3/28/2014 9:56 P.M. ET
Cubs still looking to finalize bullpen roles
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- The Cubs' rotation is set. The bullpen is still being evaluated.
The Cubs headed into their final two exhibition games with some decisions to be made. Jose Veras, James Russell, Pedro Strop and Wesley Wright are set. There is still some debate about Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm and Hector Rondon, and the Cubs also are looking at some of the relievers who were assigned to the Minor Leagues earlier this spring.
Cabrera had looked sharp early. But in his last two outings, he's struggled, including a game against the Angels on Tuesday when the right-hander gave up five runs on four hits over one-third of an inning. Cabrera is out of options.
Among the pitchers at Chase Field on Friday for the final two games against the D-backs were Brian Schlitter, Zac Rosscup, Neil Ramirez, Blake Parker, Armando Rivero and Jonathan Sanchez. All had been in big league camp at the start of Spring Training.
"We're still winding it down," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "We haven't finished our decisions and we'll work through it in the next 24-48 hours."
The Cubs don't need to set their 25-man Opening Day roster until Sunday, in advance of Monday's opener against the Pirates at PNC Park.
On Friday, Carlos Villanueva, who had been an option for the bullpen, was named the fifth starter.
"I think we have a way better team than we did [last year]," Villanueva said. "The fact that a lot of tough decisions came down to the wire let's people know that we're not all thinking about the future right now, we're thinking about the present, and guys are thinking about now. We want to win now."
Villanueva named Cubs' fifth starter
PHOENIX -- The Cubs named Carlos Villanueva as the fifth starter for now, which means lefty Chris Rusin is headed to Triple-A Iowa. But Villanueva knows his job could be temporary as the team waits for right-hander Jake Arrieta to get healthy.
Villanueva is the ultimate swingman, and has accepted his role.
"It's just the title of my job," Villanueva said. "We all know what's happening. It's not going to shock anybody -- 'Oh, Arrieta's back.' If it's me that has to go down [to the bullpen] and fill another role in the bullpen, then I'll go. If I haven't complained before, I'm not going to start complaining now."
Last year, it was a similar situation as Villanueva filled in while Matt Garza was rehabbing. Arrieta has been slowed this spring by tightness in his right shoulder. He is scheduled for another simulated game this week, as he continues to make progress.
In 15 starts last season, Villanueva was 1-7 with a 4.50 ERA, and was 6-1 with a 3.03 ERA in 32 relief appearances.
"He's been in that role, he's been a pretty good performer for the Cubbies," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He's done a good job in any situation we've used him."
Villanueva's first start will be April 6 against the Phillies. The Cubs want to keep Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija on schedule, so he will start Monday and April 5.
Rusin had pitched well except for his last outing against the D-backs on Wednesday, when he gave up nine runs on 10 hits, including four home runs, over 2 2/3 innings.
"He should be proud of how he went about his business," Renteria said of the lefty.
"My initial reaction was Rusin," Villanueva said. "I know it had to be difficult. I spoke to him a little bit. We know he'll be here at some point. It still doesn't make it easier. It came down to the wire. I just found out today."
How is Villaneuva able to switch roles from starter to reliever so smoothly?
"I wasn't blessed with a blazing fastball but I was blessed with a healthy arm," he said. "I'm able to bounce back."
For example, he threw 90 pitches Monday, then two innings on Thursday, and felt good.
"Not a lot of guys can do it," Villanueva said about being able to change roles. "Maybe a lot of guys don't get the opportunity to do it. Maybe I can be one of those people who advocates and fights for the rights of the swing guy."
It wasn't the role he projected himself in.
"When you get up to the big leagues, you're thinking, 'I want to be an All-Star, I want to be a No. 1, No. 2 guy,'" Villanueva said. "The years go by and the stats don't lie. It's what I've done the last three, four years. Thirteen, 15 starts, and 30 [games] in the 'pen. 'Good job.' That's all I want to hear -- 'Hey, Villa, good job.'"
Fans will be happy to know that Villaneuva is keeping his handlebar mustache. He shaved last season, and quickly grew it back.
"The day I after I shaved, I looked in the mirror and I was very upset," he said. "I don't want to feel that way anymore. As of now, it's staying. I wouldn't feel normal [without it]."
Castro expects to be in Opening Day lineup
PHOENIX -- Starlin Castro will be in the Cubs' Opening Day lineup on Monday. Just ask the Cubs' shortstop.
"I'm there," Castro said Friday. "Of course."
Castro has not played in a Cactus League game since March 2, when he strained his right hamstring. Since then, he's been rehabbing and playing in Minor League games, including nine innings on Thursday. He was tested, fielding a couple double plays, including one in which he had to come in quick and jump to make the throw because of the speedy runner.
"I caught the ball, jumped and threw the ball -- I feel good," Castro said.
Friday was a recovery day for Castro, who expected to play on Saturday in the Cubs' exhibition finale against the D-backs at Chase Field.
"[Saturday], I'll play," Castro said.
"He's really pushed himself very hard the whole week," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.
Veras wearing look of winner as Cubs closer
PHOENIX -- Cubs closer Jose Veras can't wait for the season to start. He really likes how the Cubs look.
"I love it -- top to bottom, we're going to be fine," Veras said. "We have a good lineup, good defense, we have good guys here, hungry to be somebody and that's what we're here for. The season is going to start, and we're excited for the coming season."
He also made sure the younger players know what's important. The right-hander presented t-shirts that say, "You can't have a great team without great people" on the front in English, with the Spanish translation -- "No puedes tener un buen equipo si no tienes buenas personas" -- on the back.
Veras has been a mentor to the younger players, especially the young relievers. He knows they are anxious as the Cubs front office makes the final roster decisions.
"They're good," Veras said. "They're ready to go. I was prepared for that, too. We're good to go."
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.