MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs’ latest round of cuts Sunday, which reduced the spring-training roster from 43 players to 36, included them optioning right-hander Manuel Rodriguez to Triple-A Iowa.
The bulk of the players cut were pitchers, filling out Iowa’s pitching staff. The Cubs signed nine pitchers this spring, mostly veteran relievers, leaving fewer spots for non-roster invitees to compete for.
The Cubs assigned six non-roster invitees to Triple-A, including right-handers Adrian Sampson, Mark Leiter Jr., Eric Yardley and Cayne Ueckert. They also assigned catchers John Hicks and P.J. Higgins to Iowa.
Leiter and Sampson might build up to starters’ innings at Triple-A to give the Cubs options to call up in case of injury. Leiter started the Cubs’ Cactus League game Saturday against the Angels, allowing two unearned runs in three innings.
Similarly, Rodriguez — who made his major-league debut last season and showed potential to develop into a closer — can rack up more innings in high-leverage situations in Triple-A.
The Cubs’ 40-man roster is at 40 players, with the last opening going to right-handed reliever Jesse Chavez, whom they signed this spring to a minor-league deal with an invitation to camp. The Cubs would need to make a corresponding roster move to add any non-roster player to the Opening Day roster.
Buns of Steele
Cubs left-hander Justin Steele saw firsthand the kind of pop right fielder Seiya Suzuki can generate up the middle. He felt it, too.
”I haven’t seen the exit velo yet,” Steele said. ”I need to go look at it. I want to know how hard it was hit because it stung, for sure.”
In a simulated game, Suzuki hit a line drive off Steele’s left glute. Steele picked up the ball and threw it to first base.
”Sometimes you’ve just got to wear it for an out, I guess,” Steele said afterward.
He stayed in the game and said he came away with only a bruise.
”[Suzuki] came up to me immediately and was apologizing,” Steele recounted. ”I was like, ‘No, that’s what you’re supposed to do.’ ”
Steele originally was scheduled to pitch in the Cubs’ night game against the Indians, but the team decided a more controlled environment would be better for his last outing of the spring. Steele is expected to break camp in the Cubs’ rotation.
”It is exciting,” Steele said. ”It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Just a kid living in a dream out here.”
Left-hander Drew Smyly is scheduled to take the mound for the Cubs on Monday against the White Sox at Sloan Park in the second-to-last spring-training game for both teams. The Sox are set to start right-hander Vince Velazquez.