Cubs 5, Dodgers 4: Who Will Be The 5th Starter?

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

The Cubs put up a four-spot in the sixth inning and held on to win. But there are larger questions.

MESA, Arizona -- Don't get too excited about the Cubs' 5-4 win over the Dodgers Friday in front of another record crowd at Cubs Park (15,191).

That's because the four-run rally in the sixth inning that gave the Cubs the lead for good was off Jamey Wright. When he came in the game, I thought, "Jamey Wright... holy cow, he's older than I am!"

Well, not really. (I wish.) Wright is 39, and trying to hang on for one more year. He was actually fairly effective for the Rays in relief last year, but the Dodgers would be his 11th team... no, check that, still 10, because he pitched for them in 2012. How long has he been around? He was the first-round pick of the Rockies in 1993. The Cubs' No. 1 pick that year was... Brooks Kieschnick. Among Wright's teammates his rookie year in 1996 was Andres Galarraga... who will soon turn 53 years old.

So don't get excited about that. Do get excited about Kyle Hendricks' excellent outing. He threw three innings and allowed just one hit and a walk, and the hit was a bunt single by Dee Gordon, who is one of the fastest men in the National League. Hendricks is still in the running for the fifth-starter spot, and you already know how I feel about him. With Jake Arrieta not yet close to playing in games and likely going to start the year on the disabled list, it will probably be between Hendricks, Chris Rusin (who'll start one of the games in Las Vegas this weekend) and Carlos Villanueva for the spot.

Villanueva threw well on Friday also, though he did wind up giving up a run when Dodgers shortstop Miguel Rojas doubled and Gordon tripled him in. Hendricks struck out four, all of them Dodger regulars (well, three and pitcher Josh Beckett) and Villanueva struck out a pair, including Yasiel Puig, who was pretty quiet today apart from committing a throwing error on a single by Anthony Rizzo, which woulnd up not mattering after Rizzo was driven in by Justin Ruggiano, followed by a Luis Valbuena home run in the Cubs' big sixth inning.

Again, you know how I feel about Hendricks, and Villanueva was better in relief last year than as a starter. If Hendricks keeps throwing this way, I think you've got to give him the shot in the rotation to open the season.

The Dodgers chipped away at the Cubs' lead with a two-spot off Jose Veras in the seventh, which could have been worse except that Veras and Javier Baez combined on a nice pickoff of Alex Guerrero at second base after Guerrero had doubled in the second run. Alberto Cabrera posted a save, but not until after he allowed Drew Butera to hit a long home run to center field. It looked like Cabrera had Butera struck out four pitches before the homer, but the pitch was called a ball. After that Butera fouled off four pitches in a row before homering. Cabrera then struck out top Dodgers prospect Corey Seager (brother of the Mariners' Kyle Seager) and the quaintly-named Joc Pederson to end it.

It was a good thing it ended when it did, because not five minutes after the last out, some sprinkles hit the Mesa area. If you were watching on MLB.TV, you likely saw the dark clouds hovering to the north and east of Cubs Park, some showers scattering around the Phoenix area that were not forecast.

Attendance watch: Yet another Cactus League record was set today, as the Cubs drew 15,191. The crowd contained a significant number of Dodger fans, and that makes the spring season total for eight dates at Cubs Park 108,054, or 13,507 per date. Holding that pace would make the season total 202,605, just short of the all-time major-league spring training attendance record, set by the Cubs in 2009 at HoHoKam Park in 19 dates. There will be 15 dates this spring.

Saturday, the Cubs will have their first of three consecutive split-squad dates. They'll head to Surprise to face the Royals with Jeff Samardzija throwing against James Shields. The other half of the team flies to Las Vegas to play the Mets. Chris Rusin, another potential fifth starter, will pitch against Bartolo Colon. The Vegas game will be televised on WGN, and the game in Surprise (where I'll be tomorrow) will be on WGN radio.

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