April with Jake Arrieta still on the mend.

Assuming the Cubs keep 13 position players and 12 pitchers, here’s how the roster shapes up before any surprises:

Infield
Anthony Rizzo
Darwin Barney
Starlin Castro
Luis Valbuena
Donnie Murphy
Welington Castillo
George Kottaras

Outfield
Nate Schierholtz
Ryan Sweeney
Justin Ruggiano
Junior Lake
Infield/Outfield
Emilio Bonifacio

Position player analysis: The final roster spot should come down to Olt and non-roster invitee Ryan Kalish. Kalish is healthy for the first time in three years and is showing why he was rising prospect with the Boston Red Sox before injuries derailed him. His speed and athleticism, along with his bat (.300), make him intriguing. But he hasn’t played much in the last couple of years so getting some playing time in the minors instead of sitting on the bench in the majors might be ideal for him.

The bottom line is there is no reason Olt shouldn’t be the opening day third baseman. Valbuena can spell him, as well as Barney, when necessary. Murphy can cover for Castro, as the latter might be slow to play right away in cold weather due to his hamstring issue. And when a tough lefty is throwing against the Cubs, Olt can move over to first and Murphy to third to get as many righties in the lineup as possible. Olt needs to start his major league career. He's not 21, he's 25 and he's proven exactly what he needed to this spring -- he's seemingly over his vision problems.

Bonifacio is also an option anywhere, considering he can play both infield and outfield and is a switch hitter. Renteria simply has more -- and potentially better -- options than his predecessor did.

Pitchers:
Jeff Samardzija
Travis Wood
Edwin Jackson
Jason Hammel
Jake Arrieta (DL)
Carlos Villanueva
Alberto Cabrera
Pedro Strop
Hector Rondon
Justin Grimm
James Russell
Wesley Wright
Jose Veras

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Pitching Analysis: Who makes up the middle of the bullpen is less important out of spring training, because it’s bound to change -- possibly as soon as the first week. It did last year.

In projecting, a lot depends on who throws in Arrieta’s place. If it’s Villanueva, then the pitching staff is set until Arrieta returns. If it’s Rusin, then someone has to be sent down to the minors.

Grimm and Rondon are two guys with “options”, meaning they can be sent to Triple-A without having to clear waivers, so there’s a good chance one of them would go. Blake Parker, cut on Saturday, is probably “first up” if there is an injury or someone struggles. And flamethrower Arodys Vizcaino is waiting in the wings at Iowa as well.

The next round of cuts should take place after a day/night doubleheader on Tuesday as the final days of spring training are upon us. The crunch is on.

Cubs win in one of better spring games

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
6:08
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Chicago Cubs shut out the White Sox, 7-0, in the first of two Cactus League games between the teams. The rematch and spring finale for both will take place next Thursday in Mesa.

The good: Luis Valbuena smacked two home runs and Mike Olt added two more hits as the Cubs offense showed some signs of life after several quiet days. Even a struggling Junior Lake got into the action with two hits and a ninth-inning RBI. Chris Rusin pitched five shutout innings, and Alberto Cabrera and Wesley Wright did their jobs out of the bullpen for an inning each. The Cubs also flashed some leather as Javier Baez and Valbuena made diving stops leading to outs. Overall, it was one of the better games for the Cubs this spring.

What it means: It could mean a lot for guys like Rusin and Valbuena, who are in a fight for playing time once the regular season begins. Olt has come on strong, so if he plays third base, Valbuena might see some time at second. He has the advantage of being the only lefty among Olt, Donnie Murphy and Darwin Barney. Rusin is vying for the fifth starter’s job.

Baez leaves: Baez left the game after stepping awkwardly onto the first base bag after beating out an infield hit in the sixth inning. The Cubs are calling it a right heel contusion and say it's not a serious injury.

Arrieta throws: Pitcher Jake Arrieta threw his second live batting practice session as he recovers from shoulder stiffness. Arrieta threw 30-35 pitches as he continues to work on a five-day schedule. He could be available for a Cactus League game before spring training ends but will start the season on the disabled list.

Wood tuneup: Travis Wood threw in his last intense start of the spring, going six innings in a minor league contest. He gave up seven hits and three runs while striking out nine. He threw 102 pitches. Starters will back off on their pitch counts for their final spring starts over the next week.

Is it Rusin or Villanueva for 5th spot?

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
5:44
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs pitcher Chris Rusin stated his case to open the season as the team’s fifth starter with another impressive performance, this time shutting out the White Sox over five innings on Friday afternoon. He gave up two hits without walking anyone while striking out three.

“I was able to pound the zone with strikes with all my pitches,” Rusin said afterward. “So far, everything is going as planned.”

