MESA, Ariz. – Chris Rusin could score a lot of points with avid Cubs fans Friday if he throws several shutout innings against the rival White Sox.
And Rusin, currently a candidate for the fifth spot in the Cubs rotation, could play a big role in the middle of the season even if he doesn't make the team.
That's because the Cubs have decisions to make surrounding Carlos Villanueva's ability to start or relieve, Jake Arrieta's potential return by mid-April, and possible trades.
"Wherever they want to place me, it's up to them," said Rusin, who threw four scoreless innings Sunday against the Mets and had a 3.93 ERA in 13 starts last season.
"If I've done my best and don't make the team, then I have to go down [to Triple-A Iowa] and do more. If I make the team, I've worked my hardest and was successful in what I wanted to do. I take it both ways, and don't take it the wrong way either way."
Rusin, 27, has minor league options and could stay sharp at Iowa while the Cubs entertain offers for No. 1 starter Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel during the regular season.
Samardzija, pitching in front of scouts from at least 11 teams Thursday, struck out eight in 5 1/3 innings of a 3-0 loss to the Mariners before a Cactus League record crowd of 15,243 at Cubs Park.
"We're ready to get going," Samardzija said after his fastball was clocked at 96 mph.
Villanueva, who struck out eight in four innings Wednesday against the Rockies, has extensive experience between the rotation and bullpen, and could serve as a long reliever once Arrieta rejoins the rotation.
"[Villanueva] is continuing to pitch well, and he's putting himself in a position to be used in that [starting role] if need be,'' manager Rick Renteria said.
Arrieta, recovering from right shoulder stiffness, will throw a 50-pitch simulated game Friday, and believes he could pitch in games next week after spending the spring regaining his strength.
Meanwhile, Rusin appreciates the advice Villanueva has provided despite the fact they're competing for the same spot.
"Every day we're in the same [pitching] group, and I'm always asking questions about what goes on during the season, how he prepares for each game if he's starting or relieving," Rusin said. "He just feeds me all the information I need to know. He jokes around. He's positive, and a good guy to be around."
James McDonald, whose chances of earning the fifth spot ended when he suffered a bout of tendinitis Monday, could resume throwing Friday.
Once Villanueva shifts to the bullpen, it could clog an already thick bullpen further. Alberto Cabrera is out of options and has looked impressive, according to multiple scouts.
That could leave the final spot in the bullpen between Blake Parker and Hector Rondon, who each have minor league options.