The Cubs came from behind to win today on a bases-clearing double by Starlin Castro.
I put those words in a quotebox because I think you're going to be hearing them from me (and others) quite a few times this season. Castro appears ready to have a huge breakout season, not that last year was any slouch from him, either. His three-run double in the seventh inning lifted the Cubs to a 6-3 win over a rather sorry-looking split-squad of Mariners this afternoon at HoHoKam Park in front of a crowd that looked rather small early on, but filled in to a count of 11,187. That makes the season total in Mesa 137,900 and the average over 15 dates 9,193. A sellout is expected on Sunday when the Cubs meet the Rockies.
There's a lot more good to report on another day of unlimited sunshine in the Valley -- and the Cubs better soak that up while they can; the latest forecast for Opening Day next Friday does have sunshine, but temperatures in the upper 40s rather than the 70s and 80s they've been used to. Randy Wells had a couple of shaky innings, but struck out eight and threw 5.2 decent frames. The bullpen was very good today -- Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall, John Grabow and Marcos Mateo threw 3.1 innings of no-hit, one-walk, four-strikeout ball. Once again, though, a caveat: the team they were facing was only half of the worst offense in baseball last year, and only a couple of regulars were in the game for Seattle once the Cubs' bullpen took over.
Meanwhile, in addition to Castro, offense was provided by Reed Johnson, who doubled in a run in his only plate appearance of the day, and a bomb of a homer by Blake DeWitt (where's that been all spring?), who batted for Jeff Baker when Baker left the game with a tight left hamstring, something that doesn't appear to be a serious issue. However, what most of you are interested in is the roster moves that haven't been officially made, but seem to be pretty certain -- more after the jump.
Various tweets and announcements today had Andrew Cashner making the team (whether as starter or reliever), that Braden Looper retiring (it was a worthy attempt, but he just didn't have anything left), that James Russell has made the team (if he keeps throwing the way he has in the spring, he'll be in Des Moines by May) and that the other not-yet-cut pitchers -- Casey Coleman, Jeff Stevens and Marcos Mateo -- all are in the mix for the final spot along with Carlos Silva.
Well. There's a fanshot posted here that quotes Joel Sherman of the New York Post quoting an "exec from another team" saying that Silva has been beaten out by Cashner for the final spot in the rotation and that the Cubs would eat the money on Silva's contract. No word has come from the Cubs camp nor any Cubs writer confirming this. Cashner will start tomorrow against the Rangers in Surprise -- maybe, if he throws well enough, that will be true. Silva would be on schedule to start Monday, if the current rotation holds -- but also, the Cubs would likely want Carlos Zambrano to pitch on Monday, to keep him on target for his first regular season start Saturday against the Pirates.
I'd be fine with the Cubs eating the money and letting Silva go, or maybe if they're lucky, finding a trade partner, whether or not the other team takes any dollars (maybe a face-saving prospect comes in return). Casey Coleman is probably better served starting at Iowa than being the forgotten 12th man in the pen, so he'd be ready in case of injury. Mateo looked good today, but again, keep in mind the opponent. I've never been that impressed with Stevens; I assume we'll see him in tomorrow's game.
Other than that, it appears the roster is set. No word has come down on the backup catcher job, but I know many of you are getting your torches and pitchforks ready if Koyie Hill is retained. It'll simply have to be this: Geovany Soto will have to catch most every game, or perhaps get some late-inning relief from Hill in games that are in hand (or blowout losses). So many bytes and pixels have been spilled here regarding the Cubs' backup catcher, and it just doesn't seem worth it to me. Yes, Hill was not a good player last year and hasn't been good this spring. But performances like the one we saw today out of Castro make me think that maybe, just maybe, this team can generate enough offense to go along with the good pitching we've seen to bring some early-season wins. The Cubs have won four of their last five and looked good doing it, and the one loss was a tough one in extra innings.
Tomorrow, as noted, Cashner starts against the Rangers; Texas plays later this evening and has not yet announced a starter for the game which will be televised on ESPN2.