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He’s not just talking about Friday. Rusin is following up a very good spring in 2013 with another in 2014, and more importantly it’s coming together for him as the regular season approaches. In his last three appearances combined, he’s pitched 12 innings and given up just three hits and no runs.

With Jake Arrieta starting the season on the disabled list, Rusin could be the fifth starter -- or it could be Carlos Villanueva.

“It’s a competition,” Villanueva said after his last start Wednesday. “It’s fun and exciting for us and for the people that are choosing a guy.”

Rusin has been down this road before and isn’t trying to think about the roster spot -- at least not for the usual reasons.

“You have to figure out where you’re going to live and all that, so you start thinking about it a little bit,” he said.

Villanueva figures that in six of his nine big league seasons he’s been asked the question or dealt with the issue in some manner: is he a starter or reliever? His ability to do both might be his undoing, as Rusin has strictly been a starter in both the majors and minors the last two seasons.

“If it’s me (going to the bullpen), no problem,” Villanueva said. “I’ve done it before, going back and forth.”

It might come down to matchups. If the Cubs want to keep their pitchers on a five-day schedule as much as possible, there should be a need for a fifth starter April 6 against the Philadelphia Phillies and April 12 against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Phillies have a heavy left-handed lineup and the Cardinals have several from that side of the plate that are dangerous. They might be better suited for the lefty Rusin. And Rusin has gotten better with experience. He followed up a 6.37 ERA in 2012 with a 3.93 mark in 2013 pitching for the Cubs after trades or injuries depleted their starting staff.

“Just keep doing what I’m doing,” Rusin said about the final week of spring.

He should get one more start, as should Villanueva, but Rusin might be the frontrunner after another strong spring performance Friday.

Hendricks sent down, but for how long?

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15
3:16
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Kyle Hendricks Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY SportsThere's a good chance Kyle Hendricks will join the Cubs before season's end if he does well in Iowa.

MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs trimmed their roster to 53 on Saturday, sending right-handed pitcher Kyle Hendricks to minor league camp. He’s expected to start the season at Triple-A Iowa but could be an in-season call-up as he was the Cubs minor league pitcher of the year last season, going 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA between Double and Triple-A.

Hendricks threw eight innings over three starts in spring games, giving up five hits and three runs while walking six and striking out 10. The walks and strikeouts were a bit of surprise as Hendricks isn’t overpowering but usually has good control.

Friday was his best outing as he struck out four in three innings of shutout work against the Los Angeles Dodgers -- without giving up a hard hit ball. The way he pitched Friday is the way he’ll have success if he can maintain it: by fooling hitters with off-speed pitches like his changeup and painting the corners.

Hendricks was acquired in 2012 from Texas in a deal that sent Ryan Dempster to the Rangers. Various prospect rankings don’t rate him high due to his less than overpowering stuff but he’s defied those expectations, becoming the “next up” Cubs prospect among starting pitchers.

With James McDonald off to a slow start and Jake Arrieta hurting, the Cubs’ depth might be tested early. Lefty Chris Rusin is ahead of Hendricks as he’s been an in-season call-up the last two years, but he hasn’t grabbed a starting spot in the rotation. He could be the fifth starter once the season begins but with the Cubs penchant for trading veteran players, there could be openings on the mound as the season progresses.

Right now, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel are likely candidates to be moved by the trade deadline and there’s always a chance a team comes calling for Edwin Jackson and the two-plus years that will be remaining on his deal. So there’s a good chance Hendricks -- if he performs well in Iowa -- will see Wrigley Field before season’s end. Then he’ll get the chance to prove he’s part of the young, core group the Cubs hope to turn the corner with in the coming years. His major league education this spring is over, but Hendricks is bound to be heard from again very soon.

Cubs sign 19 players to 1-year deals

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
2:50
PM CT
By ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
The Chicago Cubs agreed to contract terms Monday with 19 players all with fewer than three years of experience, including catcher Welington Castillo, outfielder Junior Lake and pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Also signed were pitchers Zac Rosscup, Chris Rusin, Dallas Beeler, Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm, Blake Parker Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon and Arodys Vizcaino. Infielders Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt, Christian Villanueva and Logan Watkins as well as outfielders Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur and Josh Vitters were also signed to contracts.

Terms of the contracts were not disclosed.

Cubs lose 15-3; Rusin, McDonald struggle

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
6:34
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs lost 15-3 to the Los Angeles Angels in their first road game of the spring:

The good: Kris Bryant homered in his first at-bat of the spring after Albert Almora doubled before him. Those two prospects lived up to the hype for one day. Bryant's long ball came after a long at-bat, during which he fouled off several pitches before hitting a slider out to dead center field on a 3-2 count. Darwin Barney went 2-for-2 with a home run, as well. Mike Trout hit a grand slam for the Angels.

