Cactus Catchup: Let the Games Begin

Welcome to the fourth edition of Cactus Catchup and the first since the start of “real” games. The Cubs opened their Cactus League play against the controversy-ridden Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday, a contest which resulted in a 2-1 loss. (Don’t worry about it; the Cubs definitely aren’t.)

Joe Maddon’s strategy this year is to ease his players into the exhibition schedule and take care not to overwork anyone. When you’re the sort of person that gets excited about meaningless baseball on the radio, it can be easy to forget that this long winter of waiting wasn’t actually as long this time, thanks to last year’s postseason run. For the Cubs though, preparations and precautions for another lengthy season begin now.

Putting in work: Maddon had this to say before Thursday’s game: “You will see guys all over the map, with different batting orders […] Don’t read anything into it.”

Indeed, the Cubs’ first lineup of the spring saw Kyle Schwarber batting leadoff, Munenori Kawasaki and Gleyber Torres sharing time at shortstop, and the hotly-anticipated debut of Javier Baez in center field.

Baez saw no shortage of action early and did end up missing an attempted basket catch for an error, but this kind of experience is exactly what Spring Training is for. While signing Dexter Fowler eliminated much of the Cubs’ need for Baez in center, the fact that he’s getting playing time there shows that the dream is still alive for him to out-Zobrist Ben Zobrist in positional versatility this year. Baez is already slated to back up every infield position.

Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and John Lackey won’t see in-game action until sometime next week. All three topped the 200 innings mark in 2015, so they’ll get some extra rest while the Cubs’ corps of starters-turned-relievers-turned-starting-hopefuls all take their turns to compete for the remaining spots in the rotation.

Dearly Departed (and returned): Out of the immediate running for a place in the bullpen is Zac Rosscup, who will begin the season on the 60-day disabled list due to left shoulder inflammation. Rosscup has had shoulder issues before—he also missed time last year with a torn left rotator cuff—but luckily he will not require surgery.

Matt Szczur is temporarily sidelined with an oblique strain and should return next week. Szczur, who split time between Iowa and Chicago in 2015, is out of options, so whether he can earn a roster spot as a backup outfielder will be of interest moving ahead.

Fellow outfielder Matt Murton is back in limited action after undergoing an appendectomy last Saturday.

Camp Happenings: No one promotes chemistry among teammates quite like Joe Maddon, and this week the skipper displayed his fondness for the partnership of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo with a polo shirt that read “BRYZZO”. The wardrobe selection appears to be part of a commercial shoot for Major League Baseball, but I like to think it’s something Maddon might just choose to wear anyway.

Bryant, partnered with Eric Jokisch, was also the winner of the team’s golf tournament on Tuesday. For all your personal comparison needs: Bryant shot an 83 with an 18 handicap.

Finally, if you were at all concerned about David Ross’ durability in his advanced age, you’re not alone. Cubs teammates gifted Ross with a motorized scooter, so the veteran can save his legs for a long season.

Game scores:

3/3/16 Cubs 1, Brewers 2: Travis Wood and Kyle Hendricks each pitched their scheduled two innings with limited issues. Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, Addison Russell, and Ben Zobrist were left out of the lineup, but will play today in the Sloan Park opener against the Angels.

Lead photo courtesy Rick Scuteri—USA Today Sports

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