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Pitching helps change Cubs' outlook

Caption
New Cubs reliever Kyuji Fujikawa throws the ball to first base during a spring training workout Tuesday in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

MESA, Ariz. – Cubs manager Dale Sveum knows exactly what he’ll say about last year’s 101-loss season when he meets with his team for the first time this spring.

“I probably won’t mention last year, to tell you the truth,” the Cubs’ second-year manager said. “This is about this year and the organization moving on and the 25 guys going north. So I don’t want to be talking about last year at all.”

The Cubs’ first full-squad workout is scheduled for Sunday.

Making the task of forgetting the worst Cubs season in more than 40 years a little easier is the fact the front office overhauled a pitching staff that finished last season with more walks than anyone else in the National League and with Triple-A pitchers making 40 of the final 62 starts.

In one of baseball’s surprise moves of the offseason, the Cubs signed durable starter Edwin Jackson to a four-year, $52 million deal to join Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza at the top of the rotation.

They also added Scott Baker, Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva to join Travis Wood in a competition for the two other spots.

In the bullpen, closer Carlos Marmol returns along with top left-hander James Russell and experienced middle man Shawn Camp. Instead of filling out the rest of the pen with rookies, as they did last season, the Cubs added former Japanese All-Star closer Kyuji Fujikawa as a free agent. And one or two of the rotation candidates figure to fall to the bullpen, adding even more experience.

“We run seven deep in starting pitchers. That’s going to make our bullpen better,” team president Theo Epstein said. “We just got through running through every single pitcher in camp with the entire coaching staff [during a staff meeting Sunday morning].

“It’s night and day in terms of quality and depth, in terms of what we were looking at toward the end of last season. Especially after the trades we made at the deadline and then with Garza going down [with an elbow injury], there were times when we were scrambling just to put a pitching staff out there, let alone have it be the one that we wanted.”

The Cubs say Garza, who missed the final 11 weeks of the season, is back to full health and ready to start his spring schedule at full speed. Baker is coming off a missed season because of Tommy John surgery, but also is healthy and expected to shoulder a full spring workload.

Whether it’s enough to return the Cubs to the playoffs for the first time in five years – or even .500 for the first time in four – remains to be seen.

But Sveum is sure of two things: Last year doesn’t matter – 100 losses or not – and the goal remains singular, regardless: making the playoffs.

“We could have lost 90 (instead) last year and it would have been the same thing. We would have gone home,” Sveum said. “Everything’s put on numbers – how many wins, playing .500 – and those are a lot of things you have to stay away from. Nobody wants to lose 100 games, but when you start putting prices on numbers, like, ‘Well, .500 would be a good year this year,’ well, .500 and we’re going to go home just like last year.”

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