MESA, Arizona -- Koyie Hill could have been a hero.
At the plate representing the tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Rockies today, Hill could have prolonged the inning, driven in a run (there was a runner on second base), or been a huge hero and tied the game with a home run.
Instead, he looked at a fastball from Edgmer Escalona right down the middle for a called strike three and the Cubs lost to the Rockies 4-2.
I'm picking on Koyie, a little -- it wasn't his fault the Cubs lost, although he went 0-for-2 and is now hitting .043 (1-for-23) for the spring. Seriously, can't we find another backup catcher?
The issue today was defense. In a game where the Cubs trailed 1-0 in the top of the fifth, the Rockies got a pair of runners on base with one out and the pitcher due up, looking to bunt. Instead, the runners took off -- it appeared, when a bunt was missed -- and a couple of bad throws later, both runners were safe. Then, pitcher Esmil Rogers hit a fly ball to left field that Alfonso Soriano handled just fine. OK, one run, we can live with that, right?
No, it's two runs, because Soriano's throw was... well, it wasn't really to anyone. It wound up bouncing into the visitors dugout, nowhere near any Cubs fielder, and a second run scored. The Rockies added one in the eighth off Justin Berg, who looked pretty bad today -- I'd say his chances of making the team took a hit -- and then Pat Listach wasted time by taking Berg out with two out in the ninth; Jeff Stevens finished up.
No one in the starting lineup could really do anything against Rogers and three of Colorado's better relievers, Matt Belisle, Matt Lindstrom and Huston Street; those four held the Cubs to five singles over the first eight innings, and Carlos Pena, who had the Cubs' first hit in the second inning, inexplicably tried to take second base on what was a routine single to left. He was thrown out easily. The Cubs managed a pair of consolation runs in the ninth to make the score look respectable, in front of 10,246 -- still no sellouts with seven dates remaining (I believe the game vs. the White Sox on the 24th is the only one sold out so far).
All of this ruined a fairly nice outing from Randy Wells, who threw five good innings and could have gotten out of it with fewer runs had the defense played better. That's something this team absolutely, positively has to work on.
In the other split-squad game, Brett Jackson, Tyler Colvin and Welington Castillo all homered in an 8-1 Cubs win over the Athletics. Castillo is now hitting .692 (9-for-13), with the HR being his first extra-base hit of the spring. Andrew Cashner was a bit shaky, giving up three walks in 3.1 innings and hitting a batter, and allowing the A's only run of the game. The rest of the pitchers who went in this game were all guys who were among the 18 roster cuts earlier today. Pitchers like Trey McNutt (1.2 scoreless innings) and Chris Carpenter (a perfect inning with a pair of K's), we'll be seeing again, if not in September, then in a year or so.
The Cubs will take tomorrow off -- the only off day of the spring -- and will face the A's again in Phoenix on Thursday, with Ryan Dempster pitching against Oakland's Bobby Cramer.