Spring training is in full swing in both the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues, starting early because of the World Baseball Classic. The Cubs have been without Anthony Rizzo for about a week, as he was playing for the Italian team. He will rejoin the team on Saturday. The Cubs were also without short shop Starlin Castro for two weeks due to a hamstring pull. He returned Wednesday against the Colorado Rockies and the hamstring seemed to be healed as he fielded at least one difficult play.
While wins and losses really don’t mean THAT much in spring training, the Cubs have not won very many games. Some might blame it on the injuries to Castro, Matt Garza and Ian Stewart, and losing Rizzo to the WBC. These personnel losses have given those who have trekked to Arizona from Chicago and other climes a chance to see future stars Javier Baez and Jorge Soler. Neither of them will make the parent team when camp breaks, but both have seen a lot of playing time already.
Jeff Samardzija, who has been named the Cubs Opening Day starter, has looked very good in spring training, even hitting a home run at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick against the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier in the week. Edwin Jackson, whom the Cubs acquired over the winter, will be the starter when the Cubs open at Wrigley Field April 8. But the surprise has been Chris Rusin. Trying to make the team, he has been the Cubs’ best pitcher this spring training, --according to Carrie Muskat, posting an Earned Run Average below .100 after today’s 8-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Camelback Ranch. But fans need to remember this is the time for pitchers, in fact all players, to work on specific areas that need work before the season starts, as well as do their best to make the team.
Third base is still a sore point with Ian Stewart out with a quad strain. .Luis Valbuena has been filling in most of the time, but the club really needs a regular starter at that position.
Stewart played today in a game at Fitch Park, testing out the quad. He had at least one at bat and was struck out. This appearance was an important one for Stewart. If he does well, he will stay with the team. If he doesn’t the Cubs have until Saturday to cut him and save money on his contract, which is not guaranteed.
Josh Vitters, who was also sidelined with a quad strain, was put into action at Camelback Ranch today. While he didn’t fare so well when he was called up last season and will probably start the year in Iowa, he needs to show he can handle the corner should the Cubs need to call on him.
Fans who attend the Cubs vs. Japan game at HoHoKam tomorrow will get a chance to see Vitters, Brett Jackson and Baez; all three purported to be the future of the Cubs along with Castro and Soler.