Jeff Samardzija is Inigo MontoyaThe World Baseball Classic is underway, but it isn’t drawing huge crowds everywhere. Baseball America’s Ben Badler noted the extraordinarily sparse attendance in Fukuoka, Japan for the Cuba/China match-up. And the 86 folks in attendance didn’t exactly get their money’s worth – Cuba mercy ruled China in six and a half innings, winning 12-0. At least scouts were probably excited to see the Cuban team. No word of any defections yet, which is always something that could pop up during an international tournament.

  • As expected, Jeff Samardzija has been named the Cubs’ Opening Day starter. Although it was a three-horse race between Samardzija, Matt Garza, and Edwin Jackson, it kind of always seemed like it was going to be Samardzija. Garza’s been hurt, and Jackson’s the new guy. With Garza now set to start the season on the disabled list, the time to name Samardzija the Opening Day starter seemed obvious. Samardzija was dominant for the Cubs in 2012 (save for June, when he experimented with a curveball), his first full season as a starter on the big team, and the Opening Day nod is both a reward and a reflection of his status with the team. This time last year, Samardzija was ostensibly fighting for a rotation spot, and many wondered if the Cubs were crazy for putting him back in the rotation after he’d finally found some success as a reliever. Good move. What would you have thought last March if you’d been told Samardzija was going to be the Opening Day starter in 2013? Well, other than, “holy crap, the Cubs must be terrible on paper and decimated by injuries,” which isn’t entirely untrue …
  • Starlin Castro was able to take batting practice this weekend as he recovers from his hamstring inflammation. His injury seems like a convenient excuse to get him some extra rest before the long season starts (and to see other players in action), rather than an ongoing and suddenly worsening problem.
  • Ian Stewart, on the other hand, is obviously legitimately injured. The mildly strained quad, which became a mildly-to-moderately strained quad, had prevented Stewart from even swinging a bat until a cage session late yesterday. He suffered the injury back on February 21, and may not be ready for game action for another couple weeks, leaving him just two weeks to prove himself before the season starts. If Stewart is healthy, I still suspect the Cubs won’t cut him just to save $1.5 million-ish (his potential upside as a trade piece, however unlikely, is still high enough that it’s worth the money, especially when you consider the uber-weak third base situation around baseball right now).
  • Stewart is frustrated by the injury, as you might expect. “It is very frustrating,” Stewart said about being sidelined, per Carrie Muskat. “I worked hard this offseason, spent a lot of time away from my family this offseason, going back and forth from California to North Carolina. It is tough and I guess the only positive is that the season is six and hopefully seven months long. If you’re going to be hurt this time of year, and not something to take you away from meaningful games in the middle or latter part of the season. Hopefully, it won’t be too much longer.”
  • Patrick Mooney on the Theo Epstein-Terry Francona relationship, and on the managerial search that brought the Cubs Dale Sveum instead of Francona.
  • Keep your eyes open for some prospecting goodness around here starting tomorrow, when Luke begins to unveil his top Cubs prospect list … and it’s a whopper.


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