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Arrieta gets rotation audition; Villaneuva bumped to pen, not thrilled

Updated: August 14, 2013 9:36PM

They pulled the plug on the 2013 season July 2 with the first of five significant trades last month.

And on Wednesday, with little fanfare, the Cubs started the clock on 2014.

Perhaps just in time for a long-listing lineup that doesn’t look like it has enough strength left to stay upright for six more weeks anyway.

Definitely just in time for a declining home crowd fast slipping from disinterested to comatose under the anesthetic properties of 49 scoreless innings by the Cubs in their last 52 at Wrigley Field.

Even before Wednesday’s ­seventh consecutive home loss — 5-0 to the Cincinnati Reds — the Cubs announced plans to bring up recently acquired Jake Arrieta from Class AAA Iowa to join the ­rotation Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals.

“He’ll pitch here, and we’ll see what we’ve got,” said manager Dale Sveum, who might as well have been summing up the mission statement for the final six weeks.

The decision didn’t come without some apparent friction. Veteran Carlos Villanueva was bumped to the bullpen in favor of keeping young Chris Rusin in the rotation.

The rarely unavailable Villanueva declined an interview request before the game. After the game, he quickly departed the clubhouse before reporters arrived. In between, he pitched two less-than-perfect innings out of the pen, raising the question of whether the unwelcome news affected his outing.

“I don’t think so,” Sveum said. “A bounce here and there, it’s a ­different story.”

As much as the Cubs might like to believe that roughly describes a season that has included 36 one- and two-run losses, the fact is, it was never really that close.

And if you didn’t know it before Alfonso Soriano was traded last month, look at the difference in scoring production with him (4.1 runs per game) and since (2.7).

Soriano as the competitive key to the lineup? How many North Side followers would have signed on to that premise with confidence heading into the season?

And if you didn’t know that the July departures signaled the effective closing bell on 2013, take a look at the group of hitters who got throttled by Bronson Arroyo and Co. on Wednesday, three of whom weren’t even in the big leagues last month.

“Do I have enough bullets?” Sveum said, repeating a postgame media question. “This is all I got.”

That’s why the only baseball business for the club left in the final six weeks is all about the business of next season — not the least of which involves next year’s draft position (which stood at No. 4 overall with the final out Wednesday).

Can Arrieta — acquired in the July 2 deal with the Baltimore Orioles — show that a change of scenery was the key to unlocking the power repertoire he used to impress the brass in his Cubs debut July 30?

Is the newfound big-league ­confidence that Rusin has shown since taking over for the traded Matt Garza two weeks ago going to stick long enough for him to keep up his impressive work (3.06 ERA) and create a strong signal on the front office’s radar heading to spring training?

“I don’t even think about what players could be coming up or what my role is next year or anything,” said the left-hander, who pitched six strong innings Wednesday after learning he’d survived the Arrieta promotion. “I just block all that out.”

Sounds like another mission statement.


Twitter: @GDubCub

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