MESA, Arizona -- He really does look like a different player.
And yes, I know it's only spring training, and yes, I know he's just barely made the team as the 25th man.
But Ronny Cedeno has suddenly started playing like the player we all thought we might be getting last spring when he won the starting SS job. Does this mean he's "figured it out", or "gets it" (a phrase I know I've been slammed for using before)?
Maybe not. But it is nice to see him actually use his athletic talent, to produce on a baseball field. Today, in the Cubs' 6-2 win over the Giants, Cedeno slammed a three-run homer in the second inning, giving the Cubs all the runs they'd need. He also walked (yes, walked; that's his eighth walk of the spring, about half as many as he had in a five-hundred-plus at-bat 2006 season) and scored, and made a couple of nifty plays in the field.
Frankly, he's looked far better than the guy who is supposed to be the starting SS, Cesar Izturis. Had there been an actual competition for the job this spring, Cedeno might very well have won it.
I was one of those who liked Cedeno a year ago based on his small-sample-size 2005 season. Quite honestly, he sucked last year in almost every facet of the game -- plate discipline, batting average, and virtually every time he'd pick up a ball to make a play at the plate, he'd throw the ball away. If he's truly become a major league player -- and we do not know that yet -- I welcome it. We can use as many of those as possible.
That wasn't the only good thing about today's game, played in front of another sellout of 12,754 (including a very large contingent of Giants fans, probably the largest group of visiting-team fans I've seen yet at Ho Ho Kam Park this year), and played in a way that Lou Piniella might manage a regular season game, for the first time; Carlos Zambrano started and threw six very good, very efficient innings. I don't have an exact pitch count but it couldn't have been much over 70; he walked only one, struck out five, and the only run he allowed came after Jacque Jones made an ill-considered dive after a sinking line drive off the bat of Kevin Frandsen. It should have been a single at most, instead it went for a triple, and then Z wild-pitched him home.
Then Kerry Wood entered the game (after Z, who loves to hit, was allowed to bat for himself in the 6th; he struck out swinging) to a loud ovation before his name was even announced. He also threw efficiently; he threw few enough pitches that he might have even been allowed to throw another inning had he not had such a long layoff. He got Frandsen to pop up, gave up a gap double, then retired Mark Sweeney and Randy Winn on ground balls to Derrek Lee. After that, Bob Howry threw the 8th, giving up a run (after retiring the first two hitters easily -- how many times have we seen that already this spring? I hate that!), and then Ryan Dempster threw the 9th, spearing two balls nicely on comebackers and then striking out Sweeney swinging to end the game.
In the ancient pop-song words of Carly Simon: "That's the way I've always heard it should be" -- and let's hope we see a lot of games just like this, with similar final results, this year.
Other offensive notes, apart from Cedeno's big day: Aramis Ramirez hit a massive home run, again over the sidewalk behind the LCF berm, probably 460 feet. Michael Barrett walked twice and singled twice (the Cubs walked five times in all. Don't you love hearing that?); Mark DeRosa had two hits, and Derrek Lee smacked another double.
We had a mini-BCB conclave on the lawn today; in addition to the SD Smooth Jazz Man, joining me for the third day in a row, sitting in front of the scoreboard clock with me were Jessica and her friend jazzman56; also dfrancon, in from Dallas for the weekend. Mrcubsfan and bleacher stopped by, and once again we welcomed Rob from 6-4-2, and his Cubs fan wife Helen. Rob has a very cool camera with an enormous zoom lens, from which he took quite a few excellent photos (FWIW, a diving catch that Jason Ellison made on Cedeno in the sixth inning appeared, from Rob's photo, to possibly have been trapped, though no one argued), and I suspect you'll see some samples thereof at his site in the next day or so.
Several of the above-mentioned BCB'ers arrived quite late, all muttering about having to park somewhere near the Superstition Mountains; I couldn't believe it when I left the park and saw cars parked diagonally up and down both sides of Center Street outside the park; this is something I had never seen the Mesa police (who apparently shrugged at Rob and Helen when they parked there in a no-parking zone) allow before. They'd better prepare to do this again on Sunday, when perhaps the largest crowd of the year arrives to see the Cubs take on the Angels. The weather also cooperated today; though angry-looking dark clouds hovered over the McDowell Mountains near Scottsdale all day, just a few puffy cumulus clouds were over the park in Mesa and not a single raindrop was in sight. The temperature at game time was reported as 66, but with the sunshine it felt quite pleasant. Rain has been taken out of tomorrow's forecast -- good news for the game in Scottsdale, which will have a rematch of these two teams, only with these added features: the appearance of Barry Bonds, who doesn't deign to play "road" spring training games (would it kill you to drive the extra 20 minutes to Mesa, Barry?), and also the first appearance of Barry Zito in a Giants uniform against the Cubs.
And one other bit of news: Mark Prior has earned another spring start, off his appearance yesterday; it'll be Wednesday against the Rockies in Mesa.