Cubs rotation starting to shape up

With opening day in Atlanta looming, the Cubs rotation is starting to take shape.

One pitcher making a mid-spring charge was right-hander Carlos Silva, obtained from Seattle in the Milton Bradley trade.

After getting roughed up in his first start, Silva found the form that made him an effective pitcher several years ago in Minnesota. The keys were Silva rediscovering his sinker with the help of pitching coach Larry Rothschild and throwing strikes.

If things continue on this path, Silva is likely to slide into the No. 4 spot in the rotation behind righties Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells.

Through March 19, Silva had pitched in three games, going 2-1 with a 6.00 ERA. In his two most recent starts, he had allowed no runs in seven innings. Equally important, he had walked just one batter in the spring.

While the Cubs await the return, perhaps by mid-April, of top lefty Ted Lilly, Silva could nail down one spot with lefties Tom Gorzelanny and Sean Marshall batting with right-hander Jeff Samardzija for the final spot. Samardzija has had an up-and-down spring and the Cubs like Marshall's ability to start and relieve, and that may land him in the bullpen.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RHP Angel Guzman elected to undergo surgery on his pitching shoulder. Guzman has a torn ligament that was discovered during spring training. The operation will put Guzman on the shelf for the season, and it's considered potentially career-threatening. The Cubs had figured on Guzman being their top right-handed setup man to closer Carlos Marmol. They'll continue looking at in-house candidates for the remainder of spring training. GM Jim Hendry also will look to swing a trade before opening day if no one in camp emerges.

--RHP Jeff Samardzija worked in a minor league game March 17 on the Cubs' lone off day of the Cactus League season. Samardzija, who is fighting for a rotation spot, threw three innings and was scheduled to start March 22 against Cleveland. Rothschild was working to smooth out Samardzija's mechanics.

"It was good," Samardzija said of his minor league game. "Nice and quick."

In his first two Cactus League games, one start, Samardzija was 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA, having given up six hits and four runs in four innings.

"I think Jeff would prefer to start," manager Lou Piniella said. "The thing with Jeff is that he continues to improve as a pitcher, whether it's in the bullpen or the rotation."

--Lilly may get a Cactus League start near the end of camp as he recovers quickly from arthroscopic shoulder surgery performed last fall. Lilly has thrown live batting practice, and a mid-April return to the active roster is not out of the question.

--RHP Andrew Cashner, Piniella had talked of making the opening-day roster as a reliever, was returned to minor league camp. Cashner was the Cubs' first-round draft pick in 2008. He made four Cactus League appearances, allowing two runs in five innings. Piniella's musing was in response to the Cubs being short from the right side in their bullpen.

Long term, Cashner figures to be a starter. He pitched at high Class A Daytona and Class AA Tennessee last year, giving up 76 hits and walking 42 in 100 1/3 innings. The Cubs watched his pitch counts closely last year, but they figure to let him go deeper into games this year. An in-season call-up is a possibility.

--1B/OF Kevin Millar looks as if he's moving closer to securing a roster spot. The Cubs invited Millar to camp as a non-roster man, and he was having a good Cactus League season. He was 5-for-16 with seven walks through March 19.

Millar bats right-handed. It's also possible the Cubs will keep 1B/3B Chad Tracy, who bats left-handed. The Cubs would like more of a veteran bench this year. INF/OF Bryan LaHair, who was in the mix, was sent back to minor league camp. On the bubble is 1B/OF Micah Hoffpauir, who has seen action with the big club the past two seasons.

--2B Mike Fontenot continues to see time at shortstop as Piniella looks to maximize his bench. If Fontenot can spell Ryan Theriot from time to time, the Cubs would be able to keep bench players with some power, such as Millar and Tracy. Suddenly on the bubble is veteran UT Andres Blanco, who has been out with a sore knee. Blanco is out of minor league options.

--3B Aramis Ramirez continued to be bothered by a sore right triceps that kept him out of action for most of a week. He was scheduled to head to the minor league camp to get some work in. Neither the Cubs nor Ramirez considered the injury serious.

--C Welington Castillo, RHP Jeff Stevens and RHP Blake Parker were optioned to Class AAA Iowa.

BY THE NUMBERS: .150 -- INF Jeff Baker was 3-for-20 (.150) through March 19 as he has fallen behind Mike Fontenot for the second base job. Baker hit .305 in 69 games for the Cubs last season. He may settle into a utility role.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I can be Bugs Bunny and play everywhere." --Baker, not on his role as a super utility man, but on being one of the few Cubs to arrive for a Tucson road trip after the team bus broke down en route.

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