MESA, Arizona -- Spring training is for all kinds of preparation for the regular season, for players, for broadcasters, for coaches... and for fans to get used to sitting in the cold that will be Opening Day in Chicago.
The weather Saturday would have actually been better than about 90 percent of Opening Days at Wrigley Field. It was 54 degrees at game time, with a couple of sprinkles that ended early; a hint of sun warmed the field for a couple of innings, but clouds came back and the wind picked up and it felt pretty cold by the time the game ended.
A typical April day in Chicago, right? Not so typical in the Phoenix area, where the average high for March 9 is 77 degrees. It was cold and breezy and though there was an announced attendance of 7,685, maybe 5,000 showed up to see the Cubs lose again, 9-2 to the Cleveland Indians.
Let's qualify that, shall we? "Cleveland Indians" Saturday referred to a team that started many of its regular-season lineup, including Michael Bourn, Jason Kipnis, Nick Swisher and Lonnie Chisenhall, and sent out two pitchers vying for spots in their starting rotation, David Huff and Zach McAllister.
The team put on the field representing the "Chicago Cubs" featured four guys who have zero chance at making the 25-man roster, was missing two of its best hitters (Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo) and, until the sixth inning, had no one pitch who's going to spend the beginning of the season anywhere but Des Moines.
Chris Rusin threw well enough; he gave up three hits, but no runs, in his three innings, helped out by a nice double play started by Javier Baez. Baez also produced the Cubs' only runs of the day with a long home run that bounced off the top of the men's room in center field behind a couple of video cameras, a blast that probably went 430 feet. Cubs hitters managed only five hits the rest of the way and got just two runners past first base, on doubles by David DeJesus and Johermyn Chavez. Chavez is an interesting player; he hit for tremendous power (32 homers, .577 SLG) in the High-A California League in 2010. He hasn't hit much since then and missed about half of last year with injuries. But he's now 7-for-18 in spring-training games with three doubles and a homer, and also made a nice diving catch in left field (that play wound up as a sac fly). Chavez is 24; he's probably headed to Tennessee, but might eventually have a chance to become a spare-part major-league outfielder.
Both Brooks Raley and Alberto Cabrera struggled with command in their outings. Raley walked one (that runner eventually scored) and gave up a home run to Kipnis; Cabrera walked three and was behind almost every hitter he faced. He had a chance to get out of the fifth inning with just one run scoring after the sac fly noted above, but after pinch-runner Mike McDade was caught stealing, Cabrera issued a walk, a run scored when Baez couldn't hold a throw on an attempted steal of second, and after another walk, Cedric Hunter capped the inning with a three-run homer.
Cabrera and Raley are headed to Iowa. They've got work to do.
Shawn Camp threw well today -- as you know, I was down on him a year ago, but he had a good season (though making far too many appearances due to the weakness of the rotation) and appears on target to be the rubber-arm guy again in 2013.
And, I saw Kyuji Fujikawa throw for the first time. I'm very, very impressed so far. He works efficiently and has nasty offspeed stuff that helped him strike out the first two batters he faced. Of course, virtually no one he's facing now has ever seen him before. As long as he can continue to keep hitters off balance, the Cubs have a real asset in the bullpen, and can now more seriously look for suitors for Carlos Marmol. Gordon Wittenmyer in the Sun-Times says a Marmol deal "is coming". Fujikawa throws strikes. For that, we are grateful.
The rain that washed out Friday's Cactus League games, dumped hail on Mesa and kept the low clouds and cool weather continue into Saturday had one more effect on the crowd arriving at HoHoKam. The south parking lot -- really, just a grassy field -- was completely flooded. I had a friend come up to me late in the game and say, "Center Street is a parking lot!" Looking over, I saw a steady stream of cars leaving; what I didn't realize is that he meant the phrase "parking lot" literally -- Mesa police allowed cars to park on both sides and in the median of Center Street adjoining the ballpark, something I'd never seen before.
Something I hope to see is a Cubs victory soon -- haven't seen one yet in 2013 -- though, as noted above, with the team the Cubs have to put on the field right now due to injuries and the WBC, that might be a few days away. Maybe Sunday, when the Cubs host the Padres on what's promised to be a much nicer, sunny, 70-degree day. Scott Feldman gets the start for the Cubs against our old friend Jason Marquis.