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Chris Bosio has Cubs’ rotation primed for another strong start

Updated: March 23, 2014 9:53PM



MESA, Ariz. — The key to ­everything the Cubs want to do this season — make an improved bullpen relevant, get maximum value at the trade deadline, even win ­occasionally — begins with a starting rotation that has been gutted the last two years and has been reconstructed for the third in a row.

The lone designer, maintenance man and psychologist for that ­process, pitching coach Chris ­Bosio, believes the latest reconstruction has worked again, even with back-end starter Jake Arrieta (shoulder) set to open on the disabled list.

“We’ve tried to do exactly the same throwing programs and ­everything to a T that we’ve done the last couple of years coming out of spring training,” Bosio said, “and I’m very hopeful and positive that we will have the same kind of ­results that we’ve had the last couple of years coming out of the gate with our starting pitchers.”

Last year, the Cubs’ rotation ranked among the top five in the majors for much of the first two months of the season, largely ­because of Jeff Samardzija, eventual All-Star Travis Wood and ­injury fill-in Carlos Villanueva. Even after Scott Feldman and Matt Garza were traded in July, the rotation finished with a 3.97 ERA that ranked 15th in the majors.

The track records and depth don’t look as bankable this time around, but if he’s healthy, $52 million disappointment Edwin Jackson only can get better after producing his worst season in six years in 2013. Opening Day starter Samardzija is back, and Wood said he’s determined to prove his All-Star season wasn’t a fluke.

Whether left-hander Chris Rusin — who has pitched as well as any starter in camp — or wily veteran Villanueva takes Arrieta’s spot when the season opens is the only question left to answer, and that should be decided about the time Rusin finishes his final spring start Wednesday afternoon.

With the Cubs planning to use days off the first three weeks to skip the fifth starter and keep ­Samardzija, Wood and Jackson on their five-day cycles as much as possible, the final roster decision could come down to:

◆ Keeping Rusin for the matchup-friendly start against the Phillies on April 6, then sending him to Class AAA Iowa to pitch regularly.

◆ Using Villanueva as the fifth/spot starter because of his unique ability to handle the role.

◆ Or keeping Rusin indefinitely as the fifth/spot starter because he has pitched so well.

“Those are the scenarios that we’ve talked about,” Bosio said, “and will keep talking about in the upcoming days.”

Meanwhile, “The guy that’s a key for me and kind of an unknown coming in is [Hammel],” Bosio said of this year’s Feldman, the one-year free agent who’s all but certain to be traded in July if Bosio can tap into the upside of the right-hander coming off knee and elbow injuries the last two years.

“Knock on wood, we have not had one issue with him health-wise all spring,” said Bosio, who put Hammel at the back of the rotation to give him extra time to build up. “He hasn’t backed off any [workouts], and he’s relentless in how he goes about his work. He’s in a really good spot right now.”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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