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Price: Rotation not set yet

It is not etched in cement that Johnny Cueto will be the opening day starter on March 31 against the St. Louis Cardinals — although manager Bryan Price would like to see it play out that way.

But there is time, he says, to filter through things and adjust the alignment of his starting staff with a days off on March 18 and March 30.

“We want to make sure we get through two-thirds of spring training before we do any announcing to make sure our guys are healthy. We know it won’t be Mat Latos (for opening day), although we are hoping he’ll be ready to start the season.”

Price said if all goes perfectly with Latos, he could pitch at the back end of the rotation the first time through, April 6 in New York.

“We won’t do anything irresponsible … but if he stays on the protocol he is on right now there is a good chance. Everything has to go right.”

Latos had another bullpen session Saturday, and Price said, “He has been terrific. They are still working hard on the strength of his (left) leg and doing all the work he needs to strengthen his elbow. He feels strong, he looks strong, there is no inhibitions to his throwing. He is throwing the ball real hard.”

Price said Latos needs at least four spring exhibition game appearances to build his pitch-count to 90. Latos, though, has yet to throw live batting practice, the next step.

Marshall plan: It is looking less and less as if relief pitcher Sean Marshall will be ready for opening day and it is go-easy time for him.

“With his shoulder issues last year every time he got close to being ready he took a step back,” said Price. “We don’t want to go down that road again. He has done a lot of offseason work but he hasn’t got out of the gate as we hoped, so we’re not trying to force him through it, or push him through. We’ve taken a step back. He is playing catch, but hasn’t been on the mound.

“We’re hoping he’ll be on the mound soon and if there is no setbacks from that we think it is still realistic to see him on the opening day roster, but if he isn’t on the mound a week from now that might be more of a challenge.”

Time for Devin: Price sees no change in the demeanor of catcher Devin Mesoraco now that the job is his. “He has to have a certain sense of confidence and comfortability in knowing he is our No. 1 guy,” Price said. “The other side is he has more responsibility and he should want to run with this opportunity. He is ready to do it.”

Speier returns: Chris Speier, fired manager Dusty Baker’s right-hand man in the dugout as bench coach for six years, is back. He was hired as a special assistant to general manager Walt Jocketty and will serve as a major league scout and minor-league roving instructor.

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