PEORIA, Arizona -- Never mind the fact that the Cubs lost 8-7 to the Mariners late Wednesday night (early Thursday morning if you're in Chicago), because the tying and winning Seattle rallies were allowed by pitchers who won't be anywhere near the Cubs' bullpen in 2013.
The most important thing that happened was the big night by Mike Olt, who was serving as designated hitter. Olt homered twice. The first one was to nearly dead center field, about three-quarters of the way up the berm, probably a 430-foot blast on the first pitch he saw from veteran Randy Wolf, who's trying to make a comeback at age 37 after being out of baseball last year.
Olt's second home run, in the sixth inning off Charlie Furbush, was to left-center field, not quite as impressive as the first one, but nevertheless part of a 3-for-4 night in which he also singled in a run.
With the off day today, it's really time for Olt to get in there at third base every single day and win the third-base job. If the Cubs don't give him that time, then why are they making deals for prospects like this? I understand, I understand, he's had a shoulder issue that supposedly keeps him from throwing (yet, he turned a nice 3-6-3 double play Monday in Scottsdale against the Giants).
The Cubs had another home run Wednesday evening:
Javier Baez's home run hit the base of the scoreboard. I know this because I was sitting not 30 feet away from the board and I could hear the ball clank against the metal structure. That, I can tell you, is an absolute monster of a home run, by far the longest I've seen so far this spring, perhaps 450-460 feet. This home run, also off Wolf, tied the game 2-2 before Brad Miller hit a home run off James Russell, in Russell's first spring appearance.
This was a busy, busy game, so let's get to some of the other important happenings. James McDonald simply had no command in his 2⅔ innings. He issued five walks and was constantly in trouble. He was fortunate to have allowed only the two runs, helped out by a pair of double plays, both turned nicely by Baez (and Emilio Bonifacio). If he doesn't start throwing better than this, McDonald's attempt to make the rotation is going to fail. McDonald said after the game that "it's a process," but in 5⅔ spring innings, McDonald has allowed six hits, eight walks and eight earned runs, with no strikeouts. That isn't good.
The other important thing that happened during this game was manager Rick Renteria's first replay review challenge. It came on a ground ball hit by Ryan Kalish in the fourth inning, right after Baez's home run. Have a look, if you missed it, or even if you saw it Wednesday night:
To the naked eye, Kalish looked safe; he was called out by first-base umpire Dan Bellino, thus prompting Renteria's challenge. The consensus I saw on Twitter after the review was that he was safe. I have watched this replay several times, and I think the call was correct, as was the confirmation of the call. The ball appears to settle into first baseman Justin Smoak's glove a tiny fraction of a second before Kalish's foot touches first base. It was really close, and I suspect the reviewers couldn't find strong enough video evidence to overturn the call made on the field.
The review took two minutes, which I don't think is an inordinate amount of time. Also, remember that there were only three camera angles to review this play; during the regular season, with many more cameras covering almost all games, there should be many more angles to review. Finally, the PA announcer let everyone know that the play was being reviewed, and also the result of the review, which I assume will also be done during regular-season games.
Snap judgment after sitting through one review at the ballpark: it works the way it's supposed to work. It'll be better with more cameras and the crew at the central location once the regular season begins. The Cubs will also have review available in upcoming games March 16 against the Indians and March 19 against the Rockies. You can watch both of those games, too; the 3/16 game will be on CSN Chicago and the 3/19 game will be on MLB Network.
The very long game was made even longer by Mariners and Cubs pitchers combining for 12 walks, and the Cubs taking the lead in the sixth inning with a four-run rally that was helped by three almost ridiculous errors. Seattle first baseman Jesus Montero dropped a foul pop-up hit by Baez (Baez eventually struck out), then dropped a routine throw from second baseman Ty Kelly. Kelly then lost a fly ball in the sun... no, of course he didn't. It was a night game. He just dropped an easy popup hit by Chris Valaika, which would have ended the inning. Instead, that led to two more runs scoring.
Don't even ask me about the ninth inning, when Tsuyoshi Wada blew a three-run lead with some walks and hits and... well, enough said, and it seemed as if Marcus Hatley allowing three straight hits for a Mariners win in the bottom of the 10th was him saying, "I want to get out of here!" The PA guy had said that the 10th would be the final inning anyway; by that time maybe 1,000 of the announced 8,933 remained in the stands.
Again, a spring loss is virtually meaningless. Let's hope Mike Olt's big night is the start of something big for him, and for the Cubs' third-base position.
The Cubs have Thursday off, the only complete off day of the spring. Jason Hammel and Eric Jokisch will throw today in minor-league games to keep them on schedule; Kyle Hendricks will start against the Dodgers Friday afternoon in Mesa. At this writing, LA has Josh Beckett scheduled to face the Cubs, but this article says Beckett has a sprained thumb and might not be able to go.
Stick around BCB today; it might be an off day, but there will be plenty here later on to discuss.