LAS VEGAS -- Jeff Samardzija appears to be close to locking up a spot in the Cubs' rotation.
"Obviously, that lock's getting a little closer and closer to being finalized," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Sunday, one day after Samardzija's four innings against the Rangers. The right-hander gave up one run on three hits. He has not walked a batter over 10 innings this spring.
"It's impressive and it's what organizations dream of -- a 6-foot-6, 240-pound athlete on the mound who has four pitches with velocity," Sveum said of Samardzija's performance. "It's impressive, there's no doubt about it. I don't think he's doing anything we didn't expect. The way he finished throwing the ball the last season, the mechanical changes he made, the confidence he gained. Now it's just full force right now."
Samardzija has about three starts remaining in Cactus League play. He's also got competition from Chris Volstad, Rodrigo Lopez, Travis Wood, and Randy Wells for the two openings in the rotation.
On Saturday, Samardzija faced the minimum in the first three innings and then the Rangers collected three straight singles in the fourth which led to their run.
"The thing people forget about hits is that even a lot of good pitchers will give up hits, singles," Sveum said. "It's the slugging percentage that you look for as much as anything with starting pitchers. I don't care what level you're at but it's difficult to string singles together to score runs.
"When you have starting pitchers who can go on the mound and keep the slugging percentage down through the course of the season as well as games, you'll be a lot better off," he said.
De La Cruz eager to help Cubs in any role
MESA, Ariz. -- When Frankie De La Cruz learned the Brewers had placed him on waivers, his first thought was Chicago.
On Friday, De La Cruz's hunch became a reality.
The right-handed reliever will be reunited with Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who was the Brewers' bench coach last season. De La Cruz, who spoke with the media Sunday morning for the first time since arriving in the Cubs' clubhouse, thinks Sveum's presence had something to do with his waiver claim.
"He knows what I can do, and he knows that I'm really a hard-working guy," De La Cruz said. "So, thank you for the opportunity."
The Cubs snatched up the 28-year-old, who has struggled mightily this spring. He has allowed seven earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. Because he has no options remaining, De La Cruz will either have to make the club out of spring camp, or head back to the waiver wire.
De La Cruz spent most of last season as a starter with Triple-A Nashville, though he's spent the spring coming out of the bullpen. With the Cubs split between Las Vegas -- where Sveum is -- and Mesa this weekend, he hadn't spoken to anybody within the organization as to what his role will be.
"I don't know yet if they want me to be a starting pitcher or in the bullpen, but whatever they want me to do, that's fine," he said.
Maddux enjoying time with brother, Rangers
LAS VEGAS -- Greg Maddux said it was hard for him to leave the Cubs organization, but he couldn't pass up the chance to work with his brother, Mike, who is the pitching coach with the Rangers.
"We've always wanted to be on the same team and we could never do it playing, but we have it worked out now," Greg Maddux said Sunday prior to the Cubs' split-squad game against the Rangers at Cashman Field. "I know before I took the job with the Cubs three years ago, there was some discussion about it and it never really set up right. This time it did."
Maddux, 45, was a special assistant to then Cubs GM Jim Hendry and now he has the same job with the Rangers. Mike Maddux had interviewed for the Cubs' managerial job. Did he and Greg talk about the two being on the same staff with Greg as the pitching coach?
"I'm not ready to go all in yet," Greg said. "It definitely would've been a good opportunity. Where his family life was at the time didn't make sense for him. He's got his family together again for the first time since he moved to Texas. He didn't want to lose them again. I think he'll be a good manager one day. When the time's right, I think he'll be good at it. He'll gain some more experience and knowledge and down the road sometime he'll be even more of a candidate."
Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, did talk to Maddux about staying with the team with which he began his career in 1986. Maddux pitched for the Cubs from 1986-92, and again from 2004-05.
"I think everybody understood," Maddux said. "When Jim and [scout] Gary Hughes and everybody kind of left, that was kind of my click. The thing here opened up with my brother and it just felt like the right thing to do for me personally and have him help me out doing what I'm doing and maybe I can help him a little, too."
Maddux is doing more coaching than scouting now with the Rangers.
"I enjoy working with the players here, just like I did in Chicago," he said. "I enjoy being around the coaches, I enjoy learning around the coaches, just like Chicago. It's pretty much the same thing, just new faces."
Does he feel he's still part of the Cubs?
"Always, always, always," Maddux said. "Chicago's a huge part of my baseball career. Always. We just got a new house last month and redecorated and there's a lot of Cubs stuff there. I have a lot of great memories. Absolutely."
Third baseman Ian Stewart had his return from a tight quad pushed back a day because Sunday's cold, rainy weather prevented him from going through running drills.Stewart was originally slotted into the lineup for Monday's game, but because he couldn't test the muscle on Sunday, it now looks as if he'll be in the lineup Tuesday after missing three days. Joe Mather, whose solo homer in the ninth sealed a 3-2 victory over the Rangers on Sunday, started in center field on Saturday and made a diving catch. So far, he's played first, third and the outfield and impressed the Cubs with his versatility. A non-roster invitee, Mather is close to securing a spot on the bench. They could use a right-handed bat.
His catch Saturday wasn't what got Cubs manager Dale Sveum's attention but rather how Mather was moving as the ball was being hit.
"He made the catch because of the jump he got on the ball," Sveum said. "That's just nice instincts. You look up and he's moving a la the Jim Edmonds of the world -- not that I'm putting Joe Mather in Jim Edmonds' category -- but it's nice to see that wherever I've put him, he's responded in any situation. The assets he brings to a National League team are incredible.
"For a National League manager, he's a dream, especially the way our lineup is," Sveum said.
Cubs pitchers entered Cactus League play Sunday with a 6.00 ERA, which could be cause for concern but Sveum didn't sound worried.
"It's mainly seeing how the ball comes out of their hand, are they capable of throwing strikes, are they capable of getting back in the counts, are they capable of getting back in counts with their secondary pitches?" Sveum said Sunday. "That's what you're evaluating on."
Darwin Barney took batting practice on Sunday and was expected to play Monday when the Cubs travel to Peoria, Ariz., to face the Mariners. Barney has been sidelined with a sore left side.
Rafael Dolis appears to be a leading candidate for the other setup job open in the bullpen. The right-hander just needs to show he can be consistent with his pitches. Dolis appeared in one game last season with the big league team, so he doesn't have much experience.
"You don't get experience unless you're getting thrown in the fire," Sveum said.
Villa Park, Ill., based band The Fold won WGN Radio's Cubs song contest with the tune, "Let's Go Cubbies." The station received more than 300 entries. The song will be played during the introduction to every Cubs broadcast on WGN Radio.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. AJ Cassavell is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.