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Cubs’ Carlos Villanueva prepared to start if necessary

Carlos Villanuevthrew much better his second outing allowing one run three innings. | Paul Sancya~AP

Carlos Villanueva threw much better in his second outing, allowing one run in three innings. | Paul Sancya~AP

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Updated: April 4, 2013 7:01AM



SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — This is what all those pitching acquisitions were about, and why Cubs manager Dale Sveum sounds so calm when he says he might have two veteran starters open the season on the disabled list.

Two days after stressing the possibility Matt Garza (lat strain) could avoid the DL, Sveum mentioned how well Garza’s throwing session went Saturday but added, “I’m not going to lie. That opening series is probably a long shot.”

Scott Baker, who’s coming off Tommy John surgery, already is expected to spend the first two weeks of the season on the DL as the Cubs take their time with his buildup work.

That’s where pitchers such as Carlos Villanueva come in. The free-agent swingman figures to at least open the season as a starter until Garza or Baker is ready.

“For me, I don’t think about it. I hope Garza’s ready,” said Villanueva, who pitched out of trouble enough to get through three innings Saturday, allowing one run. “I hope all the guys are healthy, and we can take the best team north that we can get. But whatever Dale and Theo [Epstein] want me to do, and Jed [Hoyer], then I’ll do it.

“It’s not a focus for me. [But] if they need me to go out there every five days, then I’m ready for that challenge.”

If the season opened tomorrow, the Cubs’ rotation would be: Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, Scott Feldman, Travis Wood and Villanueva.

Garza, who played catch Thursday for the first time since suffering the injury Feb. 17, might have enough time for three or four starts before the season opens April 1. That would take him through about a 70- or 85-pitch outing.

“Then you have to make the decision: Opening Day weekend or a week [or so later],” Sveum said. “It’s kind of a wait-and-see thing now. We’ll probably know more about that in a week when we see what happens off that mound.”

Garza, who was built up enough to have a chance to progress quickly once he pitches, suggested Thursday he wasn’t going to rush things just to avoid opening the season on the DL.

Baker, who was signed to a one-year, $5.5 million deal this winter, threw live batting practice for the second time. He remains on pace for a Cactus League debut around March 15, with an anticipated season debut roughly a month after that.

Castro watch

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro took batting practice and is close to symptom-free three days after leaving the game Wednesday because of tightness in his left hamstring.

Sveum said that an MRI exam Friday revealed a small spot of inflammation in the hamstring but that Castro has shown no signs of the tightness the last day or two.

With nearly a month left in camp, the medical staff is taking an especially cautious approach with Castro that probably won’t have him back in a game until Tuesday or Wednesday.

GIANTS 9, CUBS 7

CARLOS IN CHARGE: Rotation candidate Carlos Villanueva pitched out of trouble for much of his three innings in his second start, allowing one run on a two-out homer by Pablo Sandoval in the third. He stranded three runners in the first two innings after allowing a one-out double in the first and a leadoff double in the second. “It was better than the first day [when he didn’t get out of the first inning],” Villanueva said. “But I’ve still got work to do.”

ACTION JACKSON: Outfield prospect Brett Jackson came off the bench to lead off the eighth. He lined a double to right, beating the throw to second, stole third and scored on a medium-depth fly to right. He’ll get the start Sunday at home against the Milwaukee Brewers. Jackson added a sacrifice fly to deep center in the ninth.

OUT OF LOUX: Pitching prospect Barret Loux, the right-hander eventually acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Geovany Soto deal (after the Cubs returned the original player in the deal), took the loss in relief by giving up four runs in the fourth. After one out, he gave up a single, a walk and a single before Gregor Blanco drilled a two-run triple to the left-center-field gap. Loux (14-1, 3.47 ERA at Class AA Frisco last year) pitched a scoreless fifth, but not before hitting two batters with pitches.

ON DECK: Split-squad games: Cubs at Los Angeles Angels, 2:05 p.m. Nick Struck vs. Joe Blanton; Brewers at Cubs, 2:05 p.m. (cubs.com). Edwin Jackson vs. Marco Estrada.



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