Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

Final calls to arms

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The rotation's set, and so is the position-player roster (with the exception of the Bako-Hill call on the backup catcher spot).

But the Cubs' bullpen is anything but a finished product, and the final decisions to be made over the next eight days on those arms could have a major impact on their depth over the whole season, if not their success -- considering that in several cases, eliminating a guy from the bullpen will mean losing him to the organization.

Here's how the pen breaks down heading into Wednesday's off day:

Either Carlos Marmol or Kevin Gregg will be the closer, and Lou said today he'll have a decision on that by the weekend -- once Marmol pitches back-to-back days, Thursday and Friday. Piniella already hasn't said which way he's leaning but has admitted he has ideas about which way he'll go.

My guess is it's Marmol, but a good case could be made for leaving Marmol in the hot-spot setup role.

Aaron Heilman is one of the sixth-seventh-inning guys.

And Neal Cotts will probably be the only lefty in the pen -- Lou said again today he's OK with only one, and an hour or two later he cut lefty Jason Waddell from camp, leaving only Mike Stanton among lefties not named Cotts fighting for a bullpen spot.

Piniella said he's got one more middle-relief spot filled, in his mind, but hasn't said who it is, although he's hinted it's Chad Gaudin (who's out of options).

That leaves two spots -- one for a short reliever and one for a long man -- with eight pitchers still looking for jobs (assuming Gaudin is in).

The eight:

-- Randy Wells is a candidate for the long role, but is more likely to open in the Iowa rotation.

-- Stanton is a long shot. He needed a perfect spring to force Piniella to look at a second pen lefty and he hasn't had it -- giving up three runs Tuesday in an inning of work, including a two-run homer by switch-hitter Daniel Ortmeier.

--Chad Fox is another long shot, but he has pitched well in camp, has experience and he caught Piniella's eye at one point last year.

--Jeff Samardzija looked like a strong candidate to make the team when camp opened -- either as a fifth starter or setup guy. In the running for a short-relief role, he has struggled -- including Tuesday when pitching coach Larry Rothschild went to the mound to fix his mechanics mid-inning. Without a dominating final week (and maybe some help), he looks Iowa bound at this point. And working against him is the fact the Cubs can start him at AAA to buy time for any of several other pitchers they'll lose if they cut.

-- Speaking of which: Luis Vizcaino has looked better lately after showing up to camp out of shape and starting poorly. He was the guy with the bad contract the Cubs agreed to take to rid themselves of the worse contract of Jason Marquis, so they're not married to the idea of keeping him at all costs. They eat his $4 million and they still accomplished the payroll objective with the Marquis trade. That said, he's allowed only one run in his last five outings, on a solo home run. Still, if he can't get lefties out (and he couldn't last year), then it's hard to justify having a ``situational righty'' on your staff.

--David Patton, the Rule 5 pick, is one of the most intriguing pitchers in camp, considering he never has pitched higher than Class A but has had one of the best springs of any pitcher in camp (0.93). He's deserving of serious considering, but Piniella may have tipped his hand today when he alluded to the ``numbers'' in camp here and said, ``in a normal year, the way he's pitched, you would really, really like his chances here.''

--Angel Guzman. Like Gaudin, he's out of options. And after spending much of '07 and early '08 recovering from Tommy John surgery, he's 100 percent again -- throwing 97 mph in winter ball a few months ago. But he's struggled most of the spring, nearly pitching himself out of the mix -- until impressive, scoreless outing his last two times out, prompting Piniella to say he's ``thrust himself back in the mix.''

--And, finally, Kevin Hart. Remember him? The kid who made the jump from AA to the playoff roster in '07 wasn't quite as strong in '08 but survived a comebacker off his head and concussion to put together a good season last year and was expected to make a strong push this spring. After a few bumps early, he seems to be finding his stride and could be in the middle of things by the time Piniella makes his final calls before breaking camp April 2.

``There's some competition out there,'' Piniella said.

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Please drop Vizcaino and keep Patton. I would rather have a youngster who might be great than a has been who is done and playing his last contract. Showing up out of shape would be the last straw if I was manager!!!

I have to agree with GoCubsGo about Vizcaino. I'm not sure about Patton but would not like the Cubs to lose him. He looks like a long-time winner.Guzman has had his chances, and Samardzija has been disappointing this year after doing so well last year. I really liked Gaudin but am wondering if he can get back to throwing those killer sliders after leaving Arizona's thin air. He has not looked good this spring. In any case, Lou has some hard choices to make. That's what he gets payed to do.

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This page contains a single entry by Gordon Wittenmyer published on March 24, 2009 8:08 PM.

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