AMARILLO, Texas -- This is where I've stopped for the night on the way back to Chicago; I wound up arriving at the planned motel destination just after the game ended. Let's give some minor props: Koyie Hill did not fail and end the game by striking out. Instead, he got hit by a Vinnie Pestano pitch to load the bases, after which Reed Johnson produced the K to end the Cubs' 4-3 loss to the Indians, a game in which they scored a pair of runs in the ninth inning to make a noncompetitive game close.
For Hill, that's what we might call "praising with faint damns". Hill, to no one's real surprise, was named the Cubs' backup catcher today with Welington Castillo optioned to Iowa and Max Ramirez placed on waivers.
Seriously, this isn't the end of the world. A healthy Geovany Soto will have to catch virtually every game, at least as the season gets under way, and if Hill's presence in actual games directly leads to losses, I'd think even Mike Quade and Jim Hendry will sit up and take notice. In the meantime, you should probably put your torches and pitchforks away.
In the meantime, today's hitting "stars", such as it was with only six Cub hits, were Aramis Ramirez, who raised his spring average to .333 with a pair of singles, and Carlos Pena, who drove in two of the three runs with a long homer and a ninth-inning double that kept a rally going against two pretty good Cleveland relievers.
Carlos Zambrano deserved better; a Starlin Castro error (that might also have been charged to Darwin Barney, but for a generous scoring decision) helped lead to a pair of unearned runs in the fifth inning that turned out to be the difference in the game. Big Z also struggled with command today, issuing five walks and laboring through five middling innings. His next start will be against the Pirates on Saturday.
And really, I think everyone's pretty much ready for the regular season to start; I'm still not sure why Mike Quade isn't using his major league pitching staff the way it might be used starting Friday. Instead, Chris Carpenter threw the sixth inning. Carpenter, John Grabow and Marcos Mateo at least kept the game close, allowing only two hits and a pair of walks in three combined innings, though Grabow also hit a batter. At a certain point -- and it's got to be soon, certainly -- there's no real reason to use minor leaguers in these games, except for the intrasquad game on Wednesday. At least six regulars or semi-regulars played the entire game today, in front of a smallish crowd of 5,456 that sounded on the MLB.com broadcast like it was at least half Cubs fans.
Some good news: according to a tweet from Carrie, Angel Guzman threw 20 pitches in a minor league game at Fitch Park without incident today. Things seem to be progressing well with Guzman and the Cubs won't rush him -- but if he could be ready to face major league hitters by midseason, that could be a real boost to the bullpen.