Cactus Catchup: Spring Training Games Are Still Fun

We’re a week into actual spring training games, which means we have about another week until spring training starts getting annoying. A week from now, the carefree exhibition games will only remind us that this isn’t the real thing. We’ll still have another three weeks of watching three innings of the players we want to see followed by six innings of guys with uniform numbers in the 80s and 90s without a name on the back.

Cubs fans don’t even have the benefit of watching an intense battle for a starting job or a roster spot. The battle between Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery might not be much of a battle at all since Joe Maddon is thinking about using both of them throughout the year. Maybe there’s a battle for center field between Albert Almora and Jon Jay, but that will probably also result in a draw. The Cubs spring training will be nothing like the Giants’ spring training for instance, which includes a battle for left field and a battle royale between washed-up vets and minor league free agents and regulars from last year for the rest of the bench.

Still, the spring is young. The four starting pitchers locked into their roles haven’t thrown a pitch yet, but that will change soon. Kyle Hendricks is slated to start Saturday against the Dodgers, followed by Jon Lester on Sunday, Jake Arrieta on Monday, and John Lackey on Tuesday against Italy. Though they likely won’t pitch more than once through the order, it will be nice for Cubs fans to see the rotation that brought the first championship to Chicago since 2005 when the White Sox won the World Series 1908.

Thursday, Joe Maddon announced Jon Lester as the Opening Day starter, and it may have been a bit of an obvious choice. Lester, after all, has been the Cubs most unambiguously and consistently great starter over the last two seasons. Maddon, though, could have gone with Arrieta or Hendricks and it wouldn’t have seemed like a strange decision. Not many teams historically could say they had three viable options for an Opening Day starter, so here’s another opportunity to appreciate just how good the Cubs’ starting pitching has been.

Putting in Work

Addison Russell has been making a case for being the Cubs new clean-up hitter. Last season, Russell started two games batting fourth, a total he’s already matched this spring. It could be that Maddon is trying new things for the sake of trying new things, but Maddon has said that he’s open to the idea of Russell batting clean-up more often, especially when Ben Zobrist takes a day off. It’s not a decision that’s likely to make a huge impact on how many runs the Cubs score or don’t score.

Jason Heyward still hasn’t gotten a hit this spring, which probably doesn’t mean anything. Probably. So far, he’s 0-11 with a walk and two strikeouts. Hitters go through 0-11 stretches all the time over the course of the season, and no one notices. I’m only mentioning it because it’s the start of a season, and he was so very, very bad at the plate last year. It’s not the start Heyward would have liked, but he’ll get his first hit out of the way soon. Probably.

Camp Happenings

The Cubs had a couple minor injury concerns on Thursday. Anthony Rizzo was scratched from the lineup due to tightness in his back. It doesn’t seem to be serious and this is most likely an issue that he would play through if this were the regular season. Maddon said that Rizzo may even be able to play Friday. He should be fine.

During Rob Zastryzny’s start on Thursday, the right-handed Canadian took a line drive off his calf. He was scheduled to go three innings but was pulled out of the game after facing just three more batters following the line drive.

Speaking of Canadians, Ryan Dempster hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since the 2013 World Series. The former Cub is currently a special assistant to Theo Epstein, but Dempster has been in uniform and throwing to get ready for the World Baseball Classic when he’ll pitch for Team Canada. Dempster won’t be the only retired pitcher on the roster either, as Eric Gagne is slated to close after the French team he managed failed to make it past Panama in the qualifying round.

Canada might be in trouble with Dempster on the mound though. Dempster threw a BP session to none other than Theo Epstein himself.

It’s a shame that the video only shows the one swing. We’re already being teased with an entire month of meaningless baseball; we deserve to watch the entire BP session of a semi-eccentric millionaire competing against his employees.

It’s hard to tell how far the ball went, but it looked like it was hit hard enough to clear the infield. Even more surprisingly, judging from Dempster’s reaction it stayed fair. Supposedly, once Dempster started throwing split fingers, Theo couldn’t make contact. Still, Theo’s ability to catch up to mid to high 80s is rather impressive. Maybe he’s been furtively slipping away to the batting cages at Slugger’s in Wrigleyville after games.

Game Results

February 28: Angels 7, Cubs 5

March 1: Cubs 7, Royals 3

March 2 (SS): Reds 6, Cubs 2

March 2 (SS): D-backs 3, Cubs 1

Lead photo courtesy Rick Scuteri—USA Today Sports

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