03/24/2013 4:37 PM ET
Bullpen competition slims as Cubs option Dolis
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The competition for the final spot in the Cubs bullpen was down to three pitchers after the team announced it had optioned Rafael Dolis to Triple-A Iowa on Sunday.
Dolis has been limited by a blister but did pitch one inning on Saturday. The three remaining in contention include Zach Putnam, Cory Wade and Hisanori Takahashi, who is the only left-hander in the mix.
"The thing about [Takahashi] is he doesn't hurt himself," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "He throws strikes, he can get back in counts with breaking balls and do a lot of things."
Putnam, 25, has appeared in 10 big league games over two years for the Indians and Rockies. In five Minor League seasons, he has a 3.90 ERA in 171 games. Putnam doesn't walk many batters, posting a 1.33 WHIP in the Minors. The right-hander knows that's a good selling point.
"It's one of those things where it's kind of unanimous across the board that all teams like guys who throw strikes," Putnam said. "If there's one thing you can control as a pitcher, it's throwing the ball in the strike zone, trying to keep the ball down."
He has walked two of the 38 batters he's faced in nine games this spring. Putnam also can do the math and knows how many pitchers are battling for the final spot.
"For me, I try not to get too caught up in that," he said. "As a player, you have no real say in any decisions that are made, and it's entirely up to [the front office] and the staff. You go out every day and try to do your best. It's one of those things where you can get easily distracted when it comes down to this point in camp and you start trying to do the math and the numbers. As best I can, I try to keep that out of my head and go out there and be business-like."
It may be cliche, but Putnam is really taking it one hitter at a time, one day at a time.
"It's comforting as a player to buy into that mindset," Putnam said. "It does take the pressure off you a little bit if you're just trying to go about your business the same way every day."
Garza progressing while Baker suffers setback
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Cubs pitcher Scott Baker had hoped to pitch in a big league game on the one-year anniversary of his Tommy John surgery. Instead, he'll have to delay his return.
Baker, who has been shut down since his only Cactus League start March 17, was examined on Sunday and diagnosed with a strained right elbow. The right-hander will not throw for at least one month, and then be re-evaluated at that point.
Baker had the procedure performed last April, and had optimistically hoped to be pitching in a Major League game next month.
Cubs orthopedic specialist Dr. Stephen Gryzlo, who examined Baker on Sunday, also checked on starter Matt Garza, who has not thrown off the mound since Feb. 17 because of a strained left lat. Garza was making progress, and on pace to throw his first bullpen the first week of April.
The Cubs have slotted Travis Wood and Carlos Villanueva into the rotation to fill Baker's and Garza's spots. Next in line would be Chris Rusin, who started on Sunday against the Indians and gave up two hits over 5 1/3 scoreless innings.
"We do have the luxury with the depth we have," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Sunday. "It is obviously a setback [with Baker] but it's not to where he won't be able to pitch this season."
Baker had felt some discomfort after throwing 23 pitches against the Athletics, and the good news is that the problem won't require any additional surgery, which had been the initial fear.
"It's always bad news whenever you lose a little bit of depth and know it'll take longer," Sveum said.
Baker did his research and talked to other pitchers who underwent Tommy John surgery.
"He was down when he first found out [he'd be shut down], like anybody would be," Sveum said. "I don't care who you are, but you're set on a certain date to pitch in a Major League game. That's what we do for a living, that's what we like to do is compete. It's pretty good news now, but at that time, it was pretty scary to him, I'm sure."
And today's news?
"It's got to be a relief to know it's more of a muscle than the thing that was operated on, or the tendon anyway," Sveum said.
Most pitchers need two years to get to full strength after having the Tommy John procedure.
"[Adam] Wainwright last year came back in about the same amount of time," Sveum said of the Cardinals pitcher. "He struggled in the beginning and then obviously got pretty strong in the second half. Everybody's a little bit different."
Garza was limited to 18 games last season and then shut down in July because of elbow problems. So far, his elbow has felt good.
