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Baker’s shaky start leaves Cubs’ rotation spot in flux

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(AP)
Scott Baker was roughed up in his first appearance on Sunday for the Cubs. Baker is recovering from elbow surgery that forced him to sit out all of last season.

PHOENIX – As Scott Baker proved Sunday, the Cubs' starting rotation still is a work in progress. And it may be for some time.

Baker, a free-agent signee who had elbow surgery nearly a year ago, made his first start of the Cactus League and was unceremoniously used for batting practice by the A's.

Originally scheduled for two innings, Baker faced only six batters before reaching his pitch limit. Three of the A's batters had hits and two more had walks in the three-run outing.

"Results are one thing, but getting back out there and pitching in front of fans is something I haven't done yet," Baker said. "It was exciting to get out there and do it.

"I thought I threw some decent pitches. Occasionally I was a little jumpy and left the ball up a little bit. But I was happy to be out there. It's another step."

Cubs brass didn't expect Baker to be the same pitcher Sunday who was the Twins' opening-day starter in 2010, but it shows they still aren't sure quite what they have in a revamped rotation – Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Matt Garza are the only holdovers among the top seven candidates – with 2 weeks remaining in spring training.

Opening-day starter Samardzija and No. 2 Edwin Jackson have been as advertised, with ERAs of 3.68 and 3.00 despite the infamous light air of Arizona.

The rest?

No. 3 starter Scott Feldman is 0-2 with an 11.80 ERA after four starts.

Then comes Wood, who has had a very good spring, and Carlos Villanueva, who gave up three runs on four hits and three walks to the Rangers in four innings Sunday in Las Vegas to run his ERA to 6.17.

But those two are headed for the bullpen once Baker and another rehab project, Garza, are fully ready. Baker and Garza originally were scheduled for mid-April and May, respectively, but obviously those dates are fluid.

Can Baker still make his target date after Sunday's performance?

"That's still the plan," he said. "Nothing's changed."

If history of elbow surgeries is an indication, Baker should improve as the season progresses. The question is how quickly.

Questions about his health "are still relevant," he said, "probably until the middle of the season."

But Baker said he came out of his first start feeling fine physically, and not bad emotionally.

"I was throwing all pitches," he said. "Did I locate as well as I would like to? No. That's still part of the process. It's another step ...

"Trust me, there were some nerves today. I haven't done it in a while. That's a good thing. ... At the same time, I have to combat those feelings and make good pitches. I made some good pitches. It just didn't work out."

Baker update

• After feeling soreness in elbow on Monday, Baker had an MRI. Results were not made available

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