GOODYEAR, Arizona -- I was all ready to give Rodrigo Lopez a chance. I realize maybe I've been kind of irrational about him. (I think every fan is entitled to one player on his or her team to irrationally dislike.) So I watched him warm up, even tweeting a photo of him doing so.
And then came the first three Cleveland hitters of the game and I was ready to throw up my hands and yell, "Told you so!" Rodrigo gave up a double, single and walk to the first three men he faced, loading the bases. And two groundouts later, the Tribe had a 2-0 lead.
But then... Lopez settled down. He faced 15 more hitters and gave up just two singles and two walks the rest of the way, and actually left the game with one out in the fifth to applause from the Cubs fans in the Goodyear Ballpark audience of 6,614 (seemed like about 60% Cubs fans).
So I'll say this: if Dale Sveum actually has a role in the bullpen for "long reliever, mopup man, spot starter" -- in other words, someone who could actually throw three or four innings at a time when needed and fill in as a starter -- I'm perfectly okay with Lopez doing that.
Surprised? See, I can have my mind changed. I was a bit puzzled as to why Lopez was getting the major league start while Ryan Dempster wasn't doing so well in a Fitch Park appearance:
Ryan Dempster gave up 6 R, 8 H, 1 BB over 5 IP in #Cubs Minor League game at Fitch Park— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 25, 2012
But it all worked out for the Cubs at Goodyear in a 6-2 win over the Indians. The Cubs are now 2-9 at HoHoKam Park this spring and 9-4-1 on the road, numbers that make no sense at all.
The Cubs ended the 13-inning scoreless streak by Tribe starter Jeanmar Gomez by pushing across three runs in the third inning, started off by a Joe Mather double; RBIs came from Starlin Castro (infield out), Alfonso Soriano (sac fly) and Bryan LaHair (single).
Then Mather made the catch of the spring in the bottom of the inning, running full-tilt into the center field wall more than 400 feet from the plate on a long drive by Asdrubal Cabrera. Not satisfied with that performance, Mather came to the plate again in the fourth and smacked another double, though he (and Jeff Baker) were left stranded.
Mather then left the game for Dave Sappelt and I was a bit concerned that he had hurt himself on the fielding play, but a couple of innings later I saw him walking through the center field gate on his way to the parking lot to head back to Mesa, seemingly unhurt.
It's clear to me that Mather has made the team. He can play all three outfield positions capably, as well as first and third base. My only concern is that this is spring training, and performances and stats in the spring can be foolers (e.g. Micah Hoffpauir 2009). But when this is all the manager has to go on, it's clear that Mather has outplayed other contenders for bench positions. He's earned it.
Cubs relievers held the Indians in check with just one hit over the last 4⅔ innings, along with one walk, and the Cubs broke the game open in the seventh, when Castro singled and Soriano followed with his sixth home run of the spring. That homer was a laser beam to right-center field, a place you rarely see Soriano hit. The six homers ties him with Ryan Raburn of the Tigers and Dan Uggla of the Braves for the spring-training lead, and his 14 RBI rank sixth. Soriano was the DH today -- but if he can hit like this during the season we can live with the defense.
A big thank-you today to BCB'er Hammer, who is working at Goodyear Ballpark this spring and who gave me a tour of the press box, suites (very nice), the visiting clubhouse (vacant, since the Cubs changed into uniforms and hit at Mesa) and showed me the batting cage beneath the huge right-field party area.
On Monday, the Cubs play their final split-squad game of the spring. Paul Maholm will start at Mesa against the Padres' Tim Stauffer. I'll be at that game. The other half of the team heads to Talking Stick, where the Diamondbacks' Ian Kennedy will face Jay Jackson. Also expected to go for the Cubs against Arizona are Scott Maine and Esmailin Caridad.