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Numbers game will soon take toll on starting pitchers
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/9/2008 12:21 AM

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MESA, Ariz. -- All spring the Cubs have been saying they have seven starting pitchers and only five spots.

So what happens to the two pitchers who lose out?

Lefty Sean Marshall, who pitched 3½ innings in Saturday's split-squad 7-6 loss to the Oakland Athletics in Phoenix, has minor-league options and can be sent to Class AAA Iowa. That seems especially plausible since manager Lou Piniella already has said this is no spring for young pitchers.

Jon Lieber started Saturday's home game against the Arizona Diamondbacks and worked 4 scoreless innings. Unless Lieber comes up injured or is totally ineffective, he's in the rotation.

That leaves the final spot between righties Ryan Dempster and Jason Marquis. If the Cubs can trade Marquis, as they'd prefer, that solves one problem. If not, somebody's going to the bullpen.

"Whomever doesn't make the five, one of those two is going to have to pitch in the bullpen," Piniella said. "And then we've got another one left. We can't carry two of them, that's for sure."

Piniella added that he and pitching coach Larry Rothschild had talked, and by March 23 "or so we're going to have to make a decision by then and put everybody in an alignment for the season. We're just going to go with our best starting pitching, and that's it. I don't know how else to do it."

Ted Lilly will get a start at the minor-league complex March 17, when the Cubs have an off-day from Cactus League play. Rich Hill will start games from now on instead of being the second pitcher into games, something he did in his first 2 appearances.

Piniella also said Carlos Zambrano will get an extra day of rest so he doesn't pitch against Milwaukee on Monday (the Cubs and Zambrano open the regular season against the Brewers).

It also looks like the Cubs will open the season with 12 pitchers.

Getting them back: Alfonso Soriano returned Saturday after suffering a minor break of his right middle finger last Sunday.

He flied out in the first inning and singled to left in the second. As Kosuke Fukudome was taking ball four, Soriano was off with the pitch.

"More important, day by day, my legs are going to feel better," said Soriano, who battled problems in both legs last year. "My legs feel good. I'm a little scared because today was my second game. Every day I can feel more comfortable."

Soriano said he's running at 85 percent, not because his legs are bothering him, but because he's trying to get over the mental obstacles of recovery. He said the finger was no problem.

Second baseman Mark DeRosa appears to be in good enough shape that he can play Monday, a few days earlier than expected. DeRosa is coming back from a surgical procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat.

"The trainer came into my office today and said they'd give him a really good work day today and lighten him up tomorrow," Lou Piniella said. "If he's OK, get him in the lineup."

Weighty issue: Pitcher Sean Gallagher, who worked 2 hitless innings Saturday, said he's down to 220 pounds, or 30 pounds lighter than he was at the end of last year.

He said he's in his best physical shape since he was drafted in 2006.

"I was 215 back then; I'm 220 now," he said. "It's great for me. I feel a lot better out there. It's so much easier. I feel I don't have to put so much exertion into every pitch."

Cubs 4, D'backs 1 Athletics 7, Cubs 6

Cubs' record: 4-7

At the plate: Against the D'Backs, Alfonso Soriano had 2 singles and a run scored. Felix Pie hit a 2-run single in the Cubs' 4-run second inning. Against the A's, Daryle Ward hit a solo homer and a double. Matt Murton had an RBI double in the seventh.

On the mound: Jon Lieber pitched 4 efficient innings against Arizona, throwing 46 pitches, 28 for strikes. He allowed 2 hits while walking none and striking out four. Sean Gallagher worked 2 hitless innings. Bob Howry gave up a hit in 1 inning. Jose Ascanio earned the save. Against Oakland, Sean Marshall worked 3½ innings, giving up 2 hits and 2 runs. Jeff Samardzija allowed 4 hits and 2 runs in 1 inning.

Next: The Cubs travel to Surprise to play the Kansas City Royals (3:05 p.m., Channel 9, WGN 720-AM). Ryan Dempster pitches for the Cubs against Brett Tomko.

-- Bruce Miles