MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs sent six players to Minor League camp, including Brooks Raley and Alberto Cabrera, both projected for Triple-A Iowa's rotation.
Cabrera and Raley were optioned along with pitcher Trey McNutt and infielder Logan Watkins, who was the Cubs' Minor League Player of the Year in 2012. Robert Whitenack was optioned to Double-A Tennessee, and Nick Struck, a non-roster invitee who was the Cubs' 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, was assigned to Minor League camp.
The moves reduced the spring roster to 53 players, and now includes 25 pitchers (nine non-roster invitees), five catchers (two non-roster invitees), 13 infielders (five non-roster invitees) and 10 outfielders (three non-roster invitees).
Castro, Stewart close to rejoining lineup
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, sidelined since Feb. 27 with a tight hamstring, is expected back in the lineup Wednesday for the first time since he was hurt, while third baseman Ian Stewart, who has been bothered by a sore left quad since Feb. 21, could play on Thursday.
Castro, Stewart, Brent Lillibridge and Josh Vitters were able to run the bases on Monday at HoHoKam Stadium to test their legs. Lillibridge has been out since Feb. 27 with a strained groin, while Vitters also injured his left quad on Feb. 21.
"I think there's plenty of time now," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Monday about Stewart. "We were a little bit worried that it would be next week but everything's gotten a little bit quicker."
Stewart, who has one at-bat, and that was in an intrasquad game, said Sunday he feels he's the starting third baseman despite missing so much time.
"He came in knowing it was a job he was going to have to just play well and produce," Sveum said. "It's still 16, 17 possible games left starting Thursday. You're looking at hopefully cramming 30 at-bats into that and some Minor League at-bats, too."
The Cubs also got good news on pitcher Matt Garza, who has been sidelined since Feb. 17 with a strained left lat. He played catch on Monday, making 25 tosses from about 45 feet.
Garza, who was not expected in the rotation for the first month, will rest Tuesday then resume throwing on Wednesday.
Samardzija makes 'big turn' in latest spring outing
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- In Jeff Samardzija's previous outing Wednesday, he was on a back field in Surprise, facing Rangers Minor Leaguers in a "B" game that started at 10 a.m. On Monday, the Cubs right-hander was starting in front of a sellout crowd of 12,436 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
The results were better against the D-backs.
"When you're in that environment of no anxiety and no pressure, it allows you to be a little more free on the mound of what you want to do," Samardzija said of the "B" game. "Although the results might not be what you want, if you can look back on your outing and say there are a couple things that you did better than the time before, that's what it's all about."
He could definitely say that against the D-backs. Samardzija, the Cubs' Opening Day starter, did give up four runs on four hits, including two home runs, and two walks over 4 2/3 innings. He also helped himself by hitting a solo home run in the fifth.
"Close your eyes and you run into things sometimes," he said of his home run.
He's still working on getting his offspeed pitches down in the zone, but said Monday was his best outing.
"I really thought today was a big turn for me, just how I felt," he said. "If I missed, I didn't miss by much. The adjustments I need to make are pretty simple."
He has about three starts remaining this spring to tune up for his Opening Day start April 1 against the Pirates, including a start this weekend against the Rangers, whom he could see in April in Interleague Play. Samardzija will keep working on his pitches, but don't expect him to reveal everything.
"You don't want to show them everything in Spring Training," he said.
• Now that David DeJesus has won the Cubs' bunting tournament for the second straight year, will he bunt more during the season?
Cubs manager Dale Sveum said he wouldn't mind seeing DeJesus drag bunt now and then. DeJesus beat Nate Halm, a member of the team's video department who played baseball at Miami of Ohio, in the final, which was Sunday. Halm did win $1,800 for finishing second, but no automatic berth next year.
"If he had won [maybe]," Sveum said. "It's my game, it's my rules."
• The Cubs will play host to the Japanese team competing in the World Baseball Classic in an exhibition Friday at HoHoKam Stadium. It's a split-squad game, with the other half of the club traveling to Glendale to play the White Sox, then heading to Las Vegas for a weekend series against the Rangers.
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.