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MLB Chicago Cubs

Injuries, Not Competition, Shaping Chicago Cubs’ Opening Day Rotation

Chicago Cubs Scott Baker Injury

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Why did the Chicago Cubs sign an abundance of starting pitchers? Fans are getting an early preview of that.

Heading into February, the Cubs had seven different pitchers who could’ve earned their way into the five-man starting rotation. This depth came from four free-agent signings: Edwin Jackson, Scott Feldman, Scott Baker and Carlos Villanueva. They joined a cast that already included Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood.

On Feb. 25, the Cubs finished their third Cactus League game. The regular season doesn’t start until Apr. 1. Yet, two pitchers are already down from injuries. Baker is recovering from Tommy John surgery that he had in April 2012. Garza is recovering from a mild lat strain that he suffered during a live batting practice session on Feb. 17.

According to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Gordon Wittenmyer, manager Dale Sveum confirmed that Baker will get his first spring training start in mid-March. However, Baker will start the season on the disabled list. He won’t make his regular-season debut until mid-April.

Garza should return way before Opening Day. But as anyone who followed Garza’s elbow injury knows, his timetable for return often gets set back. His elbow injury in 2012 went from a missed start, to a few weeks, to the last three months of the season – the diagnosis just kept getting worse.

Suddenly, seven pitchers have become six, maybe five.

These injuries could prevent Sveum from making a tough decision with his bullpen. He probably would’ve had to make a move with Michael Bowden or Shawn Camp. Now that Baker will start on the disabled list, there’s enough room for both pitchers on the 25-man roster.

What happens when Baker returns from the disabled list? The Cubs should ease his way into the rotation. If Wood is pitching well and everyone else is healthy, don’t expect Baker to immediately start.

It’s an early test for what has been praised as a deeper roster. They’ll need every bit of that depth. From Apr. 3 through May 5, the Cubs only off-day comes on Apr. 15. That’s 32 games in 33 days. It’s a grueling stretch that, if managed improperly, could wear down this roster just weeks into the season.

Joshua Huffman is a contributor for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your LinkedIn and Google networks.