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Hard to imagine Cubs not starting Jeff Samardzija in opener

Updated: April 3, 2013 6:17AM



MESA, Ariz. — With each passing day, it’s harder to imagine anyone but Jeff Samardzija starting for the Cubs on Opening Day in Pittsburgh.

Although manager Dale Sveum said Friday he’s closer to making the decision, he still isn’t willing to make the call for the game April 1.

Samardzija navigated through trouble to pitch three innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks in his second start of the spring. Last season, Samardzija said he was on a “mission.” This spring, Sveum sees a pitcher “on a different voyage.”

“Last year, it was to prove that he could start, and he did that,” Sveum said. “Now his mission is to be one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.”

That would seem to begin with his first career Opening Day start.

“I don’t mind the responsibility. I feel like the more pressure I put on myself, the more important I take things and the harder I work,” Samardzija said. “Hopefully, I can just keep doing my work and see what happens.”

Castro update

Shortstop Starlin Castro is likely to remain sidelined with a hamstring injury at least through the weekend.

“We’ll probably look more towards Monday,” Sveum said. “We’ve got a lot of games left. We don’t have to do anything [too quickly] that way.”

Castro, who left the game Wednesday when his left hamstring tightened while he ran out a grounder, said Friday the hamstring was still “a little [tight] but not that much.” He expected to take batting practice Saturday.

All aboard

The Cubs said pitcher Dontrelle Willis is pain-free and throwing again after leaving his spring debut Monday after just seven pitches because of shoulder tightness.

Willis is in minor-league camp after signing with his original organization this winter. He was invited to join the bullpen Monday.



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