TEMPE, Arizona -- Despite the fact that the Cubs were blown out 15-3 by the Angels Friday afternoon in front of a rather small crowd of 4,044 at Tempe Diablo Stadium, there was at least one big ray of hope for the Cubs' future.
Kris Bryant, last year's No. 1 draft choice, hit a two-run homer in his first major-league spring-training at-bat. Bryant had a good at-bat, waiting for his pitch, and then sent it deep onto the left-field berm, not too far from where I was sitting. Albert Almora, another piece of the Cubs' future puzzle, had doubled in front of Bryant, a slicing drive down the left-field line.
Now, don't get too excited. This home run was hit off Jarrett Grube, a 32-year-old minor-league lifer who's had 332 appearances in the minors without ever getting a single big-league appearance. Nevertheless, it was a smashingly good debut for Bryant, who also handled two chances in the field flawlessly and who will certainly get more plate appearances in big-league spring games before being reassigned to the minor-league camp around the middle of March.
Darwin Barney also homered, the Cubs' first longball of the spring, in the fourth inning. Barney had singled in his first at-bat, a strong spring debut, and if he keeps up hitting, he'll certainly be a well-qualified starter at second base.
Unfortunately, by the time Barney hit his home run, the Cubs were already trailing 4-1. Chris Rusin retired the first four hitters he faced. Then Howie Kendrick bounced a ball past a diving Donnie Murphy -- a ball I thought Murphy should have handled. That seemed to shake Rusin, who walked the next hitter, Raul Ibanez, then gave up a two-run double to Chris Iannetta, followed by another single, a force play and two more singles before Rusin managed to get Albert Pujols on a called third strike (that Albert didn't like at all, and he might have had a point).
Even so, at 4-1 the game might have still been in hand if James McDonald hadn't come into the game as if he were throwing workout BP over at Cubs Park. I pass this along:
#Cubs James McDonald is fine, just became a little fatigued. Threw lot of pitches in pen— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) February 28, 2014
I can vouch for that, since I was sitting just behind the left-field bullpen. McDonald was up and down at least three times while Rusin was stinking out the second inning; he might have thrown 60 pitches in the pen. No wonder his game was so off. He did go 1-2-3 in the third, but in the fourth... well, it was painful. Chris Iannetta led off with a home run, and then McDonald loaded the bases on a pair of walks sandwiched around a single. With Mike Trout the next hitter, you could have closed your eyes and seen what was about to happen, which was a long grand slam that also landed near me on the lawn, only to bounce over a row of hedges in the back of the berm and out of the premises completely. After McDonald walked Pujols, Rick Renteria had mercy on him and yanked him for Jonathan Sanchez, who got out two quick outs... and then couldn't keep his control, issuing two walks before J.B. Shuck tripled into the right-field corner.
Paolo Espino, who has spent his entire career in the Indians' minor-league system -- six years' worth -- and is in minor league camp this year, finally got out of the inning, retiring the 13th hitter of the inning, Kole Calhoun, on a grounder to Barney. Four hits, five walks, one batter reached on a fielder's choice, nine earned runs. Espino got out of the fifth 1-2-3, but by that time Mike Scioscia had taken mercy on the Cubs -- sort of -- by replacing all his regulars. I say "sort of," because Scioscia appeared to have carefully chosen ex-Cubs as several of his replacements. Carlos Pena, Ian Stewart and Chad Tracy all appeared in this game for the Angels; it's not likely that any of them will make their 25-man roster.
Honestly, there probably isn't a single pitcher who threw today for the Cubs who will break camp on the 25-man roster, so I'm more focused on Barney's good day and Bryant's home run. Good news for the future there, or so we can hope.
The small crowd was a bit of a surprise given it was the Angels' spring opener, and the weather, which is supposed to turn nasty overnight and Saturday, was actually quite nice, with temperatures soaring into the 80s and sunshine most of the afternoon. Scioscia started most of his regulars, likely because it was the opener and it was televised back to Los Angeles. If you can stand it, you can watch this horror show on MLB Network at midnight CT.
And to end my day, the three-hour, nine-minute game dumped me out into Friday afternoon rush-hour traffic, which as you can imagine, was just delightful.
Saturday, weather permitting -- and it sure doesn't look like it will be permitting -- Travis Wood will face the Giants' Matt Cain in Mesa at 2:05 CT, and Edwin Jackson will pitch against top Diamondbacks prospect Archie Bradley at Talking Stick at 8:10 CT. Both games will be on cubs.com with Len Kasper and Mick Gillispie.