Finals Week

MESA, Ariz. — The decision over the Cubs final spot in the rotation could come down to the final days before the season starts, unless a trade in the next week speeds up that process. Either way, the fifth spot could wind up just as important as the spot manager Lou Piniella plans to lock in by early next week.

Thats because Piniella said he plans to pitch his entire five-man starting staff on its full rotation throughout April, even with three off days the first 15 days of the season, in part to continue evaluating the back end of the staff.

“Were not going to a four-man, Piniella said this morning. “And the reason being is, lets find out who our third-best starter is. So well be pitching our rotation, to find out during the course of the season, too.

Piniella said he plans to have the closer role resolved as well as at least “80 percent of his rotation by next Tuesday. Hed like to have all the big decisions made by then, and probably will if the Cubs make one of the trades theyve been pursuing this spring.

“A lot of things here are [affected by] what can happen trade-wise or not, Piniella said. “And thats why youve got to be a little cautious in what you say or dont say.

Even after a postgame meeting with front office staff Sunday, Piniella said he wasnt given an indication what to expect on the trade front.

Meanwhile, Kerry Wood has emerged as the late-camp favorite for the closer role, with back-to-back assignments Wednesday and Thursday, as well as an inning-plus appearance over the weekend being the final tests for him.

As for the rotation, right-hander Jon Lieber or right-hander Ryan Dempster is expected to be named to fill the No. 3 slot between lefties Ted Lilly and Rich Hill, with the fifth spot coming down to todays starter, Jason Marquis, left-hander Sean Marshall and the guy left over from the three-hole decision, barring a trade of Marquis and/or Marshall.

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