Opening Day is suddenly less than two weeks away, and the Cubs seem to be slowly but surely honing in on regular season readiness. We’re seeing starters throw more and more pitches, lineups that look deeper and filled with more regulars, and a slightly increased focus on players settling into their roles. As always, you can (and will) find reasons to worry or be optimistic based on spring results, but also as always, you can also be reasonably sure that the results aren’t what matter. The Cubs, so far, are (relatively) healthy and appear to be excited and ready for the season ahead. Let’s catch up on the last several days in Cubs camp.
Putting In Work:
The most worrisome moment of the week came in last night’s game against the Giants, when Jake Arrieta went only one-third of an inning, giving up five runs on four hits and two walks. He was removed after only 34 pitches, a move and outing that briefly caused a fair amount of consternation on Cubs Twitter. It was quickly announced, though, that Arrieta had a minor blister on his finger, which explains both the quick hook and the lackluster results. The Cubs don’t seem too worried about it:
Official now from Cubs: Jake Arrieta with a blister on this thumb. Considered minor
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) March 24, 2016
Blisters can linger and recur, and Arrieta acknowledged during an in-game interview that he’s been dealing with them this spring, as the dry Arizona air has been tough on his skin. Hopefully this will be a manageable issue as the Cubs go into the season and get some more humid weather. Arrieta, who has had a good spring otherwise, should still have time to readjust and be ready to go for Opening Day in Anaheim.
Kyle Hendricks had another solid outing against the Rangers on Wednesday, giving up seven hits and two runs in five innings. He had another five strikeouts, continuing his somewhat surprising pattern of striking out a batter per inning this spring. Jason Hammel, similarly, allowed two runs (just one earned) in five innings against the Reds on Tuesday.
Tommy La Stella played in a minor league game on Wednesday, as he continues to fight a lingering calf injury. He should still have the inside track to the Cubs’ backup infielder job, but Munenori Kawasaki has received lots of playing time in La Stella’s absence. He will provide valuable infield depth at Triple-A Iowa this year.
Matt Szczur also returned to major-league spring action this week on Tuesday and Wednesday. He still has an (outside) shot at a backup outfielder job with the big league club.
Jorge Soler continues to struggle in the outfield, and he made an embarassing baserunning mistake Wednesday against the Rangers. The Cubs say they aren’t worried, though, and the sample is still small enough (and the outfield deep enough) to not be particularly worried.
There hasn’t been much roster reshuffling over the past several days, but there is one minor transaction to report. The Cubs traded reliever Edgar Olmos to Baltimore for a player-to-be-named later, likely ending the lefty’s odyssey-length journey (Seattle to Chicago to Baltimore to Chicago to Baltimore) across the league this offseason. He wasn’t with the Cubs for long, but it didn’t stop Twitter from sending him off with a final round of bad puns.
Now he, Olmos, is an Oriole. After he, Olmos, was a Cub
— Randall J. Sanders (@RandallJSanders) March 24, 2016
Shane Victorino’s future with the Cubs is a bit up in the air, as Joe Maddon announced Thursday that he will not open the season on the 25-man roster. The Cubs have offered to send him to keep him Mesa while he rehabs a sore calf, and then send him to Triple-A Iowa in the spring, but he has the option to be released at the end of spring if he would like to test the waters. The Cubs will be okay either way, but he could prove to be some solid outfield depth in case of an injury later in the season.
Trevor Cahill earned a two-inning save against the Reds on Wednesday, continuing what has been a strong spring for him. Joe Maddon praised the righty for his versatility on Wednesday:
“I walked up to him (last year) and told him, ‘You could actually get the last three outs of any game, you know that, don’t you? Because that’s what I feel about you. It’s kind of like having a (Ben) Zobrist in your bullpen.”
The Cubs made news on Tuesday by bringing a mime into camp to assist in their stretching routine. In my opinion, it is obvious that mimes are bad and evil, but the intent was to have some fun and lighten the mood—an event totally within the purview of normal Joe Maddon activities.
This action, though, led to some very bad takes, with some suggesting that the Cubs are having too much fun and aren’t serious enough. This is almost not worth rebutting, but many teams (the ’85 Bears included, as Len Kasper points out) can both 1) have fun and 2) win championships. Late March is not a good time to get worried about these things and I, for one, am glad that Maddon is looking to keep his players loose as we head into what will be a long and pressure-filled season. Just no more mimes, please.
3/23: Rangers 5, Cubs 0: Hendricks pitched five solid innings, Soler made a frustrating baserunning mistake, and Kyle Schwarber had two hits. But not many starters played, and this was a forgettable game, overall.
3/24: Cubs 16, Giants 14: This was an ugly, high-scoring game, in which both Arrieta and Madison Bumgarner struggled. Dexter Fowler, Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant, and Rizzo all had excellent games offensively, and Justin Grimm and Brandon Gomes very much labored on the mound. Jeimer Candelario had another home run, in what has been a fantastic and eye-opening spring.
Lead photo courtesy Joe Camporeale—USA Today Sports