Notes: Baker not worried about rotation

Notes: Baker not worried about rotation

PEORIA, Ariz. -- With Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Wade Miller cautiously working their way back from injuries, the Cubs just want to make sure they don't get stuck in the starting blocks in April.

Whether they can avoid April angst depends largely on how starters Glendon Rusch and Jerome Williams perform early as members of a four-man rotation. Chicago pretty much knows what to expect from Greg Maddux and Carlos Zambrano, but will Rusch and Williams follow suit after putting up shaky spring results thus far?

Rusch is 1-2 with a 9.82 ERA in four starts. Williams is 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA in four starts. The numbers don't have manager Dusty Baker waking up in the middle of the night from rotation nightmares.

"They are both throwing the ball good," said Baker. "It's just a matter of location most of the time. I'm confident it will come. They've pitched well in the past, so why wouldn't they pitch well in the present and future? I'm not too worried. You want them to be in great form right now, but we do have some time. They have a couple of starts left."

Playing hard and smart: First baseman Derrek Lee, the reigning National League batting champion, has been cleared to play this week after recovering from a bruised left shoulder. Baker just wants him to give his usual 100 percent effort, without taking any unnecessary risks, when he does take the field.

"You still play hard, which is the only way he knows how to play," said Baker. "But you just make sure you play smart along with it."

In terms of how many at-bats Lee may need to be fully tuned for the regular season, Baker said he'll let Lee be the guide.

"He knows himself and how much he needs," said Baker.

Tough decisions: With the season opener looming on April 3, the Cubs will soon have to make some tough decisions regarding the final spot or two on the 25-man roster.

"It'll probably go down to the end," said Baker.

When asked specifically about Marquis Grissom, Angel Pagan, Ryan Theriot and Michael Restovich, the manager said that all are in the mix.

Grissom's experience makes him an attractive possibility.

"We're going to play him as much as we can without overplaying him," said Baker. "Pagan, Restovich, Theriot ... they all have a chance to make the club. The numbers don't always show it -- how a guy is playing defensively, how he's running and throwing. I'll try to start guys to see what they're like in that situation, and I'll bring guys in late to see how they do on a double switch."

Pitchers' progress: According to pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Wednesday was another positive day for Wood and Miller, with Wood throwing 52 pitches off the mound.

"He started throwing some breaking balls," said Rothschild. "We'll probably go at least one more time with what we're doing."

Rothschild added that Miller, who threw about 25 pitches off the mound, is about a week to 10 days behind Wood's schedule.

"You can tell he wants to get back as soon as he can," said Rothschild of Miller. "He has worked hard to do it."

Around the horn: Maddux worked five innings in Wednesday's start against the Padres, allowing three hits and three runs. All the damage came on Mike Piazza's three-run homer in the first. ... If right-hander Jae Kuk Ryu makes the club out of Spring Training, Baker said, it could be as a long reliever. "You want your long man to give you some innings and give you some zeroes," he said. "It's a tough thing to do when a team gets on a roll." ... Minor Leaguer Dylan Johnston said "hello" with a bang on Wednesday night. Matched against Trevor Hoffman in the seventh inning, Johnston launched a long solo homer over the right-field wall.

Robert Falkoff is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.