SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- In the second inning Friday, all the scoreboards at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick went haywire. They turned off the main board entirely (putting a generic photo there), but the smaller boards on the side started counting up runs for the Rockies very quickly; as the action on the field continued, the scoreboards eventually showed Colorado leading 13-5.
Fun to watch, not so much fun for the PA announcer (a woman, incidentally, the only one in the Cactus League), who announced the score after every half-inning until they finally got things untangled for the fancy electronic board. Even after that, they couldn't quite get the lineup changes right.
The Cubs ignored all of that and scored nearly at will Friday afternoon, eventually hanging on for a 10-8 win over the Rockies in front of the largest crowd in the almost two year history of Talking Stick, 12,584.
Before we get to the good stuff for the Cubs today, let's talk about Jeff Samardzija. Small sample size and all, one outing and all, the things most of you say I shouldn't make a big deal about, but I didn't see anything out of the Shark today that I haven't seen many, many times before. Lack of command -- pitches all over the place. When he did throw strikes, they got hit hard. Chris Nelson, who had a .383 SLG for the Rockies last year, homered off him. He wound up giving up seven runs in four innings, all earned -- though that was due in part to some hometown scoring, as Bryan LaHair misplayed another ball at first base that probably should have been an error, but was scored as a hit by Dexter Fowler. Had that play been made, Daniel Herrera's foul popup would have ended the second inning, but instead, Carlos Gonzalez cleared the bases with a double. Those runs should have been unearned. (Yes, all of them.)
According to Carrie Muskat, Samardzija blamed his own mental mistakes:
"The ball was up all day," Samardzija said. "Against this team, they’re pretty free swinging and I’m a power pitcher. If I’m down in the zone, it turns into quick outs. If not, you see a cutter there, it gets fisted out, it gets over second base, things like that. Those balls are down, they’re ground balls and you’re moving on. I need to make a quicker adjustment. It’s just a couple pitches here or there to improve on."
Well, okay, I guess. If he really did have location issues, if he can address those and fix them, maybe he really has learned to be a pitcher instead of a thrower. I assume I'll see him throw again next Wednesday against the Indians at Mesa. We'll see if that outing is better than this one.
Geovany Soto homered twice, both off Rockies starter Tyler Chatwood, who gave up nine of the ten runs and also gave up two of LaHair's three hits today before he was mercifully lifted by manager Jim Tracy. Geo drove in five runs today. Marlon Byrd also had two hits. When the starters were lifted, many of them wasted no time heading out the center field gate; seemed like most of them had driven their own cars to Talking Stick and wanted to get an early start on a Friday evening out.
Esmailin Caridad, Casey Coleman and Manuel Corpas combined for five innings of relief in which they allowed two hits and a walk and one unearned run when the official scorer finally couldn't call a fielding misplay a "fielder's choice", as he had at least twice earlier. Starlin Castro bounced a throw in to LaHair in the seventh, allowing Colorado's final run to score. I'll say this again: though Castro's throw was a bad one (and that's why he got the error), a quality major league defensive 1B scoops it out of the dirt and saves the error on Castro and the team, and thus the run. Both Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena would have made that play. That's the value of having good defense at first base -- they make the other infielders look good. LaHair simply isn't that good. I believe Anthony Rizzo is.
That doesn't mean I think Rizzo should start Opening Day -- he probably shouldn't. But eventually, the rough defense of LaHair will cost the Cubs regular season runs, and possibly, games.
Incidentally, Corpas looked really good today. I wouldn't count him out of the bullpen mix. He has been a successful major league closer before. Maybe Theo & Jed have dumpster-dived well.
Saturday, the Cubs return to Mesa. Travis Wood and Randy Wells, apparently both fighting for nothing more than a bullpen slot (or a trip to Iowa) will both pitch against the Padres, while Chris Volstad (who apparently has won a rotation spot) will throw in a game at the minor league complex at Fitch Park. Anthony Bass will get the start for the Padres. And perhaps I'll even see the Cubs win at Mesa -- since I've been here, I've seen four games at Mesa, all losses, and have a 4-1 road record. Saturday's game will be on WGN radio and TV at 3:05 CT.