Renteria playing it coy regarding Opening Day starter
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter March 6, 2014 10:11PM
OPENING DAY STARTERS
2013 Jeff Samardzija
2011-12 Ryan Dempster
2005-10 Carlos Zambrano
2003-04 Kerry Wood
2000-02 Jon Lieber
1999 Steve Trachsel
1998 Kevin Tapani
1997 Terry Mulholland
1996 Jaime Navarro
1995 Jim Bullinger
1993-94 Mike Morgan
1992 Greg Maddux
1991 Danny Jackson
1990 Mike Bielecki
1985-1989 Rick Sutcliffe
Updated: March 6, 2014 11:10PM
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Jeff Samardzija said Wednesday he was getting himself ready this spring for Opening Day.
Travis Wood on Thursday pitched as if he is ready right now for Opening Day.
And Rick Renteria — well, the Cubs’ manager still won’t rule out 18-game loser Edwin Jackson or likely DL candidate Jake Arrieta for the first-day honor.
“I don’t want to lock myself in,” the manager said. “We still have to see how everybody’s still falling in and staying healthy and things of that nature.”
Of course, the only two feasible candidates, barring trades or injuries are last year’s Opening Day starter, Samardzija, and last year’s All-Star, Wood — so it’s obviously a two-man race, right Rick?
“As we get closer to the end of spring, and these guys are still throwing,” Renteria said when asked that question, “and based on where they’re throwing on their days here during the spring, it’ll probably fall in where they’re at.”
As Samardzija said on the subject a day earlier, “Whatever.”
In the scheme of things, the decision over who starts the opener doesn’t mean much — beyond the titular value to the individual and the likelihood that the opener is the Cubs’ best shot at having a winning record at some point this season.
“I’m just ready to get it started,” said Wood, whose three-inning Cactus League debut was so efficient he had to throw 25 more pitches in the bullpen to get his full workload in. “He’s going to pick whoever he wants to pick.”
If anything, the laughable cat-and-mouse game in the face of such an obvious call serves as one more reminder of how far removed the Cubs’ starting rotation is from even the last two springs when opening options included Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster.
If not how far this team is away from contending — as it waits for prospects such as C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson to survive the perils of AA and AAA and reach the majors.
When Samardzija gets traded in the next five months, Wood will be the only starter left from 2012, and when this year’s sign-and-flip starter, Jason Hammel, also is moved near the trade deadline, it will mark the third season in row the Cubs trade off 40 percent of their rotation.
Samardzija, Hammel and Wood, say they plan to try and keep that from happening by playing well enough to force the front office to rethink its game plan.
But it’s hard to imagine where a team that ranked second-to-last in the league in runs scored last year will improve on that after doing next to nothing in the offseason and sending most of their best hitters to the minors once the season starts (forget it, Javy Baez fans).
For now, the two best bets in the rotation are getting the most out of whatever time they have together.
“Last year we built a good relationship and we kind of just went off that,” Wood said. “We’d hang out, and play some golf and chat things over.”
They’ve been nearly inseparable early in camp, working out in the mornings together and talking a lot of pitching.
“That’s what we want to build off of — push each other and bounce ideas and see what each guy thinks,” he said. “We can both get better and grow in the game that way.”
Said Samardzija: “Regardless of who’s pitching, we like our chances with us two on the mound. So we’re looking forward to having each other’s back, no matter what the situation is.”
At least until it’s just the one amigo still standing in a Cubs uniform. And the questions get harder, the Cubs’ road gets longer and Wood is the guy leading the pack uphill — as Dempster used to do with teammates on those dawn-patrol runs up Camelback Mountain in Phoenix.
Runs that Wood skipped.
“I don’t climb mountains,” he said.