Cubs talk about the spring, being ready for 2014

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Rick Renteria confirmed Saturday that Carlos Villanueva will start on Sunday in the series finale against the Phillies.

Villanueva, named the fifth starter in Spring Training, was needed to pitch in relief Monday and Wednesday in extra-inning games against the Pirates and took the loss in both.

The right-hander can only hope he continues the strong outings so far by Chicago starters. In the first four games, the Cubs starters have combined for a 1.78 ERA, giving up five earned runs over 25 1/3 innings.

They haven't gotten much offensive support, though.

"It's early," said Travis Wood, who posted a quality start but took the loss on Friday. "We have a good group of guys here who are gamers and they're going to find their stroke and put some runs up on the board."

Renteria said the players' approach at the plate is fine and noted that the Cubs outhit the Pirates in the opening series.

"It's not so much offensive struggles -- it might be situational struggles at times," Renteria said. "As long as our pitching keeps us in the game and we catch the ball, we have a good chance every single day to win a ballgame."

The Cubs rank 14th in the National League with runners in scoring position, batting .121 (4-for-33) in the first four games.

Renteria altering lineup against lefties

CHC@PIT: Valbuena hits an RBI single to tie the game

CHICAGO -- On Saturday, the Cubs faced the Phillies' Cliff Lee, the third left-handed starting pitcher in the team's first five games. It's the first time they've seen that many southpaws to start a season since 1995.

Manager Rick Renteria has responded by altering his lineups, depending on the starter. Mike Olt and Junior Lake get starts against lefties; Luis Valbuena and Ryan Sweeney are in the lineup against right-handers.

"We have the flexibility of right-handed, left-handed matchups," Renteria said Saturday. "Someone asked about guys getting comfortable on a daily basis [if not playing every day], and I think we're trying to put everybody in the best possible position for success based on guys they've faced. You'll see us double up and play against righties [against right-handers] and lefties [against left-handers]. It depends on where we're at and what we see is the right fit."

Last season, the Cubs struggled against left-handed pitchers, batting .232, which ranked last in the National League.

One player who has started every day is first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who was 1-for-9 against lefties this year. Last season, he batted .189 against lefties, .252 against right-handers.

"The more he continues to face lefties, the more he's adjusting his approach," Renteria said of Rizzo. "I think over the long haul it'll start to improve, but you can't do it unless you're out there. A lot of our other guys also, there will be times when they're facing some lefties, and people will probably wonder why, but you have to give them the opportunity to see them at some point."

Prospect Bryant off to hot start in Double-A

Mayo, Callis debate who'll lead Minors in home runs

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant seems to be having no problems at Double-A Tennessee.

Bryant, the second player taken overall in last year's First-Year Player Draft, snapped a scoreless tie with a solo home run in the seventh inning Friday to lift Tennessee to a 1-0 win over Pensacola. It was Bryant's second homer in as many games as he also connected in the season opener Thursday, a 6-5 loss to Pensacola.

Ranked second among the Cubs' top 20 prospects, Bryant led all college players last season with 31 home runs at the University of San Diego, and was the Cubs' first-round pick in June. He moved up quickly, playing two games for the Mesa Rookie League team, then went to short-season Boise and finished at high A Daytona, which won the Florida State League championship.

The third baseman finished last year in the Arizona Fall League, where he was named Most Valuable Player.