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Rotation battle heating up in Chicago

Rotation battle heating up in Chicago

CHICAGO -- Sean Marshall would like to start, but the left-hander may be too valuable as a reliever to move into the rotation.

Marshall will compete for the vacancy created by the departure of Jason Marquis, who was traded to the Colorado Rockies. The lefty will have company, with Chad Gaudin, Jeff Samardzija and Angel Guzman among the in-house candidates for a starting spot.

"We feel good about the guys we have," general manager Jim Hendry said Wednesday during a Cubs Caravan stop at Harry Caray's Restaurant. "Marshall has earned a crack at it, although you'd love to have him in a swing role.

"Sometimes in the season, you can miss your fifth starter a few times," Hendry said. "That being said, we'll continue to look. We won't just add a body to add a body. We've got a lot of pitchers coming to camp."

Samardzija, who had a 2.28 ERA in 26 games in relief last season, would like to be considered for the rotation.

"I think he'd be the first to tell you he has his mind made [up] on making the club, and he's probably thinking he could make the rotation," Hendry said. "But at the same time, he has to get through camp and show he's improved the command of his fastball and his slider. His split-finger will be a knockout pitch for him no matter what role he's in.

"I'm not going to sit here and try to define his role for you in the middle of January. I'm sure his goals are very lofty for this year."

The Cubs' bullpen depth chart includes Marshall, Guzman, Gaudin, Samardzija, Luis Vizcaino, Neal Cotts, Randy Wells, Michael Wuertz, Kevin Hart and Rule 5 pickup David Patton. Marshall and Cotts are the only left-handers in the group.

While Lou Piniella was sidelined with a viral infection and delayed getting to Chicago for the Caravan, Hendry offered his opinion on some other Cubs topics:

• Where will newly acquired Milton Bradley bat in the lineup? That's up to Piniella, but pencil the switch-hitter somewhere in the middle of the order.

"Milton can hit in a lot of places," Hendry said, "and with such a high on-base percentage guy and with the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, I'm sure Derrek [Lee] and [Aramis Ramirez] are two of the happier guys since we acquired him."

• Who will be the backup at third base with Mark DeRosa gone? Expect Aaron Miles to see some playing time this spring at third as well as Ronny Cedeno. Mike Fontenot also will get some innings at third and shortstop during Cactus League games.

"We're a long way from Opening Day," Hendry said. "Maybe there's a potential addition that we don't even know about who could serve a different role in the utility situation by then."

Fontenot may not be a backup, depending on how he does this spring. He hit .305 last season, did well defensively and deserved more playing time, Hendry said.

"You almost wanted to find a way to get him more at-bats," Hendry said. "Miles being a switch-hitter, he can go over and play some short when Theriot needs a blow, and then you can have four or five lefties in the lineup, which I think will be beneficial."

• Speaking of southpaws, of the position players who could be on the final 25-man roster, the Cubs could have seven who are either left-handed or switch-hitters. The team has not had that kind of balance before.

"We're trying to improve on a club that won 97 games," Hendry said, "and position player-wise, we think we have."

• The Cubs have three players who are arbitration eligible in Gregg, Wuertz and Cedeno. Hendry has never gone to a hearing since he took over as general manager in July 2002. The players and teams exchange figures next week.

"We're optimistic we can do a few more, and maybe all of them, by next Tuesday," Hendry said. "We don't look at any of them as trial-type cases."

• Who will be the closer between Marmol and Gregg? Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said that's up to Piniella to decide.

"I think Carlos has proved what kind of job he can do in that role," Rothschild said. "I'd be surprised if there is anybody who can do it better."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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