"A rib-cage muscle is pretty serious," Sveum said. "It's not career threatening but it's something that takes a long time to heal."
Baker and Garza will open the season on the disabled list along with third baseman Ian Stewart, who has a sore left quad. With one week until Opening Day, Sveum remained optimistic about the start of the season.
"I think the one disappointment was Garza really," Sveum said. "The other guys, we weren't sure on Stewart. We got to see [third baseman Luis] Valbuena a lot, so knock on wood, if we were to end camp now, we're better off than some teams with injury problems.
"If we had [Garza] on Opening Day, it changes things around a little bit," Sveum said. "We'd have three guys at the top and mix in Wood and Villanueva and [Scott] Feldman and one of them would've obviously been in the bullpen."
Cubs plan to start with Castro batting second
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Starlin Castro has batted second most of his young career, and the Cubs shortstop will stay in that spot this year in a projected regular lineup of left-handed and right-handed bats.
"If everybody lives up to their capabilities, hopefully we don't have to do anything [different]," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Sunday of his projected lineup in which David DeJesus will lead off and be followed by Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Alfonso Soriano, Nate Schierholtz, Welington Castillo, Luis Valbuena and Darwin Barney.
"Right now, we'll start the season with [Castro] second," Sveum said of the shortstop, who turned 23 on Sunday. "I think he's matured so much in a year that he might end up in an RBI spot."
Last season, Castro batted .283 and was inserted fairly evenly between the second, third and fifth spots in the lineup. He was moved around as the Cubs struggled to find a workable combination. Will Castro stay in the No. 2 spot?
"I'll be honest with you, I don't know if it's short term or not," Sveum said. "I'm just waiting for him to develop a little bit more into a more patient hitter, not a guy who feels he has to drive in a run every time somebody's in scoring position and swing out of the strike zone.
"Like I said about maturing, so far his at-bats this Spring Training have been a lot more mature than they have in the past," Sveum said. "We know he's a good hitter and he's going to put the ball in play, and a lot of times he has a magic wand, but his mechanics allow a lot of that stuff to happen. Good hitters have mechanics where their bat stays in the strike zone longer than others so they get a lot of ugly looking hits sometimes, but that's because of the mechanics they have."
Castro was batting .448 (13-for-29) in 11 spring games, drawing three walks. Sveum sees better at-bats and that he's swinging at a pitcher's good pitch.
"You want to see the maturity so when he has bad at-bats, the pitcher won the battle, not that you gave him the battle," Sveum said.
Stewart to remain in Arizona until rehab assignment
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Cubs' Ian Stewart, sidelined with a sore left quad, was progressing well, but it will be at least two more weeks before he'll be able to start a rehab assignment.
Stewart, who has not played in a Cactus League game, was examined Sunday by Cubs orthopedic specialist Dr. Stephen Gryzlo. The plan is for him to remain in Arizona until Minor League teams begin their seasons.
If all goes well, Stewart would be ready to rejoin the Cubs by the end of April, beginning of May.
The third baseman is coming back from wrist surgery, which he had last July. The wrist has not been a problem this spring, but he injured his quad on Feb. 21 in an intrasquad game after hitting a double. It was his only at-bat.
Luis Valbuena will open the season as the Cubs' starting third baseman.
• Cubs outfielder Dave Sappelt was scratched from Sunday's lineup because of a stiff neck. The outfielder was struck on the right side of his neck by a ball on the fly while sliding into third during Saturday's game, and had a large bruise to show for it.
"They got me," Sappelt said. "As soon as I peeked back, it hit me."
He was expected to be sidelined two to three days.
• Brett Jackson, who has been sidelined because of inflammation in his right shoulder, was expected to resume playing this week, although it could be in a Minor League game.
"They'll be smart about easing me back into it," Jackson said.
He doesn't have any problems hitting, and was able to hit off a batting tee on Saturday, and planned on doing the same Sunday.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.