Cactus Catchup: Getting Itchy

We’ve got that itch. We’re ready to go for the season.

– Kyle Hendricks

It’s so weird. It’s a weird time down here.

-Jon Lester

I believe it was Williams Shakespeare, or perhaps a baseball blogger who struggled to pay attention in ninth grade English, who once wrote, “Beware the Ides of March, because that is when you start losing g**damn mind waiting for real baseball to start.” With just over two weeks to until Opening Day, it’s becoming abundantly clear Cubs players are ready and eager to break camp. Thankfully, each day and each Catchup brings us that much closer. Since you last caught up on cactus, the offense has continued to mash, the pitching has struggled, Jon Lester is working on his arm angle, and David Ross has begun dancing his way into America’s hearts via the home clubhouse in Chicago.

Putting In Work

During Tuesday night’s World Baseball Classic matchup against the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico’s Javy Baez slapped down a no-look tag with a smile on his face and perhaps as much enthusiasm as player in recorded history:

You know you’re an ascending superstar when covering second base brings plaudits and finds its way into the highlights.

Meanwhile, over at the WBC in San Diego, Venezuela’s Hector Rondon struggled to put away Team USA on Wednesday night, surrendering eighth-inning game-tying and game-winning home runs to Adam Jones and Eric Hosmer, respectively. While the barrage should not be cause for immediate concern (Rondon only had three previous appearances this spring), it is worth keeping an eye on, because in 2016, he saw significant, career-high spikes in both his home run to fly ball ratio (18.2 percent) and home runs per nine innings (1.4).

Jon Lester got the ball in the minor league intrasquad game on Thursday, going five innings and striking out three, while giving up a home run. As Lester noted after his start, his fastball, of which he went to almost exclusively on Thursday, was hit hard and his arm angle is still not where he would like to be, but that he was confident he would be able to use his final spring starts to continue refining his mechanics. Speaking to reporters after the game, Lester drove home this point, commenting “If this was my last [start] before the regular season, I probably wouldn’t have done what I did today.”

On Friday, Jake Arrieta will take the mound in a Minor League game, while on Saturday, John Lackey will get the start against Team Japan in an exhibition game.

Camp Happenings

It was a relatively quiet few days in Mesa. In what was undeniably one of the coolest moments of the spring, 12 Cubs minor leaguers, including Eloy Jimenez, participated in a graduation ceremony for their English class in the team’s Mesa facility. Each player sported a blue cap and robe, and delivered a speech in English. We here at Thursday’s Cactus Catchup heartily endorse continuing education, self-improvement, and the organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Meanwhile, halfway across the country, David Ross was doing this:

It speaks volumes to the Cubs current national profile when your retired backup catcher with a career .784 OPS is starring in a network primetime show. If you want some David Ross reading in the dog days of spring training, may I (self-servingly) plug the David Ross Effect, a BP Wrigleyville piece from 2015 in which I attempted to quantify Ross’s exact value to a team.

Game Results:

Tuesday, 3/14: Cubs 7, Brewers 7: While Brett Anderson, Mike Montgomery, and Jose Rosario were all ineffective, the offense continued to look tremendous. Kris Bryant, Wilson Contreras, and Chris Dominguez all homered, and Jason Heyward added a pair of hits, including a double.

Wednesday, 3/15: Diamondbacks 7, Cubs 3: Under the lights at Sloan Park, Ben Zobrist, and Addison Russell slugged back-to-back home runs, but Carl Edwards, Jr. and Seth Frankoff combined to surrender five earned runs on nine base runners over the final three innings.

Thursday, 3/16: Cubs 4, Dodgers 0: The Cubs picked up the shutout in Glendale, with Eddie Butler looking sharp (4.0 innings pitched, one base runner, four strikeouts) in his start. Ian Happ remained locked in at the plate, notching a double and two walks to lead the offense.

Coming Up:

Friday, 3/17 at White Sox, 2:05 PM

Saturday, 3/18 at Brewers, 3:05 PM

Saturday, 3/18 vs. Team Japan, 3:05 PM

Sunday, 3/19 vs. Royals, 9:05 PM

Monday, 3/20 at Rockies, 3;10 PM

Like Hendricks and Lester, we here at BP Wrigleyville are growing anxious for Opening Day. In the interim, though, enjoy the games, living vicariously through the sunshine on your television, and St. Patrick’s Day!  Thanks for catching up on cactus.

Lead photo courtesy Matt Kartozian—USA Today Sports

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