Thankfully, the setbacks of a seven-game losing streak came to an end this weekend in Mesa. Though the Cubs racked up some losses in games that looked to be easy wins, we can take comfort in the expression “It’s just spring training.” Taking March box scores in stride is necessary, as Spring Training is all about trying things on for size in order to be best prepared for the season ahead.
So let’s dive into the happenings around camp this past weekend.
Putting In Work
I can’t help but start off by saying that I am continually impressed with Jeimer Candelario this spring. He’s most certainly put in work, showing respectable power at the plate coupled with good contact ability.
John Lackey made his spring debut at Sloan Park on Friday, facing the Reds for three innings. Lackey surrendered five hits and three earned runs, but also dealt out four strikeouts on the day. If anything, Lackey has just proved to be as advertised—a veteran fourth starter with some home run tendencies, peppered with the ability to strike guys out.
The bullpen tandem of Grimm followed by Ramirez looked sufficient on Friday as well. Both pitchers surrendered no hits and racked up a total of three strikeouts.
Jason Hammel had a smooth outing on Saturday afternoon against the White Sox, reenforcing our beliefs that perhaps he will come into the regular season looking like “first half Hammel”. This season, though, the Cubs will be looking for him to demonstrate equal consistency in both halves. Hammel struck out four White Sox batters while allowing no hits and no walks in four innings on the mound.
Trevor Cahill earned his first runs of the spring in his second start during the nightcap on Saturday, giving up two to the Dodgers. The caveat attached to that is that both runs came off wild pitches, and the catcher behind the plate was Willson Contreras, who is still learning the ins and outs of defense at the position. So, take those scored runs with a grain of salt. Cahill pitched three innings, walking one and striking out two.
Sadly, Saturday evening’s matchup would end in heartbreaking fashion; luckily it doesn’t matter in March. The Cubs were down one run in the bottom of the eighth but were redeemed by a dramatic two-run blast off the bat of Jesus Guzman… only to surrender the lead again in the most crushing fashion—two bases-loaded walks. Such is life, and such is spring training.
Anthony Rizzo started Friday’s contest, and went 2-for-2, with a walk and two RBIs. He continued his success on Saturday with another hit and two more runs batted in. Rizzo also started off Sunday’s game off with a bang—literally. Rizzo launched a first-pitch lead-off double off A’s pitcher Jesse Hahn to start things off for the Cubs.
In the battle for the starting rotation, Kyle Hendricks made another strong impression in his four inning outing vs. Oakland on Sunday. Hendricks—one of the spring stories to watch as he battled Adam Warren for a fifth spot in the rotation—dealt five strikeouts, which is an impressive feat for the crafty righty. Late during last season, Hendricks’ changeup was a strong contributor to his effectiveness on the mound, and that success seems to be carrying on into 2016.
Travis Wood and Pedro Strop reaffirmed our confidence in their abilities on Sunday as well, following Hendricks (with Manny Parra sandwiched in between them) for a combined three scoreless innings of work. Hector Rondon, however, did not have as successful an outing, giving up three runs all on singles to eventually end the Cubs’ match with the A’s in a 3-3 tie.
And finally, in Monday’s game with the San Diego Padres, things went less than optimally, save for Arrieta’s strong outing. Arrieta pitched four innings of two-hit ball, with five strikeouts. Sure, he did allow two walks, but one of which was on four straight balls, which makes you wonder if it was in some way, intentional. Unfortunately, some misplays in left field by Jorge Soler led directly to the first two runs scoring for the Padres, while Pierce Johnson had a bit of trouble after coming into the game for Arrieta. Johnson allowed five runs on four hits, two of which were home runs.
The Cubs had a few guys sidelined for minor issues this weekend, including Shane Victorino and Tommy La Stella. Per Carrie Muskat, Victorino was due back in the lineup on Monday but was not included. As of now, there is no timetable for La Stella’s return.
Kyle Schwarber was reinstated into the lineup as expected on Sunday and went 0-for-3 with a strikeout. Albert Almora also made his return to the lineup on Saturday evening against the Dodgers. He went hitless but did manage an RBI on a sac-fly.
Now that camp is underway and everyone is finding their respective niche, we will begin seeing spring cuts. The Cubs reduced their camp roster by seven players on Monday morning, sending Dan Vogelbach, Eric Jokisch and Andury Acevedo to Iowa and reassigning Jonathan Pettibone, Duane Underwood, Jack Leathersich, and Armando Rivero to minor league camp.
Joe Maddon had some positive comments regarding Duane Underwood though, who he claims was held back due to right elbow stiffness:
#Cubs Maddon likes Underwood a lot. Needs to develop fastball command. “When you get a guy that good, that young, you don’t push it”
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 14, 2016
Expect this portion of your Cactus Catchups to be a bit lofty from here on out, as we still have 31 more roster cuts to go.
Joe Maddon gave us statheads a shout out this week in camp:
#Cubs Maddon on nerds: “I love nerds. I wish I had some nerd-ism in me. These guys went to school, went to class, wrote their own papers”
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 11, 2016
The response was prompted by a member of the media asking Maddon to comment on Goose Gossage’s comments last week regarding “nerds” ruining baseball.
Maddon then went on to win my nerdy and Branch Rickey-loving heart by saying, “In regard to professional sports, the things that are available now, if they’d been available in the ’40s, I believe without question Mr. [Branch] Rickey would’ve been all over this stuff, and this would be considered old-school right now.”
So, hey, Maddon thinks us stat-head-nerdy types are good for baseball’s future. We can all pat ourselves on the back now, The Man himself thinks we’re cool and progressive!
3/11 Reds 3, Cubs 7: The Cubs offense woke up a bit, with Montero, Vogelbach, and Federowicz all contributing home runs. Lackey made his first spring start as a member of the Cubs.
3/12 (Game 1) – White Sox 2, Cubs 9: The Cubs took advantage of an outing full of blunders by White Sox pitcher Erik Johnson, while Hammel had a successful four-inning outing. Jeimer Candelario went 2-for-2 with a walk.
3/12 (Game 2) – Cubs 5, Dodgers 6: Trevor Cahill surrendered two runs on wild pitches, but had an overall satisfactory outing. Stranding runners was a common theme of the evening for the Cubs, which reminded me a bit too much of last season. Willson Contreras had a big night, going 3-for-3 with two doubles.
3/13 Cubs 3, Athletics 3: Kyle Hendricks looked sharp in a strong four-inning start, while Javier Baez played some strong defense at second base. Willson Contreras and Jemier Candelario continued to impress at the plate, with two hits including a double for Contreras, and three hits that included an opposite field home run for Candelario.
3/14 Padres 9, Cubs 2: Arrieta pitched a successful outing, while Pierce Johnson did not. Soler continued to raise questions about his defensive abilities in left field. C.J. Reifenhauser and Jean Machi each allowed an earned run in their relief appearances.
Photo Courtesy Mark J. Rebilas—USA Today Sports