The bad: Pitchers Chris Rusin and James McDonald struggled in their second innings of work, as both are vying for a starting spot in case teammate Jake Arrieta can't start the season on time. Rusin said his mechanics got away from him in a four-run second inning for the Angels, and McDonald had the trainer worried about fatigue during a nine-run fourth inning. He was eventually pulled. In fact, the Cubs had to make two pitching changes that inning, as Jonathan Sanchez was ineffective, as well. Combined, Rusin and McDonald gave up 10 runs, eight hits and four walks.

What's next: The Cubs are scheduled to play two games Saturday, but rain in the forecast could cause problems. Travis Wood will make his spring debut against the San Francisco Giants in Mesa, and Edwin Jackson takes the mound at night against the Arizona Diamondbacks. If rain washes out the games, the Cubs will "shift to the cages," according to manager Rick Renteria. The team has indoor pitching mounds so pitchers can get some work in as well. The Cubs are 0-2 in Cactus League play so far.

Notes: Arrieta continues to throw off flat ground, "extending his distances," Renteria said. There is no timetable for his return to the mound as he recovers from shoulder stiffness. ... Mike Olt has been experiencing some shoulder soreness, so he hasn't been playing third base in games yet. Renteria said it's normal stiffness for some guys early in spring training but nothing serious. Olt will DH and play first base until ready.

Quotable

"There's lightning in that bat. It'll be nice to put our eyes on him in the game." -- Renteria, on top prospect Javier Baez before his first start

"I want to repeat what I'm doing up there. That's the goal. It's Day 1. There's a long spring ahead." -- Barney, after homering in his second at-bat Friday

Cactus League: Five things to watch

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
9:29
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
MESA, Ariz. -- The Cactus League schedule begins for the Chicago Cubs on Thursday when they play their debut game at new Cubs Park against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Here are five things to keep an eye on during spring games:

Third base: The baseball world is aware of what Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy can do at the hot corner and although they did a respectable job there in 2013, there is talent behind them in the form of high-ceiling prospects. Mike Olt, acquired in the deal that sent Matt Garza to Texas last season, says he's seeing the ball well after vision problems plagued him in 2013. Now he has to show that in games. If he takes the job -- and keeps it -- it could have long term ramifications at the position. If not, Murphy and Valbuena will keep the position warm until Kris Bryant or another prospect is ready.

[+] EnlargeEmilio Bonifacio
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriWill Emilio Bonifacio push Darwin Barney at second base?
Starting rotation: The usual names need to get ready for the season, possibly none more than Edwin Jackson. Spring results don't mean a lot, but for a pitcher coming off an 8-18 season, any kind of confidence boost can't be a bad thing. How serious is Jake Arrieta's shoulder injury? The rest of the spring will tell that story. If he's unable to pitch then James McDonald and Chris Rusin are next up. Rusin starts Friday and can make an immediate impression on his new manager. And then there is Kyle Hendricks. He's a longshot to make the team, but if he pitches as he did in the intrasquad game on Wednesday, going eight up and eight down, he could open some more eyes.

The outfield: On paper, the Cubs don't exactly have the strongest group heading into the regular season. Junior Lake will get his playing time but could the much-maligned Josh Vitters or Brett Jackson win a job? Without perennial All-Stars making big money out there someone could get pushed down the ladder. Right now Justin Ruggiano and Ryan Sweeney have a beat on starting jobs, but if Jackson or Vitters goes off in spring games, one of them could at least head north with the team. If there is a surprise in camp, it's most likely to come in the outfield. Lake is playing center and Ruggiano is in left for Thursday's opening game. It's still undecided where Lake's long-term future lies although he likes center better.

Second base: Is Darwin Barney on his way out or to the bench or does the late addition of Emilio Bonifacio just add depth? Bonifacio is getting the start ahead of Barney on Thursday but little can be deduced simply from that. Still, Bonifacio has skills the Cubs could use at the top of the order, but Barney has the skills to save runs at second base. One thing is for sure, the Cubs probably won't let Barney be the starter all season if his batting average hovers around .200 as it did last year. A good spring sets the tone but still might not stave off Javier Baez from playing there if he's called up this season.

Starlin Castro: Like Jackson, a rebound season is needed and he says he wants to be "locked in" from the beginning of spring games. It doesn't mean he has to hit .600 in February and March games, but with his newly added muscle and commitment to the game you'd like to see it pay off right away. Why wait until April? Castro never takes it easy once the games begin. He hates days off and so if he's going to play a lot it would be nice to see some production -- or at least an inkling that he's back to the old Castro.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jason Hammel
WINS ERA SO IP
8 2.98 104 108
OTHER LEADERS
BAS. Castro .284
HRA. Rizzo 30
RBIA. Rizzo 71
RA. Rizzo 81
OPSA. Rizzo .901
ERAT. Wood 4.91
SOT. Wood 126