A non-roster invite beat out a three-year major league veteran. After six weeks of spring training a fifth starter is finally named. One of the clubs few all-stars unceremoniously rejoined the line-up. Just another day at the office for a Chicago Cubs club that gears up for the regular season with low expectations and nothing to lose. The Chicago Cubs made final roster moves this week in making Brian Schlitter the final pitcher to join the bullpen for the Northsiders and naming Carlos Villanueva the No. 5 starter for the club.
Schlitter, a 28-year-old right-hander from the nearby suburb of Oak Park, is making a return to the big leagues for the first time since 2010. Back then he was rudely welcomed to the majors when he allowed 18 hits and 11 earned runs over just eight innings of work in seven appearances for the Cubs. This spring has been a different story for the reliever. In eight appearances during spring training, Schlitter gave up just two earned runs in 8.2 innings. The College of Charleston product has been consistently hitting the mid-90s with his fastball this spring, giving the Cubs hope that he has fully recovered from an arm injury that he suffered in 2011. The right-hander recorded 20 saves for Triple A Iowa last season while posting a 2.42 earned run average. The odd man out when the Chicago Cubs made their final roster moves was Alberto Cabrera.
Cabrera, a 25-year-old right-hander, had made 35 appearances for the Cubs over the last two years, striking out 31 in just over 27 innings. The Dominican native, however, did not have a good spring. He allowed eight runs in just over 10 innings. This included two shellackings at the hands of Arizona and Anaheim’s minor league clubs. The Cubs designated Cabrera for assignment following Saturday’s spring training finale against the Diamondbacks.
One pitcher that already earned a roster spot was Carlos Villanueva. The 30-year-old right-hander earned the fifth and final starting slot after striking out players in bunches this spring. Villanueva recorded 20 strikeouts in just over 17 innings of work. Still, the eight-year veteran was far from untouchable. He posted a 4.06 earned run average over the spring.
Villanueva beat out two-year pro Chris Rusin for the final spot in the rotation. Rusin, a 27-year-old left-hander, had actually pitched quite well over the spring before a March 26 outing against the Diamondbacks. Rusin had pitched twelve scoreless innings prior to the contest, but got hammered for nine earned runs, including four home runs, against Arizona. Rusin was optioned to Triple-A Iowa at the conclusion of training camp.
Villanueva likely beat out Rusin because of his versatility. The part-time starter posted a 7-8 record in 15 starts last season before excelling in the bullpen later in the season. Villanueva will likely be relegated back to the bullpen when Jake Arrieta returns from a right shoulder injury.
“I guess I’m the swing man. We all know what’s happening,” Villanueva said. “It’s not a surprise [that] when Arrieta is back…[I may have] go down and fill another role in the bullpen.”
Villanueva says that the lack of permanence in his starting role does not bother him. He says that he will take it all in stride without complaining, just like he did last year when his spot was originally taken by Arrieta.
As the Chicago Cubs made their final roster moves this week, shortstop Starlin Castro finally returned to action on Saturday in preparation for the regular season. The 24-year-old former all-star had been hampered by a hamstring injury for the better part of a month. Playing just four innings, the four-year pro went 0-2, but did not show any effects from his injury in running out a ground out.
Commentary by Jeremy Mika