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3/13/2014 1:03 A.M. ET

Bryant, Almora, Soler among first spring cuts

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler, three of the Cubs' so-called "core four" of top prospects, were sent to the Minor League camp on Wednesday as the team made its first roster cuts of Spring Training.

Soler, 22, was optioned to Double-A Tennessee, while Arismendy Alcantara, Logan Watkins and Matt Szczur were optioned to Triple-A Iowa.

Bryant, 22, and Almora, 19, were assigned to the Minor League camp along with Jeudy Valdez, Carlos Pimentel and Eric Jokisch. Their Minor League team assignments will be made at a later date.

Outfielder Aaron Cunningham, 27, who signed as a free agent last November, was granted his release. The Cubs now have 56 players in camp.

Bryant, the second player selected overall last June, hit a home run in his first spring at-bat, and was 2-for-9 in seven Cactus League games. Almora, the Cubs' first-round pick in 2012, had appeared in six games, and was 5-for-9. Soler, coming back from a leg injury last season, was 2-for-8 in eight games.

"We're glad they're Cubbies," manager Rick Renteria said of the top trio. "They've shown their ability to be professionals here in terms of how they carried themselves, some of the performances they had in the course of the spring. Now it's time for them to get down there and start getting more at-bats and start getting ready for the regular season for themselves and continue to develop and improve on their skill sets. It's like anything, all players are a little disappointed, but they know there's a reason and purpose for what we do."

Bryant, Almora and Soler handled themselves well in big league camp, and often had more interview requests than the veteran players on the Cubs roster.

"They showed maturity beyond their age, the way they deal with people, the way they deal with the press, the way they interact with teammates," Renteria said. "It was pretty good."

McDonald labors in start but finds the positive

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Last year was a struggle for James McDonald, who admits there were times when he felt he'd given up in games. On Wednesday night, the Cubs right-hander got the competitive juices going again.

The numbers weren't pretty, but McDonald was pleased with his start against the Mariners. He threw 64 pitches -- 26 for strikes -- over 2 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on two hits and five walks.

"I competed, and that's all I can say," McDonald said. "I took it out there and made pitches when I had to. It could've been a lot worse than it was. I battled, kept my guys in the game, and gave it 100 percent. Sometimes they go bad, sometimes they go good.

"This is a process," he said. "I was working on some things. Be patient with myself and don't get too frustrated, because when you get frustrated on the mound, you start thinking crazy and not focusing on what you need to do."

McDonald got into trouble in the second when the Mariners loaded the bases with one out but escaped when he got Kyle Seager to hit into a double play that shortstop Javier Baez started from his knees.

"In all, I would take this and say, 'That's the guy I remember, how to compete,' " McDonald said. "When I got in trouble, I always competed. There were times last year when I felt I'd almost given up. I felt like now, I felt like I'm competing. That's all I can ask of myself is go out there 100 percent and compete."

McDonald battled shoulder problems last season while with the Pirates, and says he's healthy now. He's also working on a two-seam fastball that will help him in ground-ball situations. He got another double play using that pitch in the third inning.

"If I can get that pitch down, it'll be a big pitch for me and I think I'm going to take off," McDonald said.

Unlike prior outing, Jackson throws variety of pitches

MESA, Ariz. -- After throwing only fastballs in his previous Cactus League start, Edwin Jackson faced some Cubs Minor Leaguers on Wednesday, mixed up his pitches, and downplayed any miscommunication between him and the Cubs.

On March 7 against the Indians, Jackson threw only fastballs. He said Wednesday that he told pitching coach Chris Bosio about his plan before the game.

"I had a purpose," said Jackson, who wanted to work on his fastball command.

He didn't think his decision was a big deal.

"I told them before the game," Jackson said. "I don't know if they thought it was for real. I got tired of being asked about it. Eric Gagne would go through a whole Spring Training throwing changeups."

After the game, Cubs manager Rick Renteria seemed surprised at Jackson's decision, and said he'd talk to the right-hander, but on Wednesday, the pitcher said they didn't.

"There's nothing to talk about," Jackson said.

Renteria said it was a private matter.

"He threw three pitches today," Renteria said. "It speaks for itself, I think."

So, no problem with the fastball-only outing?

"He was just doing what he wanted to do, which is work on his fastball command," Renteria said. "He had a purpose and a reason for doing what he was doing."

Against the Minor Leaguers, Jackson threw 74 pitches, gave up two unearned runs on two hits, and struck out four over five innings. And he mixed up his pitches.

"It looked like he was keeping the ball down," Renteria said. "The kids were swinging the bats a little bit, so he couldn't just throw. He ended up having to execute his pitches, mix in his slider, changeup, kept his fastball down. He located his fastball in some instances very well, arm-side, and he looked good. I was very happy with what I saw."

Extra bases

• Top prospect Javier Baez is projected as the starting shortstop at Triple-A Iowa but will get some playing time at second base in Cactus League games, beginning next week, Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Wednesday.

"We want to still be able to see him work and play at different positions," Renteria said. "We still haven't gotten him over at second base. We plan on doing it Monday or Tuesday. We'll go from there, maybe working him at third."

Baez has been working with infield coach Gary Jones at second and third.

Jason Hammel and Eric Jokisch will face Minor Leaguers on Thursday, which is an off-day for the Cubs, so they can stay on schedule. Hammel has made one Cactus League start last Saturday against the Reds, and gave up two hits over three innings. The right-hander admitted he had a few butterflies before the game, his first with the Cubs.

• Sunday's Cubs game against the Indians in Mesa will be telecast on Comcast SportsNet and will be entirely commercial free. According to a Comcast spokesman, the broadcast will feature interviews and features on players and coaches. The broadcast will begin at 3 p.m. CT.

• The ninth Annual "Race to Wrigley" 5k will be held April 12 at Wrigley Field. Voted "Best 5k in the Midwest" in 2013 by Competitor magazine, last year's event drew approximately 6,000 runners and raised more than $300,000 for Cubs Charities and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

The top fund-raising team and individual fund-raiser will receive tickets to the April 22 Cubs game against the Diamondbacks and be recognized in a pregame ceremony. Anyone who raises more than $1,000 will have the opportunity to run a post-race victory lap around the ballpark's warning track.

For more information and to register, go to www.racetowrigley.com.

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.