Marshall has leg up entering camp

Left-hander Sean Marshall is the front-runner for the fifth starter's job, according to manager Lou Piniella.

The Cubs opened spring training with several candidates for the fifth spot: Marshall and right-handers Jeff Samardzija, Chad Gaudin and Aaron Heilman.

"Look, if Sean pitches the way I anticipate and stays healthy, he's got a leg up for the fifth spot, yes," Piniella said.

There are several things at work here. First, the Cubs like the work Marshall did last year, starting seven games and relieving in 27. They also were impressed that he went to the minor leagues for seven games and did so without complaint.

Piniella also likes the idea of a second lefty in the rotation behind Ted Lilly, a 17-game winner last year.

Samardzija is the most interesting X-factor, and Piniella has said he's probably sixth in this derby. Samardzija came up last year and worked exclusively out of the bullpen, impressing with his fastball and splitter. The Cubs must decide whether he's a starter or reliever long term. If they want him to start, they may send him to Class AAA Iowa to work on all of his pitches. If they want him in the 'pen, he's a good seventh-inning man.

Gaudin started 34 games for Oakland just two years ago, and he'd like to start again. Heilman, obtained in a trade late in January, has been promised a shot at the rotation, but he's likely to settle into middle- or even a long-relief role.


--Neither 1B Derrek Lee nor 3B Aramis Ramirez will take part in the World Baseball Classic. The Cubs are happy about that. Lee said he'd love to participate, but that he was told by Team USA that he wouldn't see much playing time behind Kevin Youkilis. Ramirez said the Dominican Republic "already has a good third baseman" in Alex Rodriguez. The Cubs want to experiment with the middle of the order, where Lee and Ramirez are key parts. They'd also like to make sure Ramirez's legs stay strong.

--1B/OF Micah Hoffpauir has a bench job to lose, according to Piniella. Hoffpauir, who batted .342 in 33 games with the Cubs last year, will back up Derrek Lee at first and see some time in the outfield if he indeed does make the team. He'll be 29 on March 1, and as an "older" player with not much big-league experience, he figures to handle a bench role better than would a younger rookie.

--CF Kosuke Fukudome is a candidate to lead off on certain days,Piniella said. If Piniella rests LF Alfonso Soriano or drops Soriano from first to the middle of the order on some days, Piniella can choose from among SS Ryan Theriot, INF Aaron Miles, 2B Mike Fontenot, and apparently, Fukudome, to bat first. Despite a horrid second half last year, Fukudome ended up with a .359 on-base percentage for the season. The Cubs won't see Fukudome until later this spring. Fukudome is in Japan preparing for the World Baseball Classic.

--Piniella said the Cubs will not keep two lefties in the bullpen just to keep two lefties. Neal Cotts has the inside track on making the club as the lone lefty in the 'pen. Cotts says he feels he's turned a career corner. He came up from Class AAA Iowa last year and struck out 43 in 35 2/3 innings while going 0-2 with a 4.29 ERA. The Cubs say Cotts' fastball picked up additional life. He gets righties and lefties out at about the same clip. One interesting lefty to watch is 41-year-old Mike Stanton, in camp as a non-roster man. Stanton did not pitch last year after being cut by the Reds after spring training.

--RHP Rich Harden has thrown off a mound early this spring, but he's on his own, slower, pace. Harden worked at the Cubs' facility in Arizona to strengthen his right shoulder. Both he and the Cubs have talked around the possibility that Harden has a small tear in the shoulder. Harden has done extensive flat-ground throwing so far before he steps up on one of the bullpen mounds. The Cubs insist he'll pitch in the Cactus League and be ready to start the regular season in the rotation.

INSIDE THE NUMB3RS: 5-foot-8 -- That's the height of both second-base candidates: Mike Fontenot and Aaron Miles. SS Ryan Theriot is listed as 5-11, meaning the Cubs will field one of baseball's smallest keystone combos this year.

HE SAID IT: "There should be zero tolerance. We've had plenty of warnings. There's no excuses. If you get caught now, there should be no sympathy. A year, to me, is even light. Why would you get caught doing steroids?" -- Lee.

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