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Rotation picture no clearer

Rotation picture no clearer

MESA, Ariz. -- After 17 games, the Cubs are still in a bit of a predicament regarding their starting pitching. They have too many starters.

The three right-handers, Jason Marquis, Jon Lieber and Ryan Dempster, all have pitched well this spring, which is making it tough for Cubs manager Lou Piniella to pick two. And that doesn't factor in youngsters Sean Gallagher and Sean Marshall, who also have done well.

"We'll go one more time around in the rotation," Piniella said after Friday's game, "and then we'll have some news and then my headaches will start."

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Everything should be settled by the end of next week. As of now, the projected Cubs rotation will be Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, a right-hander to be determined, Rich Hill, and another right-hander.

Dempster and Lieber pitched Friday against the Angels in the Cubs' 6-5 loss. Dempster retired the side in the first, then began the second by making a throwing error when he scooped up Casey Kotchman's grounder and overthrew first base. That led to six runs on five hits and two walks, and an early exit for the right-hander.

Blame it on Piniella.

"He looked really sharp in the first inning," Piniella said. "I was telling Zambrano, 'Boy, Dempster is really throwing well,' and I think I jinxed the heck out of him. He couldn't work his way out of the second inning. He was up and behind in the count. It was a good effort, but it wasn't a good result."

"It feels more like a wasted day more than anything," Dempster said. "I don't think it's indicative of the way I've been throwing the ball. I think it's the exception rather than the norm."

He did learn something from the outing, though. Dempster has been a closer the last three years, and if he had the same role now, he would've been lifted, or the inning would've been over.

"Ted Lilly made a great point to me -- it's been a long time since I went through an inning like that," Dempster said. "When you're a closer, the adrenaline and the energy is there the minute you go into the game. As a starter, you're trying to slow the game down to your tempo. I haven't had that in so long, it'll help me for the next time I'm in that situation. It really comes back to executing a pitch and locating a pitch and today I didn't do that."

Lieber, who has been slowed because he's been sick, came on in relief in the fifth and threw four scoreless innings, giving up two hits. He looked sharp, and he now has a 1.80 ERA this spring.

After being hurt last season, Lieber was asked if he had answered any questions he had about his ability.

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"You guys can answer that -- hopefully, the results show it," he said. "I don't know what else you can do. I feel good, I feel like each outing gets a little better each time out. I never had any doubts. Just keep going out there and doing the things between starts to get ready for games and see what happens."

The pitchers can tell it'll be a tough decision for the Cubs to make.

"Everybody's throwing the ball real well," said Marquis, who has a 2.00 ERA in three spring games. "That's a good problem for the Cubs to have."

On Thursday against the Padres, Marquis gave up two hits and two walks over four scoreless innings, striking out two.

"I don't see competition with my teammates," Marquis said. "I compete with hitters in the box, I compete with myself on a daily basis. If the Cubs decide it's a competition, that's their take on it. I take it that we're teammates trying for the same goal and working for a common goal."

The lefties are the ones who have been scuffling a bit. Hill will make his second start and fourth spring appearance on Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., against the White Sox.

"He hasn't had a good spring," Piniella said. "He's not throwing the ball nearly as well in Spring Training as he did last year at this time. It's time for Hill to step it up a little bit."

Hill has had more problems with the mental part of the game lately. Last spring, everything came easy to the lefty.

"I think my mindset was a little different," Hill said. "Now, you put expectations on yourself. You start thinking, 'Now everybody expects this, and you have to go out and do that.' It's a stupid way of thinking."

He's finally starting to recognize that it's a new season, and he needs to simplify things.

"That's where I'm running into trouble a little bit, or was running into trouble," Hill said. "I feel like I'm getting better at it. It doesn't take a month to figure out. It just takes a night or a couple days to get back into the mode of keeping things simple."

The Cubs are looking for a long man, and Piniella has hinted that one of the starters could end up in the 'pen in that role. Lieber says he'll do it if needed, which was good to hear, Piniella said.

"He's pitched well all spring, but Jason has pitched well all spring, too," Piniella said. "We have a little bit of a predicament here."

It's a good problem to have.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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