3/30/2013 6:30 P.M. ET
Former first-rounder Simpson among notable cuts
By Gene Duffey and Andrew Simon / Special to MLB.com
Former first-round Draft pick Hayden Simpson and former two-time All-Star Dontrelle Willis were among the Minor Leaguers the Cubs released on Saturday.
The Cubs selected the right-handed Simpson with the 16th overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Southern Arkansas University, but he never found his footing. Mononucleosis prevented Simpson from making his pro debut that year, and he suffered from a loss of velocity.
Simpson, who turns 24 on May 20, made 30 starts in 56 Minor League appearances from '11-'12, getting as far as High Class A Daytona last year. Overall, he went 5-17 with a 6.42 ERA, 120 strikeouts and 89 walks in 161 1/3 innings. He posted an ERA of 5.72 or higher at each level along the way.
Willis signed a Minor League deal with the Cubs in January, ending the retirement he announced last July after a brief stint with the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk. The 2003 National League Rookie of the Year Award winner made one Cactus League appearance this spring, on Feb. 25 against the Dodgers. He issued a walk, then exited with tightness in his left shoulder while facing the next batter.
Originally an eighth-round Draft pick by the Cubs in '00, Willis won 46 games with a 3.27 ERA for the Marlins from '03-'05, but has struggled with injuries and poor performance in recent years. He last pitched in the Majors in '11, when he made 13 starts for the Reds, posting a 5.00 ERA.
The Cubs also released catcher Michael Brenly, the son of former team broadcaster Bob Brenly. The younger Brenly, 26, hit .227 with six home runs and 28 RBIs for Double-A Tennessee last season.
Bob Brenly left the Cubs this offseason to broadcast games for the D-backs, the team he managed to the '01 World Series title.
Barney out Opening Day with deep knee cut
HOUSTON -- Cubs Gold Glove second baseman Darwin Barney suffered a deep cut on his left knee in Saturday's game against the Astros and will miss Opening Day Monday at Pittsburgh and could be facing a stint on the disabled list.
Brent Lillibridge will start in Barney's place on Monday and team doctors will decide if he will be placed on the DL in the next day or two, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Barney was chasing a foul ball in the third inning when he ran into a fence and his knee hit a piece of concrete.
Manager Dale Sveum removed Barney from the game as a precautionary measure.
Barney did not realize he had cut the knee until he reached the clubhouse. It took five stitches to close.
Cubs saw good and bad with Jackson on Friday
HOUSTON -- Cubs right-hander Edwin Jackson looked simultaneously really good and really bad all in four innings of Friday night's game against the Astros in Houston.
Jackson struggled with his control early, hitting Jose Altuve to start the game and then walking the second batter. After giving up a two-run double to Chris Carter, Jackson ended the inning with two strikeouts.
It was only the beginning.
Jason Castro and Matt Dominguez led off the bottom of the second for Houston with singles and Marwin Gonzalez, the No. 9 hitter, hit a three-run homer.
That seemed to wake up Jackson. He struck out the side after the home run.
He gave up a leadoff double in the third, then retired the side and struck out all three hitters in the fourth to complete his evening's work, throwing 80 pitches.
"He started slow," manager Dale Sveum said of Jackson. "After the home run, he bore down and was quite unhittable. With his stuff, then you look up and there are four or five runs on the board?
"[The way he pitched] after that homer, we've got to get that out of him on a day-to-day basis."
Jackson, who played parts of the 2010 and 2011 seasons with the White Sox, went 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA in 31 starts last year for the Nationals.
Houston holds special memories for Soriano
HOUSTON -- Returning to Minute Maid Park brought back good memories for Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano.
Soriano was named Most Valuable Player of the 2004 All-Star Game played in Houston. Soriano, then a second baseman for the Rangers, hit a home run in the top of the first inning off National League starter Roger Clemens, part of a six-run inning for the American League.
Soriano finished the game 2-for-3 with three RBIs and the AL won, 9-4, for its seventh consecutive victory.
"I remember seeing my friends from the Yankees," said Soriano, who played for the Yankees from 1999-'03 before moving on to Texas that season in the Alex Rodriguez trade. "A good memory. It's a compliment to be in the All-Star Game at second base. I was happy about it."
Soriano said he still has the MVP trophy in his house in the Dominican Republic.
After Saturday's final Spring Training game, neither Soriano nor the rest of the Cubs knew when they would be back playing in Houston. With the Astros moving to the AL West, their only series this season is scheduled for June at Wrigley Field.
"We used to come three times here, now we don't play in Houston," Soriano said. "At the same time, it's good [for us that Houston is moving to the AL]. Now, we have an advantage. Now, we have four teams to beat, not five [in the NL Central]. I think that's an advantage for us."
Manager Dale Sveum said it felt different knowing this would be the Cubs' only visit to Houston this season.
"Right now, it's still Spring Training," Sveum said. "It is kind of funny, being in the Central the last seven years, you're not going to be playing here, eight, nine teams a year. You look up now, you see different colored uniforms. A lot of orange."
Gene Duffey is a contributor to MLB.com. Andrew Simon is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.