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Chris Rusin making case for Cubs’ 2014 rotation

Chris Ruspitches against Phillies August 31 Wrigley Field. | David Banks~Getty Images

Chris Rusin pitches against the Phillies on August 31 at Wrigley Field. | David Banks~Getty Images

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Updated: October 2, 2013 6:54AM

Chris Rusin has done so many positive things in nine starts for the Cubs, it seems obvious he will be in the mix next season for a rotation spot.

But he knows the competition for one of the two likely openings will be deep.

“A lot of pitchers will be pitching for spots [in spring training], but I can only control what I do, and that’s try to give the team the best chance to win,’’ he said. “If I don’t make it [in the rotation], don’t take it the wrong way.’’

It’s a new attitude for the slender lefty only two months removed from being a Class AAA All-Star.

It’s something that developed after his first brief go-around with the Cubs last season. He made seven starts, going 2-3 with a 6.37 ERA, but he learned plenty.

“When guys get their feet wet like he did last year, it helps a lot,’’ manager Dale Sveum said. “He had struggles, but you learn to understand, ‘This is what I have to do to get big-league hitters out.’

“The biggest thing for his maturity was learning to make pitches when he has to. He’s been able to calm down.’’

Deep breaths have helped, Rusin admits. He had those moments in the third inning Saturday, when he was sailing along against the Philadelphia Phillies in a 1-1 tie.

He threw eight pitches to get two outs before first baseman Anthony Rizzo dropped a routine throw for what should have been the third out on Chase Utley’s ground ball.

Then Rusin seemed to have Utley picked off, but Rizzo’s throw to second was wide and Utley was credited with a stolen base. He scored an unearned run when Carlos Ruiz doubled as Rusin threw 16 more pitches.

But the key was keeping the damage to a minimum.

“That’s what you have to be prepared for as a pitcher,’’ Rusin said. “We’re all human. We have to pick each other up as teammates.

“He’s right,’’ he said of Sveum’s assessment of last year’s learning process. “Last year, I probably wouldn’t have been able to throw a strike after that.

“This year, I’ve been able to get back in my zone. I’m taking deep breaths. That’s what’s been working for me. Concentrate on the [next] pitch and not what’s happened before.’’

The Cubs got the unearned run back in the third off Cliff Lee to even things and eventually earned a 4-3 victory for reliever Carlos Villanueva (3-8). But Rusin, 26, was a winner, as well.

“Rusin pitched really well,’’ Sveum said. “A couple miscues cost him, but they weren’t squaring him up [hitting].’’

Rusin gave up four hits and two earned runs in five innings, but he still boasts a 2.74 ERA and a 2.60 ERA in three daytime starts.

“I went inning-by-inning,’’ he said. “Some innings the fastball was working. Some the off-speed. I tried to keep them off-balance.

“I feel a lot more confident. I’m taking it game-by-game and not thinking about what I’ve done in the past.

“The big crowd helped me,’’ he said of the crowd of 36,410. “The fans have been great to us. They’re loyal and always supporting us.’’


Twitter: @toniginnetti

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