MESA, Arizona -- In yesterday's Tribune, Lou Piniella and Kerry Wood had a bit of a war of words on how often Wood should be pitching, and how roster spots might be decided:
Piniella: "He shouldn't be questioning anybody, truthfully. All I'm saying is when we [say we want] back-to-back and two-inning [stints], that's the proper way to get the bullpen prepared for the start of a season. With Kerry that hasn't been the plan, obviously, and the reason I say that is because he has had a couple of setbacks. Now, if he hadn't had those setbacks, that would be the plan."
Apparently, Wood, who was supposed to throw tomorrow, must have talked Lou into using him today, because Kerry came on to throw the seventh inning (instead of Neal Cotts, who was originally supposed to pitch today). Bad move. Wood allowed three hits, including a two-run homer by Kendry Morales, which provided the margin of victory in a 3-2 Angels win over the Cubs this afternoon.
BCB reader bleacher came out to the berm to tell us he'd been watching the scouts' radar guns on Wood, and unlike Friday's appearance, when his velocity was good, Wood peaked at 88 this afternoon, and the pitch to Morales was only 82 MPH.
So is this another setback? We won't know until tomorrow, I suppose.
It was another quick game -- two hours and seventeen minutes -- played in front of another sellout (12,727), consisting of a substantial minority of red-clad Angels fans (if you look at the jerseys and T-shirts they are wearing, you'd think Vladimir Guerrero was the only player on the team), on an absolutely perfect day in the Valley; 74 degrees at game time (it was in the 80's later in the day), not a cloud in the sky, the kind of day we know we won't see in Chicago till June.
And at first it appeared the game might go even more quickly than 2:17 -- Ervin Santana mowed down the Cubs in the first four innings, retiring the first twelve batters he faced, until Cliff Floyd led off the fifth with another one of his now-familiar monster home runs over the bullpen. I hate the DH, but find myself wishing the NL had it, with Floyd on the roster, he'd make a perfect player for that position. The DH was used today by mutual agreement between the Cubs and Angels, and Daryle Ward played first base, giving Derrek Lee the day off.
Aramis Ramirez also got the day off, and Mark DeRosa played third base -- oddly, the position he's played most in his major league career to date (147 games at 3B, 137 at SS, 114 at 2B through 2006). It showed. DeRosa made some really slick plays in the field, and had seven assists in all. Not that Ramirez will require many days off (we hope!), but now we know that there's a very capable defensive replacement on the ballclub.
Ted Lilly bettered Santana -- throwing six shutout innings, allowing four hits and only one walk (leading off the game to Gary Matthews Jr.), and getting nine of his eighteen outs on ground balls. He threw 58 pitches, 39 for strikes.
After Wood had coughed up the lead, Michael Wuertz and Ryan Dempster both threw efficient scoreless innings -- whatever that minor problem was affecting Dempster's shoulder a week or so ago seems to have passed -- and the Cubs had a really good chance to win the game in the last of the eighth. They loaded the bases on singles by Cesar Izturis and Felix Pie, and after a nicely-executed sac bunt by Ronny Cedeno (that's nice to see -- Cedeno doing something like that and doing it well), a walk to Angel Pagan loading the bases.
With Floyd and Ward up with one out, things seemed promising. Floyd drew a walk, forcing in a run (to which I said to everyone with me, including again today BCB'ers jessica, dfrancon, jazzman56 and the SD Smooth Jazzman, "Somewhere, Dusty Baker is yelling at his TV, 'Hack at that, dude!'"), but Ward hit into an inning-ending double play.
The ninth inning was thrown by a non-roster Angel trying to make their bullpen, Matt Wilhite, who's a submariner whose hand almost scrapes the ground when he throws, a la Chad Bradford. He was effective, getting Koyie Hill, Matt Murton and DeRosa all to ground out to end the game.
Despite the loss, it was a useful game for Ted Lilly, who had his best start of the spring and who could easily have thrown at least another inning -- this is one reason ST results don't mean anything, because in a regular season game someone who'd thrown that few pitches, with a 1-0 lead in the 7th inning, would absolutely, positively be allowed to at least start that 7th inning, with a setup reliever waiting in the bullpen.
Finally, we met a nice couple, Mike & Tara from Edison Park (hey, you two -- hope you put your BCB card to good use, and are reading this!). I mention them because I kept looking over at him as his cellphone was beeping almost non-stop. The reason for this -- he had text-messaged about 40 of his friends the following:
And apparently, all 40 of his friends were messaging him back. Hey, why not? That's what spring training is for -- players working on things to get ready for the season, and fans having fun. A week from tomorrow, it begins for real.