MESA, Arizona -- Back to the drawing board, right?
Kevin Hart, who threw so well in September last year, and who seemed to have impressed Lou Piniella so far this spring and made the team as the 12th guy on the staff, set himself way back today with a poor outing, and by the time he was done, he had coughed up a lead and the Cubs lost to the A's 5-2 in the first game of a split-squad, day-night doubleheader that will continue tonight in Scottsdale (Yes, I'm going. Use this thread as the game thread for the night game.)
Hart couldn't find the plate in the 8th inning, coming in to protect a 2-0 lead -- he walked two -- and when he did find the plate, several miscellaneous A's (the few starters who had been in the game having departed) pounded him all over the yard. Carlos Marmol finally had to relieve Hart, and, disturbingly, he wasn't throwing strikes either. Hart walked in a run, and then Marmol walked in another, and yet another walk by Marmol in the 9th inning led to a run.
Kosuke Fukudome (who, incidentally, was fine after being hit by a throw yesterday) nearly threw that runner out at the plate, but Henry Blanco couldn't handle the throw -- which did beat the runner and was right on target. Fukudome was charged with an error on the play because the dropped throw allowed the runner to take second base. That's a really tough error. Earlier in the game, Dome had thrown Kurt Suzuki (a sort-of countryman; Suzuki is an American of Japanese descent) out at the plate on an absolutely perfect strike to Blanco.
Mike & I agreed that this will either cause runners to not run on Dome, or he'll just keep throwing them out until they do. Either way, it's a positive result.
Today, Ryan Dempster made amends for his poor outing in his last start. A couple of people on the lawn came up to me and asked me who was starting -- at first I was surprised, but then I looked at Dempster, who was not wearing his normal high socks. He looked different. He pitched different. Although he walked two, he gave up only one hit, a third-inning double to A's minor leaguer Gregorio Petit, a ball that flew just out of the reach of Felix Pie in CF.
The loss is too bad, because up to that 8th inning the Cubs had put together a good ballgame. Even when Sean Gallagher came in and couldn't find the plate (you can just see that Oriole scout muttering to himself, "Andy wants me to watch THIS guy?"), Les Walrond came in and bailed him out with a couple of strikeouts with the bases loaded.
Now, remember I've been the guy saying "Why is Les Walrond still in camp?" But from everything I hear, Walrond is a cheerful presence around the club, does what he's asked to do, and is very helpful with the younger pitchers. I would not be at all surprised to see him offered a minor league coaching slot with this organization, and I suspect he might be a good one.
Derrek Lee got off the schneid today with his first HR, an opposite-field job. Now, as Mike & I agreed, he has to do that pulling the ball to left.
Cubs pitchers walked nine A's today. That is just. Not. Good. If not for the good defense shown by Dome, and the key strikeouts, the A's probably could have scored four or five more runs.
Notes: the reason for the early start was a request by the A's, who are leaving tonight for the opening series in Japan. Had the game been tied up, no inning would have started after 3:15. (It ended at 2:45.)
Finally, I'm guessing you're waiting for my reaction to Kerry Wood being scratched from today's game due to back spasms. The bottom line is, the game would likely have been saved had Wood been available, since he was scheduled to pitch today. Otherwise, I'm sure Jay Mariotti will chime in with some more useless "I told you so" nonsense, but the reality is, players get these all the time. The training staff will work on him (I'm sure Tim Buss will be much happier to work now that the pranksters in the clubhouse trashed his car and bought him a new one), he'll be just fine, and he may even pitch tomorrow. According to what I heard, Wood even wanted to go today, but was talked out of it. Precautions. That's all this is, a temporary setback, and I am certain Wood will be back on the mound by the weekend.
Off to Scottsdale soon. It was a gorgeous day, 72 degrees at game time and 81 by game's end, but -- possibly because of the early start -- the attendance (10,660) was about 2,000 short of a sellout. About midway through the game my friend Brian showed up, said that he had almost been bumped off his Southwest flight until someone piped up in the gate area and mentioned that the type of aircraft on that flight could accomodate all the potential bumpees. (Sounds like Southwest has more problems than just maintenance!)
I read the comments in the day-game thread saying that Gameday was ridiculously slow. So, for all you that can't get enough of that, here is the MLB.com Gameday link for the night game.