Cubs set top of rotation: Justin Steele to pitch Game 2, Marcus Stroman Game 3

Manager David Ross announced the first three starters for the Cubs’ opening series against the Brewers.

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Cubs lefty Justin Steele is scheduled to start Friday against the Brewers.

Cubs lefty Justin Steele is scheduled to start Friday against the Brewers.

John Antonoff/Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs’ first three starters for their opening series this week against the Brewers are set after manager David Ross announced Monday that left-hander Justin Steele would start the second game Friday and right-hander Marcus Stroman the third Saturday.

Ross declined to explain his decision, but it made sense for a couple of reasons. Stroman and right-hander Kyle Hendricks, the Opening Day starter Thursday, are still the leaders of the rotation. But pitching Steele in between them separates the right-handers.

Hendricks and Stroman are also the most built up of any of the Cubs’ starters. So pitching Steele second gives the Cubs a better idea about how to deploy their bullpen as the series progresses.

‘‘It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,’’ Steele said of making the Opening Day roster. ‘‘I’m just a kid living in a dream out here.’’

Steele made his major-league debut last April, serving as a reliever early in the season. But he came back in the last couple of months of 2021 as a starter.

‘‘To spend seven years in the minors — it was a long journey, went through Tommy John surgery, went through some injuries to get to the big leagues — it just made it all that [much] sweeter when I finally did make it,’’ Steele said. ‘‘And it’s been really cool to continue the journey.’’

Steele posted a 2.70 ERA in Cactus League play this spring and made his last start in an intrasquad scrimmage Sunday, opposite Stroman. That schedule lined them up for the second and third games of the series against the Brewers, one on regular rest and the other with an extra day between starts.

Ross has yet to announce the starter for the series finale Sunday. Left-hander Drew Smyly and right-hander Alec Mills appear to be up for the spot.

After Ross’ announcement Monday, Stroman celebrated Steele’s start on Twitter with a series of congratulatory emojis.

‘‘I’ll pitch Day 5; I really don’t care when I pitch,’’ Stroman said earlier this spring. ‘‘I’m going to be out there hopefully for 30-plus starts, and that’s the goal.’’

Cubs make more cuts

The Cubs made another round of camp cuts, assigning five non-roster invitees to Triple-A Iowa. Versatile infielder Ildemaro Vargas was the most notable among them.

The move makes first baseman/outfielder Alfonso Rivas the favored infielder to replace shortstop Andrelton Simmons (soreness in right shoulder) on the Opening Day roster if Simmons begins the season on the injured list. Depending on the health of their pitching staff, the Cubs also might choose to carry 14 position players and 14 pitchers, rather than 13 and 15.

The Cubs also assigned right-handers Jonathan Holder and Robert Gsellman and left-handers Steven Brault and Stephen Gonsalves to Triple-A.

Roberts makes roster

Reliever Ethan Roberts made the Opening Day roster for the first time in his career, receiving the news after throwing a scoreless inning against the White Sox. Roberts, 24, hasn’t given up a run all spring.

‘‘This is like three different flavors of icing on top of my cake right now,’’ Roberts said with a grin. ‘‘This is insane. It’s

something I’ve been looking forward to for my entire life.’’

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