PHOENIX — As the Cubs finalize their roster for their opener Monday, the decision to make Carlos Villanueva the fifth starter was less intriguing than the fact they can’t finish a bullpen.
Manager Rick Renteria said he expects to have that decision before the Cubs head to Pittsburgh after their last exhibition game Saturday afternoon against the Diamondbacks.
Renteria wouldn’t say what the decision is coming down to.
But out-of-options Alberto Cabrera had back-to-back ugly outings Tuesday and Wednesday, which coincided with multiple media reports suggesting he would make the club.
Indications are his status is in serious doubt.
Because the Cubs officially have no relievers left in camp over the number they plan to carry in their opening bullpen, they’re considering players already sent out as possible alternatives to Cabrera.
Those include Blake Parker, who has some internal support because of a good big-league season last year, and Brian Schlitter, who has shown especially powerful stuff this spring.
“I’d take him right now,” one evaluator from a rival club said after Schlitter was sent out.
The Villanueva decision Friday came down to the veteran’s versatility and experience as a swingman as well as his effectiveness down the stretch this spring, Renteria said.
It means left-hander Chris Rusin, who pitched well this spring until a rough outing on a blustery Wednesday, opens the season in the Class AAA rotation.
“That’s the part of it that sucks,” said Villanueva, whose first start comes April 6 at home against the Phillies. “You’re competing with somebody that you love and that you want to have a lot of success, too. But it doesn’t mean he’s not going to have any. He’s just maybe not going to have it right now in the big leagues.”
Rusin had a 3.93 ERA in 13 starts for the Cubs last year, most after the Cubs traded away Scott Feldman and Matt Garza in July.
Villanueva, who was successful in fill-in rotation duty for the injured Garza early last season, now fills in for Jake Arrieta (shoulder), who could return in late April.
Arrieta is traveling with the team and is scheduled for another bullpen session Monday before the season opener.
“Right now, I think it talks about the strength of our team,” Villanueva said of the roster flux late in camp. “We have a way better team than we did. The fact that a lot of tough decisions came down to the wire lets people know that we’re not all thinking about the future right now.
“The guys here are thinking about now. We want to win now.”
NOTES: Shortstop Starlin Castro, who has been working back from a March 2 hamstring injury, got a “recovery” day Friday after a week of heavy play on the minor-league side of camp and says he’s ready for a full season’s workload. He’s expected to be in the lineup Saturday and is “available” for nine innings, although it’s unlikely he’ll play the whole game.
◆ Rick Renteria said he’s still working on his Opening Day lineup against Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano.