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Tuning Up

PHOENIX, Arizona -- Honestly, the most interesting thing about today's 8-7 loss to the Diamondbacks at the BOB was the fact that my son Mark (the kids are now here in Arizona) spotted Mark Prior on the field, doing throwing motion drills with a towel in his right hand instead of a baseball. This went on for several minutes in the right field corner before the game, and then Prior, Larry Rothschild and a couple of the training staff who I didn't recognize, discussed what had transpired. They seemed satisfied with the results, and Prior's next -- well, whatever they want him to do -- will come at extended spring training sometime during the week.

Other than that, Mark enjoyed his first game of the year, especially since his friend Jake from school was there along with his dad (who is also their baseball coach during the summer), and Mark cajoled me into buying a $6 (!) bag of cotton candy that was as big as his head, and he's outside whipping around golf balls right now with all that extra sugar energy.

Matt Clement got the start and looked shaky again, giving up a monster home run to Richie Sexson in the first inning (OK, so he's not the only pitcher to have ever done that), and the only thing that gives me hope about that is that Clement pitched poorly in spring training last year as well. The D'backs took a 4-0 lead and suddenly Elmer Dessens, who had breezed through the first three innings, couldn't throw a strike, and he walked three people who almost never walk, Moises Alou, Aramis Ramirez and Paul Bako, and then Jason Dubois, pinch-hitting for Clement, singled in two runs, and by the time the dust had settled, the Cubs were up 6-4.

Someone wearing Sergio Mitre's uniform pitched three very efficient innings and made a couple of nice defensive plays, too. Seriously, this at least gives me some hope that Mitre won't be a complete disaster when he makes his first start next Saturday in Atlanta. I had heard that Carlos Zambrano was also going to throw today, but did not, and so he will rest on the laurels of a very good spring before he makes his first start Thursday in Cincinnati.

LaTroy Hawkins worries me -- he again seemed to lose focus and it didn't help that Todd Walker made an error on what admittedly would have been a tough play, and then somebody named Brito, a D'back catcher who won't make the major league squad, slammed a 410-foot double off the center field wall for two runs. I hope Hawkins has his head together once Monday comes, because he is one of the most important parts of the bullpen.

I also worry about Michael Barrett. He's had a decent spring (.296, 1 HR) with the bat, but his defense helped lead to the winning run, as a D'back scrub stole second and Barrett threw the ball into CF, allowing the game winner to score on a sac fly.

The Bank One Ballpark scoreboard was a little off, too, as for a while it had Julio Ramirez playing both LF and RF for the D'backs, and also they claimed a "technical problem" while trying to have a fan play the attendance guess contest, and they never did announce the attendance (29,182, about the same as last night), but they did give the guy a prize anyway. It was odd, after two weeks of being at ballparks with capacities around 10 or 12,000, to be in a big major league stadium again, with a scoreboard that actually showed the lineups, and the PA announcer was audible, and we were actually surrounded by Cub fans in our section (seemed to be about 1/3 Cub fans overall). The only thing missing was a program for the game, as I guess the D'backs didn't feel it worth selling one for these two games. The game was officially an event sponsored by the Diamondbacks Charities, and they raised $100,000 from this series.

After the game the Phoenix police had all the traffic from the lots adjacent to the stadium forced everyone to drive west, which of course was exactly the opposite way that I wanted to drive. As it turned out they did me a favor, because this did route me away from most of the traffic and I was able to get on I-10 eastbound quickly and it was about the fastest route home from any game I've been to this spring.

Tomorrow I'll post some thoughts about the season to come.