Jeff Samardzija heats up Cubs rotation competition

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It looked like six pitchers for five spots initially, but with Jeff Samardzija having made a strong early impression on new manager Dale Sveum, there are currently seven pitchers in the mix for the Cubs rotation.

The givens are Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster, though Garza’s name has been a very popular one in trade rumors. After those two were expected to be Paul Maholm and Randy Wells, leaving newcomers Chris Volstad and Travis Wood competing for one spot. Samardzija’s emergence, though, has broadened the competition and perhaps left Wells vulernable to being replaced.

Volstad, for what it’s worth, has answered the bell early on. He pitched three scoreless innings in a win against the Giants on Tuesday, bringing his spring total to six scoreless frames. Samardzija has allowed two runs in his six innings and boasts a nice 6/0 K/BB ratio. Wells has pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings, while Wood has allowed one run in 2 1/3 innings.

Since Wood, who came over in the Sean Marshall deal, has options left, he seems the most likely candidate to be bumped now. Samardzija then could take the spot of either Volstad or Wells if he’s promoted from the bullpen. Wells has seen his ERA jump from 3.05 in 2009 to 4.26 in 2010 and 4.99 last season, so there’s no reason he should be promised anything.

Jon Gray will start Opening Day for the Rockies

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Manager Bud Black has tabbed Jon Gray to start on Opening Day for the Rockies. That will be Monday, April 3 in Milwaukee against the Brewers in an afternoon contest.

Gray, 25, is starting Opening Day for the first time in his career. He’ll be the sixth different Rockies pitcher to start Opening Day in as many years.

The Rockies and Gray had a bit of a scare on Friday as he left his spring training start with discomfort in his left foot, but everything came up clean in an MRI. He pitched again on Wednesday with no issue.

Last season, Gray went 10-10 with a 4.61 ERA and a 185/59 K/BB ratio in 168 innings. A consensus top prospect entering each of the previous three seasons, Gray surprisingly put up better numbers at Coors Field — the most hitter-friendly park in baseball — than away.

Blake Treinen named Nationals closer

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Today Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker named Blake Treinen as his closer. Treinen has saved exactly one big league game.

There wasn’t necessarily an obvious choice, however. Last year Washington had Mark Melancon, but with him gone and GM Mike Rizzo’s failure to land a high-profile closer in the offseason, it became a contest between Treinen Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover.

Treinen posted a 2.28 ERA with 31 walks and 63 Ks in 67 innings in 2016. His big improvement last year came against lefties, who had tattooed him in the past. He pitched well this spring as well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

The Nats are our favorites to win the NL East, but we do have some questions about the pen. Blake Treinen will take the first crack at answering them.