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Casey Coleman builds a strong case for spot in Cubs’ bullpen

Cubs pitcher Casey Coleman works first inning Chicago Cubs-Pittsburgh Pirates game Tuesday July 31 2012 Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Cubs pitcher Casey Coleman works in the first inning of the Chicago Cubs-Pittsburgh Pirates game Tuesday July 31, 2012 at Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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the bullpen

• Cubs will take seven

Locks

RHP Carlos Marmol

RHP Kyuji Fujikawa

RHP Shawn Camp

LHP James Russell

Probable

RHP Hector Rondon*

RHP Michael Bowden

Other notables

RHP Casey Coleman

RHP Blake Parker

LHP Chris Rusin

RHP Zach Putnam

RHP Cory Wade

* — a Rule 5 pick, he has to stay on the roster or be returned to Cleveland.

Updated: April 22, 2013 12:18PM



MESA, Ariz. — They’re the ­often-overlooked little guys from the sunny beach region of southwest Florida, pedigreed overachievers, unafraid, in your face and daring anyone to tell them they can’t run with the big boys.

They are the guys who make up the Florida Gulf Coast men’s basketball team — as well as the guy who saw their unlikely rise into the NCAA tournament coming while he watched them practice between his workout sessions over the winter at the Fort Myers, Fla., campus.

“I had a good feeling,” Cubs right-hander Casey Coleman said.

Coleman, who was drafted by the Cubs in the 15th round out of FGCU in 2008, watched a reinvented team in its second year of Division I eligibility look impressive in practices he was invited to attend during the baseball offseason. Then he watched former NBA assistant Andy Enfield’s team beat Miami on the road and five days later lead Duke for much of the first half in a loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“They weren’t afraid to play anyone,” Coleman said.

He’s not ready to brag just yet on their chances to beat Georgetown in the school’s first NCAA tournament game Friday, but he’s not counting them out, either.

“Knock down a few threes, you never know what’s going to happen,’’ he said.

It’s hard not to see at least a few similarities between Coleman and his school’s underdog hoops team.

A third-generation major-leaguer, the underdog non-roster pitcher has reinvented himself into a short-work, fastball/breaking ball reliever as he quietly pushes for a first full season in the big leagues.

How quietly? One national publication that listed “notable alumni” in its thumbnail profiles of schools in the tournament included golfer Derek Lamely and Coleman’s former baseball teammate Chris Sale in the FGCU box. It left out Coleman, who has 48 career big-league games over parts of the last three seasons.

Coming off a shoulder injury that ended his minor-league season in mid-August, Coleman said he feels like he’s throwing harder than he did all last season — and done it with enough location and guile to enter the final week in Arizona as the only Cubs pitcher who hasn’t allowed a run or a walk all spring.

“When we sent him down last year, I made it a point to tell him you’ve got to start being one guy,’’ manager Dale Sveum said, “meaning, ‘You have enough velocity and movement on your fastball to just let it [go], and throw your breaking ball from one slot.’ ”

After three seasons of mixed results that eventually led to losing his 40-man roster spot, Coleman has allowed five hits and struck out four through six commanding, short-relief appearances this spring.

Sveum said he’s one of just a few pitchers in camp with a shot at one of the final two spots in the bullpen.

“He’s durable. He can go two innings,” he said. “And he’s a guy that’s gotten up to 96 mph before. If he can pitch at 93 with the movement that he has, and the control on the breaking ball …”

Coleman said he doesn’t know anything about his status except that his shoulder is at full strength.

“I’m way ahead of what I thought I’d be, and hopefully I’m putting myself in a position to make the team or put pressure on them to make a tough decision,” he said.

He has no illusions about his odds, given that Cubs would have to create a 40-man opening to take him north for the start of the season — which would mean creating at least two openings, considering non-roster utility man Brent Lillibridge is expected to make the team.

“You never know what’s going to happen here in the next week,” he said. “Trade stuff can happen. I know there are scouts at every game. People get traded late in spring; it happens all the time. You just never know. …

“I’ve just got to keep throwing strikes and keep competing.’’



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