As opener nears, Maddon using players in regular roles

Cubs manager believes first month of season helps define bullpen

As opener nears, Maddon using players in regular roles

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Cubs have less than one week before Opening Night, April 5. What's left for Joe Maddon to do?

Besides trimming the 38-man spring roster to the final 25, Maddon said he'll be inserting players into the remaining Cactus League games as if it were the regular season so they can get used to their roles.

"I really do have a better feel and understanding of our players now than I did when we walked in the door," Maddon said. "I think that first month [of the season], you get an even much better feel or taste based on a real game that matters and beyond that, the bullpen. I've always felt that first month is when the bullpen defines itself, and I'm looking forward to that."

He's been pleased with how the team has progressed, and wasn't giddy about the 18 runs scored Saturday against the Rockies.

"The big thing was no errors," said Maddon, who has emphasized sound fundamentals this spring.

"This next week is big for us as a team," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, "because we want to get off to a good start. We're not going to get off to a good start starting on April 5, we need to start gelling now. We've been gelling pretty well, it's a pretty good group of guys. Now it's more about, OK, Spring Training is coming to an end and it's about executing all of our plans."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.