By Bruce Levine-

MESA, Ariz. (CBS) —  As speculation continues that Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija could be traded this season if he doesn’t sign a contract extension by Opening Day, expectations remain high for him from the front office.

“We are looking at his fastball command, throwing strike one, as big keys to any of our pitchers having success,” manager Rick Renteria said. “We already know he has the stuff. He has been working extremely hard in his pens to isolate zones.”

Asked if he was ready to name his Opening Day starter, Renteria responded, “I have not set the table for that.”

“We will let the spring play itself out and go from there,” he said.

Renteria really has only two choices: Samardzija or 2013 All-Star Travis Wood. Samardzija was the Opening Day starter in 2013.

Arrieta continues recovery 

Starter Jake Arrieta threw a bullpen and hopes to get in shape for a possible rotation slot by Opening Day. Arrieta  came to camp with a sore shoulder in February and had been shut down until recently.

“We are progressing him the way we feel we should,” Renteria said. “We are monitoring his work, making sure he is on target to stay healthy. He will throw another pen in a few days, everything is moving forward very positively. We will reach a conclusion in a different way as we continue to move forward.”

Arrieta will most likely start the season on the disabled list. Taking baby steps with a shoulder issue is the prudent thing to do. No pitcher should have a short spring training due to injury and then go up north to pitch in cold weather for the first couple of outings. The Cubs’ first 17 games are in cold-weather cities with outdoor playing facilities.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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