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Cubs' Marshall plan: 4th starter
The Cubs set their four-man rotation Thursday when they officially named rookie left-hander Sean Marshall as their No. 4 starter.
Marshall's first test should give everyone a good idea what he's made of because the Cubs plan to throw him April 9 against St. Louis in the final game of the opening home series.
Increasing the degree of difficulty will be the fact Marshall's debut will be televised nationally on ESPN as part of its Sunday night baseball package.
But Marshall's confidence helped him win the job, and he showed no signs of trepidation over facing the Cardinals despite only 10 games of experience at the Double-A level.
"It's just a team," Marshall said. "I'm just going to pitch against them like any other team, do what I've been doing. You make good pitches, you're going to get outs.
"Even though it's our rivalry and they're one of the best teams in the Central, it's just like pitching against a Double-A team for me. I'm not going to take it any differently."
The Cubs are taking a calculated risk in throwing an inexperienced 23-year-old into the fire, but Marshall is seemingly their best option after Jerome Williams' inconsistent spring.
"Hey, dude, you can't pick where you out 'em," manager Dusty Baker said. "I try to protect most of the young guys the best I can, if you hadn't noticed. But at the same time, being in the big leagues, you're in the fire every day, no matter who you're playing."
The last starter the Cubs called up from Double A to make his major-league debut was Sergio Mitre, who gave up eight runs on 10 hits and three walks in 32/3 innings in a loss against Atlanta on July 22, 2003. Mitre was an emergency starter in '03 because of Mark Prior's stint on the disabled list.
Prior, Kerry Wood and Wade Miller are rehabbing injuries, and one of them could push Marshall out of the rotation eventually. Wood might return in late April, and Baker said he hopes to get Prior back in May.
But Marshall isn't thinking about being replaced by one of the three former All-Stars.
"It's not really a short-term gig," he said. "It's hopefully going to be for the whole season."
The Cubs' season-opening rotation of Carlos Zambrano, Glendon Rusch, Greg Maddux and Marshall isn't quite what Baker had envisioned over the winter.
Williams was considered a shoo-in at the start of camp but discovered after his start Thursday he will be used in long relief. Williams, who allowed one run in five innings in his final Cactus League game, is penciled in to start April 15, the first time the Cubs need a fifth starter.
"Doesn't matter to me," he said. "Right now I'm just happy to contribute."
If Williams struggles, could the Cubs call up Angel Guzman for the April 15 start?
Doubtful. Baker said Guzman's not ready and that he, Jae Kuk Ryu and Rich Hill will have to wait for an opportunity to join the club.
"There are only so many spots," Baker said. "Those guys were disappointed. Some of them were upset. I was disappointed and upset. I remember those days exactly. But we think it's better that they pitch [in Iowa]. Guzman hasn't pitched in three years. He has the stuff, but what's the longest he has gone? Four innings?"
Then again, the longest Marshall has gone this spring is four innings, and now he's in the rotation.
Marshall seems willing to do whatever it takes to stick around.
"If they want me to stay up the whole season, I'd love that," he said. "But if they need me for a month or a half-season until everyone gets healthy, I'll just try to earn my job and make it a tough decision for them to send me down."