Cubs Split-Squad Saturday: A Split, With Home Runs And Wind

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Don't get too excited about the win Saturday, nor too down about the loss.

SURPRISE, Arizona -- Since it's likely most of you watched the Cubs' 9-4 loss to the Mets in Las Vegas on WGN-TV, I'll begin this with a recap of the game I attended Saturday afternoon, a come-from-behind, 6-5 Cubs win over the Royals.

I don't think I've ever seen a spring-training game end the way that one did -- with a perfect relay throw and a runner cut down at the plate for the final out in a one-run game. Regular season? Sure, that happens... but it's very unusual in a spring game, and even more so because the runner who was thrown out, Kansas City's Brett Eibner, started the play on first base after a single, and the hit on which he was thrown out was a garden-variety single up the middle. There's no way in most ballgames that any such lead runner gets any farther than third base, but Eibner, who was the Royals' second-round pick in 2010 and played in Double-A in 2013, was likely trying to impress his manager.

Instead, it was the Cubs who pulled off an impressive play, a perfect throw from Junior Lake to Marco Hernandez at shortstop, and then a perfect relay from Hernandez to catcher John Baker, who put the tag on Eibner to finish off the win. And really, how many times have we seen Cubs players who aren't minor leaguers mess up that play? It was nicely done by everyone, and a fine way to end a win. Jeffrey Lorick, over from the minor-league camp, posted the save, and if his name sounds familiar to you, he's one of the three pitchers the Cubs received from the Braves in the Derrek Lee deal in 2010. He's the only one of the three still in the organization.

This all came after the Cubs did virtually nothing in six innings against James Shields. Shields would have had six no-hit innings if his second baseman Johnny Giavotella hadn't stumbled trying to field a routine ground ball hit by Christian Villanueva with two out in the third inning. Villanueva was credited with a single, the only hit off Shields. Shields allowed no other baserunners and struck out 10, a performance even more impressive than Matt Cain's five no-hit innings against the Cubs last Monday. Just three balls left the infield against Shields.

Meanwhile, Jeff Samardzija labored through three-plus innings, allowing a leadoff homer to Jarrod Dyson (not really a power hitter), and being touched up for two more in the third on a homer from Giavotella after a walk. Shark walked three, allowed seven hits, threw a wild pitch and just didn't look sharp at all.

The Cubs' pen did nice work Saturday; Pedro Strop, Wesley Wright and Chang-yong Lim threw three scoreless innings before Marcos Mateo, the recently returned Rule 5 pick from the Diamondbacks, was touched up for a single run in the eighth, a home run from Brian Fletcher, another middling Royals minor leaguer.

Let's talk about that home run and the three-run shot hit by Brett Jackson in the eighth that put the Cubs on the board.

About the sixth inning, a very strong wind started to blow toward right field. How strong? Little kids were getting blown around on the berm, one routine popup to left (hit by Mike Olt) wound up being caught by the shortstop behind second base and it was hard to even hold my scorecard straight.

Just before Jackson came up with two runners on base (a single and Josh Vitters reaching on an error), I thought, "All he has to do is loft a lazy fly ball to right and the wind will take it out of here." Boom! That's exactly what happened. Same thing on the home run by Fletcher, an ordinary fly ball to right field that just barely made it over the wall. These were even stronger than Wrigley-style winds, and as I write this looking out the window, the wind is still blowing quite strongly. I passed by the parking lot at Talking Stick on the way back from Surprise and the portion of the lot there that's a dirt lot had dust blowing all over the place.

So... Jackson also singled in the Cubs' three-run ninth inning, driving in a pair and giving the Cubs the lead, and I consider that a more impressive achievement than the home run, not only because there were two out at the time and if Jackson makes an out, the game is over, but because it came off Royals lefty reliever Tim Collins, one of Kansas City's better relief pitchers.

Does this mean Jackson has a chance to make the 25-man roster? Probably not, unless one of the current incumbents (Ryan Sweeney and Nate Schierholtz) is traded. More likely, Jackson raised his trade value with his five-RBI performance. I've written before that he likely needs a change of scenery, and maybe he can be dealt for someone else's "change of scenery" guy.

From the Vegas game, I have only the reports I saw via Twitter; the only really significant things that happened were Anthony Rizzo's two home runs and the lousy start by Tsuyoshi Wada, whose spring ERA jumped to 11.12 (5⅔ innings, 10 hits and seven earned runs, five walks). I suspect Wada will be among the next round of roster cuts. It was a worthwhile thing to give him a NRI, but I can't see him helping the team.

Those of you who wanted Kyle Hendricks sent down got your wish today, as he was reassigned to the minor-league camp today. He'll almost certainly be in the rotation at Triple-A Iowa; the "reassigned" notation is simply because he's not on the 40-man roster. (Those who are on the 40-man who get sent down are usually noted as "optioned".)

Hendricks will be back, I'm sure. I hope it's sooner rather than later.

Sunday, the Cubs will meet the Mets again in Las Vegas -- no TV or radio for that game. The other squad returns to Cubs Park in Mesa (as will I), with TV on CSN Chicago (we're told, with no commercials), and radio via cubs.com.

And hopefully, with less wind.

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