PEORIA, Arizona -- Maybe it's a good thing that only 5,325 -- the smallest crowd I can remember for a Cubs spring training game, home or road, this late in the spring -- saw this one.
Oh, don't get me wrong. There were some good things that happened in the Cubs' 12-11 loss to the Padres Thursday afternoon. Darwin Barney had four hits, raising his spring average to .450. (Now the Cubs just have to figure out a way for him not to tire out late in the season.)
Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson hit back-to-back home runs leading off what became a four-run fifth inning, all the runs charged to Padres starter Clayton Richard, who gave up nine runs in all. I came pretty close to getting Reed's homer, which bounced behind me -- I was sitting next to one of the light standards near the scoreboard in left-center field. Reed's blast went at least 420 feet. It was the first homer of the spring for both men.
Joe Mather continued his hot hitting, going 2-for-4 with three runs scored, and Geovany Soto drove in three runs with a pair of doubles.
This all sounds great, right? Well, it was, and it could have been a victory if there had been better pitching.
Chris Volstad retired the first five hitters he faced and then the wheels fell off. He gave up a single and a two-run homer in the second inning, and then got hit hard in the third, which wound up as a four-run inning for the Padres; that frame included three doubles. You probably don't want to hear more. Volstad did settle down after that and gave up just two more singles, one of which was erased on a caught-stealing. He also executed two perfect sacrifice bunts. Maybe the bunting contest has had a positive effect after all.
With two out in the fifth and a runner on first, Kerry Wood made his first appearance in 11 days, striking out James Darnell to end the inning. And that was it for Kerry, who was replaced by Shawn Camp in the next inning.
Camp didn't do too much to make his case for sticking on the roster; he got hit hard including giving up a home run to Jesus Guzman. Now, Guzman has been a home run hitter this spring; that was his third. And he did hit .312/.369/.478 with five homers in 247 at-bats with the Padres last year, but Guzman is a 27-year-old journeyman. This is not the kind of guy you want to see someone trying to make your bullpen give up home runs to. Camp cave up two more hits in the next inning, and another run scored.
At that point it was 11-8 Cubs and all they needed was some decent relief out of Alberto Cabrera to nail down a win.
It was not to be. Cabrera made a throwing error on a pickoff attempt, uncorked a wild pitch, and gave up four hits including a two-run double to Matt Clark, which drove in the eventual game-winning runs.
Matt Clark is a halfway-decent prospect, but he was wearing uniform No. 89. That gives you an idea of where he stands in the Padres' hierarchy. Cabrera has a good arm, but I don't think he has much of a major league future.
This is one of those spring-training games where you realize the result (loss) means little. It was good to see the Cubs bats pound out those 17 hits; that's a good sign for the future, or at least we hope so.
On Friday, Ryan Dempster will take the mound at HoHoKam Park. He'll face a Dodgers split-squad team that will start journeyman Fernando Nieve, who last pitched in the major leagues for the Mets in 2010. Other Dodger pitchers expected to make the trip include Mike MacDougal, Scott Elbert, Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen.