MESA, Arizona -- In the eighth inning of today's 8-7 Cubs win over the White Sox, the first two pitches thrown by James Russell wound up on the left field berm, home runs by White Sox backup catcher Donny Lucy and shortstop Alexei Ramirez.
As someone pointed out to me after that event, "That doesn't even happen during batting practice!"
So maybe the Cubs need to re-think their optioning of Scott Maine to Iowa and the retention of Russell, who's been bad this spring; Russell's ERA jumped to 8.68 and he's now allowed four home runs in 9.1 innings thrown during exhibition games.
Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but Maine has much better stuff than Russell and although he didn't have great results this spring, they were better than Russell's.
There was a lot to like about today's nationally televised game; the Cubs teed off on Phil Humber, who is trying to take Jake Peavy's place in the Sox rotation, for a pair of runs in the first inning. I liked the way they did that, too: walk, double, sac fly, followed by another double -- four batters, two runs. Very efficient. They nicked Humber for two more runs, including Alfonso Soriano's third homer of the spring. Starlin Castro celebrated his 21st birthday with that first-inning double, a walk and a pair of runs scored, as well as a couple of slick double plays created with Darwin Barney.
Barney has made the team, with the latest round of roster cuts, and it would not surprise me if he wound up getting quite a few of the starts at second base, at least when Jeff Baker isn't starting against LHP. Barney singled and tripled today and is now hitting .372 this spring. He looks so natural at second base, which isn't his original position, and he and Castro make a nice-looking DP combination. Castro also made a couple of nice plays throwing out Adam Dunn when the Cubs had an extreme shift on against "The Big Donkey", who went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. Dunn is hitting .190 this spring with only one HR in 58 AB.
Meanwhile, the Cubs also blasted ex-teammate Will Ohman, who is trying to make the SOx bullpen. He allowed an RBI single to Soriano and Barney's triple, which drove in a pair; turns out the Cubs needed all those runs, because of the two homers allowed by Russell, as well as a run given up in a save situation by Carlos Marmol, who wasn't completely sharp today. He did get two called strikeouts, including one to end the game, but Lucy drove in a run with a double, making it 8-7. The save by Marmol, the one by Kerry Wood yesterday and one earlier by Esmailin Caridad are the only saves recorded by Cubs pitchers this spring.
Regarding everyone's favorite, Koyie Hill, he drew two walks today and flied to center, making him 1-for-28 with three walks (.036/.129/.071). Nevertheless, from what I hear, there's almost no chance he won't break camp as the backup catcher. To me, this is the wrong decision. It means that Geovany Soto essentially has to catch every single day, because you simply don't want four automatic outs in a game, which it appears is what you'll get if Hill starts. Hill may wind up starting only day games after night games, or something along those lines. Welington Castillo will likely head to Iowa, where he could be recalled to start if (let's hope not) Soto is hurt. This Carrie Muskat article seems to indicate there may still be competition for the spot -- I wonder if that's true, or if the decision has already been made. I'd like to see Castillo get a start, maybe tomorrow.
Other roster decisions: Braden Looper gave up a run in two innings. He probably threw well enough to get one more appearance before the brass decides if he can still pitch at the major league level. I was happy to see Reed Johnson make the team as the fifth outfielder; it was clear that Fernando Perez just doesn't do anything well except run (and make funny videos).
Today's attendance of 13,282 was billed as a sellout, but reports indicated that tickets were available at the ticket windows, then posted as a sellout, then more tickets (lawn, particularly) were sold. Some seats down the LF line, empty the whole day, appeared to be unsold. The total attendance for the spring season, with three dates left, is 126,713, an average per date of 9,051. Only Sunday's game vs. the Rockies is expected to be a sellout. The game dragged on and on, partly because of the ten total walks issued, partly because ESPN's coverage meant an extra 30 seconds of break between half-innings (that's nine extra minutes tacked on, and they started several minutes past 2:05, too).
Randy Wells will start tomorrow against a Mariners split squad in Mesa; the game will be televised on both WGN and the MLB Network. Seattle's Aaron Laffey, who is not one of their rotation starters but instead a bullpen hopeful, will start for them, followed by Tom Wilhelmsen, Cesar Jimenez and Chris Ray. Game time goes back to the usual 1:05 (3:05 CDT).