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Cubs Do Everything But Win In Split-Squad Games

Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro triples in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at HoHoKam Park.  Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-US PRESSWIRE
Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro triples in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at HoHoKam Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-US PRESSWIRE

MESA, Arizona -- I was all ready to like Lendy Castillo Tuesday afternoon. Maybe I was too hard on the guy for one bad throw, I thought. He's got a good arm and maybe the Cubs found a diamond in the rough, I thought.

After Tuesday's performance by Castillo, maybe I was right after all. Castillo faced seven batters, walked three of them, hit another and gave up two hits and the two runs he allowed put the Rangers ahead to stay in a 6-2 Cubs loss at Mesa on a day when the sunshine returned to the Valley, though it was a bit chilly (there was an audible gasp from the crowd when it was announced that at game time, it was 61 in Mesa and 85 in Chicago).

There was some good news from Mesa -- Ryan Dempster became the first Cubs starter to go six innings. In fact, he became the first Cubs starter to go more than four innings (although Rodrigo Lopez also accomplished that today, more on that later). Dempster made one bad pitch, which Rangers backup catcher Dusty Brown smashed for a two-run homer. Apart from that, Dempster issued one walk and gave up three other hits, all singles. It was really a classic Dempster appearance, not dominant, just solid enough, and if it had been a regular season game he'd surely have started the seventh inning.

Starlin Castro had a pair of extra-base hits, a double and a triple; unfortunately, he was stranded at third each time. Blake DeWitt had a pair of hits and tripled (yes, tripled) in one of the two runs the Cubs scored off ex-Cub Neal Cotts, who is trying to make it back with the Rangers.

Other good things from the Mesa game: Geovany Soto threw out two Rangers runners trying to steal second base; that's a good sign. Anthony Rizzo had a pair of hits.

Now let's talk about Carlos Marmol.After he retired the first two hitters he faced in the seventh, relieving Dempster, he hit Brown, and then worried-looking coaches and trainers came out. Carrie Muskat has the details:

Dale Sveum noticed the pitcher flexing his right hand after his last pitch and went to the mound with athletic trainer Ed Halbur. Marmol was then lifted, although he argued to stay in the game.

"When I talked to him, it was something he said he had before and it always seems to happen in Spring Training," Sveum said. "It was a cramp in his hand. There was nothing in his elbow, forearm, nothing like that. He wasn’t too worried about it. He said, ‘It’s fine now, it’s gone away,’ and he wanted to stay in the game."

Rangers starter Neftali Feliz also left the game with some sort of minor issue; teams seem really, really cautious this year, much more so than ever before, with any sort of minor thing like this seemingly cause for alarm. Sounds like Marmol should be fine. Now let's get him to throw strikes, please. In the Phoenix game against the Athletics, which wound up in a 5-5, 10-inning tie, the Cubs were cruising along with good pitching from Rodrigo Lopez (who, I have to admit, has impressed me this spring), Manuel Corpas, Scott Maine and Esmailin Caridad, who combined for eight innings of four-hit, two-run, one-walk, six-strikeout ball.

Sounds great, right?

Enter Blake Parker, who gave up three runs, including a home run to Jonny Gomes, and even so had the Cubs within one out of victory when he gave up a double to Kila Ka`aihue. Ah, Kila, who at one time I thought might make a good Cub.

Neither team could score in the 10th and thus it ended.

One thing that went on during batting practice at Mesa is yet another sign that the coaching staff is being proactive about baserunning drills. The staff had groups of three go out to second base and take leads and work on that and running between second, third and home. I like this a lot and it shows you how much more in charge this year's coaching staff is. This team might not have the talent other teams do, or enough to be a playoff team, but I don't think there's any doubt that they will work hard and give 100% effort every day.

You can't ask for much more than that.

Attendance watch: 8,384 were at HoHoKam today, after having an advance sale of 7,000; that's a pretty good walkup sale. Season total is now 96,060; the 10-date average is 9,606.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, is the Cubs' only off-day of the spring. I would expect a significant round of roster cuts announced sometime tomorrow, and after that, we'll likely see the regular lineup begin to take better shape and those players play longer into games. Thursday is the next game, also against the Rangers, this time at their camp in Surprise; Matt Garza will go for the Cubs and Colby Lewis for Texas. Thursday's game will be televised on CSN Chicago.