Beware the Ides of March (or at least a few days before). While modern day Arizona might bare only a faint resemblance to Caesar’s Rome, the Cubs dealt with a few minor setbacks this week. First, Albert Amora was pulled from drills on Wednesday after experiencing back spasms. The team, however, has ruled out any major injury concerns. Then on Thursday, Jon Lester was roughed up in his first spring outing, and Kyle Schwarber left the game after his second at-bat, claiming he tweaked his knee making a throw from left field in the second inning. Schwarber was upbeat after the game, and as of this writing, he’s day-to-day.
None of these mid-week occurrences are overly concerning, but rather just a serve as a reminder that even for a contending team playing under the golden Mesa sun, a little rain will fall.
We’re only about three weeks from the start of the regular season. It’s coming fast, folks, so let’s pass the time by talking some Cactus.
Putting In Work
This week it’s been all about the Cubs top-of-the-rotation guys seeing their first game action of 2016. How lucky for me, a writer in need of #content, that Jake Arrieta and Lester would make their first starts of the spring when it was my turn through the Cactus Catchup rotation.
Arrieta was up first, taking the ball against the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday. It was just two innings in early March, but he looked he picked up where he left off in 2015 (minus the NLCS). Arrieta retired all six batters he faced, with four coming via strikeout. His fastball looked sharp and had some bite, with some clocking it at 96 MPH. Arrieta threw 31 pitches, 20 for strikes.
Following his outing, the reigning NL Cy Young winner spoke words that should be music to Cubs fans ears:
“I’m at exactly where I thought I would be,” Arrieta said. “No aches or pains, bumps or bruises. Now I’m on my five day [routine] which is important for me.”
While Arrieta is now on a five-day routine, it will be interesting to see how the Cubs manage their ace’s workload through the rest of spring training. He led the majors in pitches thrown in 2015, and nobody in baseball has tossed more pitches since the start of 2014. With all parties involved having their eyes towards October, something tells me there is a plan in place.
On Thursday, Jon Lester (who you might remember from me writing 50,000+ words about in 2015. He’s that guy) saw his first action of the spring against the Seattle Mariners in Peoria. Lester allowed three runs in the first inning, including a two-run double to Stefen Romero. While it was not an ideal first appearance, he just seemed to be picking up where he left off in 2015. Last season, in the first inning, Lester had a 4.50 ERA (worst of any inning before the seventh) and .437 slugging percentage (worst of any inning). Against the Mariners, he left a few fastballs up and over the plate, missing Ross’ targets. As you’ll recall, when Lester ran into trouble last season, it was on cutters and four-seam fastballs that were left over the plate. In two innings, he allowed six runs (three earned) on seven hits.
If you want to take some encouragement from his first start, Lester threw 20 of 26 first inning pitches for strikes, recorded three strikeouts, and did not issue any walks. In 2015, he made only one spring training start, and Joe Maddon reiterated throughout Lester’s rough April that he considered his first few regular season starts extended spring training. If nothing else, it’s good to see him slightly ahead of where he was one year ago at this time.
Turning our attention briefly to the back of the rotation, Kyle Hendricks pitched three scoreless innings on Tuesday against the Dodgers.
Looking ahead, John Lackey will take the ball for the first time on Saturday.
Rex Brothers. The left-handed reliever with one of the most underrated names in baseball was released with the Cubs opting to pay his $232,000 termination fee. Brothers, 28, made three appearances, giving three runs in 2 ⅔ innings pitched. You might think the team would have a longer leash with a lefty with who owns a career 3.74 DRA (especially one they signed for $1.42 million this offseason), but he has been unable to find the strike zone with any consistency, and the Cubs wanted to give him time to find another team. Brothers threw four wild pitches in one inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday. He’s lost nearly three miles per hour off his fastball since 2012, and with his numbers in decline and serious command issues, the Cubs likely had seen all they needed to of Brothers.
In related news, could Kyle Farnsworth be taking his place on the roster?
— Kyle Farnsworth (@24_7Farnsworth) March 10, 2016
Carrie Muskat provided video evidence this happened to strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss on Wednesday:
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 9, 2016
Surely this must violate some portion of the Geneva Conventions? Apparently it was punishment (or retribution?) for an undisclosed discretion. Stay tuned to BP Wrigleyville for the latest updates on this quintessential “We’re a month into camp and beginning to crack” story.
3/10: Mariners 10, Cubs 8: Lester struggled, but the Cubs got home runs from Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, and Khristopher Negron.
3/9: Indians 5, Cubs 3: Arrieta came, he conquered, and he was probably home by the time the final out was recorded. The Cubs offense did not break through in three innings against Corey Kluber, but they later got on the board with home runs from Jose Candelario and John Andreoli.
3/8: Dodgers 7, Cubs 3: When you run into the buzzsaw that is Clayton Kershaw, he cares not whether it’s March or mid-season. The Cubs managed five base runners in three innings against him, but pushed across just one run. Kris Bryant hit a home run and added a RBI single. David Ross also blasted a home run.
Arrieta looked dominant. Lester was around the plate. Schwarber survived a minor scare. Brothers, we hardly knew yee. You know, just another few days in paradise.
Thanks for catching up on Cactus with me, everybody. Enjoy your weekend.
Photo courtesy Joe Camporeale—USA Today Sports