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Cubs’ Todd Wellemeyer getting closer

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

MESA, Ariz. — Todd Wellemeyer toils in another extended spring- training game, taking another big stride from that damned hip injury, and hears in the back of his mind the same thing Cubs officials have been saying the last three weeks.

The big right-hander was a key to their pitching depth. The veteran starter could’ve been making his fourth start of the year for the Cubs tonight against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Instead, the former 13-game winner tries not to think too hard about the lousy timing of that mid-March injury as he prepares to move from extended spring to his first start for Class AAA Iowa on Thursday.

‘‘It is what it is,’’ said Wellemeyer, the non-roster winter free agent who could be in the mix, possibly with recently signed veteran Doug Davis, when the Cubs next need to fill the fifth-starter slot vacated by the injured Andrew Cashner in about two weeks.

‘‘The way it felt, I had to do this. There was no way I could have continued and been effective without fixing this hip. Unfortunate as it is and as unfortunate as the timing is, it’s just something that had to happen.’’

Through rehab, therapy and deep-stretching maintenance, Wellemeyer is pain-free and says his game-stamina level is about where it would be near the end of spring training.

‘‘I feel stronger than ever, really,’’ he said. ‘‘Now it’s just a matter of breaking the arm in and getting the durability up.’’

Meanwhile, the Cubs are struggling to tread water in the fourth and fifth spots since Cashner and Randy Wells simultaneously went on the DL after one start each — with Wellemeyer and Davis building strength and the jettisoned Carlos Silva and retired Braden Looper long gone since spring training.

After a rough fourth inning soured Casey Coleman’s five-inning start Sunday in Arizona, the Cubs fell to 1-6 on the fourth- and fifth-starter days since the season-opening pair went on the DL — with Coleman and James Russell combining for an 8.68 ERA in those starts.

Russell (0-3, 11.17 ERA in three starts) goes tonight in Los Angeles instead of staying in the bullpen for lefty relief.

‘‘There is pressure,’’ Coleman (1-2, 7.36) said of the fill-in work, ‘‘just because I didn’t get the amount of starts leading up to the season that I’d want in the minor leagues. But when you’re up here, they have confidence in you that you can get the job done.

‘‘I just need to find a way to get through it.’’

NOTES: Jeff Samardzija had his fifth consecutive scoreless appearance Sunday and extended his streak of scoreless innings to 11 — lowering his ERA more than five full points in the process to 2.76.

Starlin Castro’s 40 hits through Saturday tied Alex Rodriguez’s 1997 major-league record for most April hits by a player 21 years or younger.

Alfonso Soriano is the first Cub to enter May with at least a share of the major-league lead in home runs (tied with Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun at 10) since Dave Kingman in 1980 (six homers).

◆ Cubs starters won back-to-back games for the first time Friday and Saturday when Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza earned victories.

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