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The Cubs lost again, and a longtime Cub adversary had a big day. But a Cubs player had a big day playing for his "home" country.
MESA, Arizona -- There are a number of ridiculous things that can happen during any spring-training game that don't happen during the regular season, but here's one of the most ridiculous: a pitcher having to leave the game with one strike to go until he nailed down a win for his team.
That's what happened to White Sox lefty Leyson Septimo Thursday afternoon in Mesa. He had a 2-2 count on Brad Nelson when his catcher strolled out to the mound. Plate umpire Jordan Baker followed, and quickly waved to the Sox dugout. A scrum of Sox infielders and coaches converged, along with a trainer, and Septimo departed, in favor of Jhan Marinez (if that name sounds familiar, he's one of the pitchers the Marlins shipped to the White Sox in the deal that got them manager Ozzie Guillen. I think the Sox got the better of that one).
Anyway, one strike to go. Marinez, who could have taken as much time as he wanted, since there was an injury and he hadn't warmed up at all, threw just a handful of practice pitches and said he was ready. Naturally, with one strike to go, the game got dragged out. Marinez walked Nelson and then gave up a booming double to Javier Baez -- a blast that missed being a home run by less than a foot, hitting off the very top of the wall in deep left-center.
At last, Marinez got Steve Clevenger to ground to first base to end the White Sox' 8-3 win over the Cubs, the Cubs' fourth straight loss. I still haven't seen the Cubs win since I've been here in Arizona. (And no, I'm not taking the blame.)
Most of the damage off Cubs pitching was handled by longtime Cub-nemesis Paul Konerko. Konerko is a career .295/.351/.586 hitter against Cubs pitching in 71 career games covering 251 at-bats in the regular season, including 20 home runs. He kept that pace going Thursday with two homers, one off starter Carlos Villanueva, the other off Barret Loux (incidentally, Mesa PA announcer Tim Sheridan pronounced the name "lucks", as opposed to what we've heard before, "loucks").
Loux, however you pronounce his name, was awful. He threw a 1-2-3 fifth inning, but then gave up five hits to the first six batters he faced in the sixth, including not only a Konerko home run, but one to Adam Dunn that just barely stayed fair as Dunn stood and watched it. That might be remembered when the teams meet again next week, or in the regular season. Or not; it's just a spring home run, after all. The White Sox put the game away with a five-run outburst in that inning. Loux did have the only Cubs hit between the second inning and the eighth (Hey, Barret! You're not helping my argument in favor of the DH!)
The only other significant note regarding Cubs pitching was the appearance of Carlos Marmol, who was quite Marmol-like. Conor Gillaspie, who the Sox just acquired from the Giants, boomed a ball that nearly left the premises; it wound up as a ground-rule double. Then Marmol picked up a comebacker and tried to throw Gillaspie out at third. The throw beat him, but Christian Villanueva dropped it. After a pair of outs, one of which scored a run, Marmol walked two straight hitters before getting out of the inning with a medium-deep fly ball to center.
I'm assuming scouts were at this game watching Marmol. Hopefully, they were just watching for his velocity and pitch selection, and not the results, so that he can still be traded. Incidentally, rumor heard today: the Cubs are still looking for lefthanded relief help.
Before the ninth-inning mini-rally (highlighted by a two-run homer off the bat of Christian Villanueva), the only other offense of any kind generated by the Cubs was in the first inning, when David DeJesus doubled and Nate Schierholtz tripled him in. In between innings one and nine, the Cubs had just three baserunners. This sort of thing is going to have to improve if this team is going to win a decent number of games, even with the presumably-improved pitching staff.
10,647, a good-sized crowd with a significant number of White Sox fans, attended this game in Mesa; that makes the season total for eight dates 50,824, an average of 6,353. The next home date in Mesa is Saturday, and that might be the next Cubs game, period, because here's the weather forecast for Friday:
A chance of showers, then showers and possibly a thunderstorm after 11am. Some of the storms could produce heavy rainfall. High near 59. Breezy, with a south southeast wind 13 to 2O mph becoming west southwest in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 3O mph. Chance of precipitation is 1OO%. New rainfall amounts between a quarter and half of an inch possible.
But, you're saying, the Cubs game Friday against the Reds is a night game! I doubt they'll play in this:
Showers, mainly before 11pm. Low around 42. Breezy, with a west southwest wind 7 to 17 mph becoming south after midnight. Winds could gust as high as 26 mph. Chance of precipitation is 8O%. New precipitation amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch possible.
The World Baseball Classic game between Italy and Canada, originally scheduled for Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, has been moved to Chase Field in downtown Phoenix; I had planned to go to Talking Stick for that game and instead, will head to Phoenix to see it indoors. Game time is 1 p.m. CT -- I'll have a game thread for that one if you want to follow along. And perhaps you should, because Anthony Rizzo was the star for Italy Thursday afternoon as the country of his ancestors upset Mexico 6-5. Rizzo went 2-for-5 with a run scored and two RBI -- those RBI coming on a ninth-inning double that won the game.
Josh tells me that if Italy can beat Canada Friday, they're almost certain to go on to the second round. Canada will be playing without third baseman Brett Lawrie, who was injured in a practice game against the Reds Wednesday.
Looking forward to seeing Rizzo play Friday. Incidentally, Rizzo's first hit was off none other than his former teammate, Rodrigo Lopez.
That seems an appropriate place to end this post. More tomorrow.