Cubs set top of rotation: Justin Steele to pitch Game 2, Marcus Stroman Game 3

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs’ first three starters are set for their opening series against the Brewers this week, after manager David Ross announced Monday that lefty Justin Steele would start Game 2 and right-hander Marcus Stroman Game 3.

Ross declined to explain his decision, but it made sense for a couple reasons. Stroman and Kyle Hendricks, the Opening Day starter, are still the leaders of the rotation. But pitching Steele in between Hendricks and Stroman separates the pair of crafty right-handers.

Hendricks and Stroman are also the most built up of any of the Cubs’ starters. So, pitching Steele second gives the Cubs a better idea of how to deploy their bullpen as the weekend progresses.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Steele said of making the Opening Day roster. “I’m just a kid living in a dream out here.”

Steele made his major-league debut last April, serving as a reliever early in the year. But he came back in the last couple months of the season as a starter.

“To spend seven years in the minors – so it was a long journey, went to Tommy John surgery, went through some injuries to get to the big leagues, but it just made it all that [much] sweeter when I finally did make it,” he said. “And it’s been really cool to continue the journey.”

Steele posted a 2.70 ERA in Cactus League play this spring and made his last start in a intrasquad scrimmage Monday, opposite Stroman. That schedule lined them up for the second and third games, one pitcher on regular rest and the other with an extra day between starts.

Hendricks is set to take the mound at Wrigley Field on Thursday, followed by Steele on Friday and Stroman on Saturday. Ross has yet to announce Sunday’s starter, for the final game of the opening series. Lefty Drew Smyly and right-hander Alec Mills appear to be up for the spot.

After Ross’ announcement Monday, Stroman celebrated Steele’s start on Twitter with a series of congratulatory emojis.

“I’ll pitch day five, I really don’t care when I pitch,” Stroman said earlier this spring. “I’m going to be out there hopefully for 30-plus starts, and that’s the goal.”

Cubs make cuts

The Cubs made another round of camp cuts on Monday, assigning five non-roster invitees to Triple-A Iowa. Most notably, versatile infielder Ildemaro Vargas was among them.

The move makes first baseman/outfielder Alfonso Rivas the favorite infielder to replace Andrelton Simmons (right shoulder soreness) on the Opening Day roster if the shortstop begins the season on the injured list. Depending on the health of their pitching staff, the Cubs could also choose to carry 14 position players and 14 pitchers, rather than 13 and 15.

The Cubs also assigned right-handers Jonathan Holder and Robert Gsellman, and left-handers Steven Brault and Stephen Gonsalves to Triple-A.

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