MESA, Arizona -- You likely saw Javier Baez hit another pair of home runs in the Cubs' 8-3 win over the Royals Saturday in Mesa, the first televised game of the spring.
What you did not see was just exactly how far Baez's second home run went. Remember yesterday, when I said that Baez's walkoff against Japan cleared the berm, the fence, and the road separating the ballpark from the parking lot?
Baez's second blast Saturday cleared the scoreboard. I sit in front of that board every day at HoHoKam. It's at least 30 feet high, maybe more. The ball not only cleared the berm, the fence and the road separating the ballpark from the parking lot, but landed about six cars deep in the lot. That's probably 30-40 feet farther than Friday's, so it probably went 470 feet, possibly even more.
So in the space of five at-bats -- the last two Friday and the first three Saturday -- Baez hit four home runs, two of them off one of the better WBC pitchers and two off a major-league rotation starter, although after Bruce Chen's performance against the Cubs, that rotation spot might not be his after all. The Cubs crushed five home runs off Chen, including one each by Alfonso Soriano, David DeJesus and Alberto Gonzalez; they got nine hits and seven runs in all off Chen, plenty enough to win the game.
The Royals sure didn't look like a team that had dominated the Cactus League with a 16-3 record coming into this game, though, to be fair, most of their regulars stayed back in Surprise after they had all played in split-squad action Friday. Mike Moustakas was the only player resembling a Royals everyday player, and he homered off Hisanori Takahashi in the fourth inning for the only run Takahashi gave up.
Takahashi, in the running for a bullpen slot, threw pretty well, giving up only four other hits in addition to Moustakas' home run. He's lefthanded, so the club will probably keep him around for a while as they try to decide whether they'll carry just one lefty (James Russell) in the pen, or two.
The rest of the staff did well enough; the Royals nibbled a run each off Shawn Camp and Kyuji Fujikawa, and there was some nervousness when Carlos Marmol came in with a five-run ninth-inning lead. (He has blown those before, as I'm sure you don't want to be reminded.) But Marmol got three easy outs to finish things up (granted, they were two miscellaneous Royals minor leaguers and Chris Getz).
Attendance on a picture-perfect, 82-degree day was 9,918. That sounds good, but it's more than 3,000 below capacity. I figured this game, if any, would sell out -- a Saturday in the middle of many spring breaks, and the added attraction of Anthony Rizzo coming back from the WBC (Rizzo was about the only Cub who didn't hit Saturday, going 0-for-3). This is a cautionary tale, I think, for Cubs management; routinely, they'd draw crowds of 12,000+ for games like this in the previous decade. But things have changed, and until and unless there's improvement on the big-league field, attendance is going to be down. The spring total for 12 dates is 87,948, for an average of 7,329. They'll have trouble bringing that up to 8,000, with just five dates remaining.
That improvement could come, perhaps sooner than we might have imagined, in the form of Baez. He's playing big-league quality offense and defense right now. Yes, I know, it's just spring training and Gary Scott and all that, but this kid has top talent. The Cubs are fortunate that the previous regime found that and made him the No. 1 pick in 2011. In Las Vegas, Jeff Samardzija threw five shutout innings and Scott Hairston homered to lead the Cubs to a 5-1 win over the Rangers and a "sweep" of the split-squad games. Speaking of Shark, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported this on a possible contract extension for him:
Which is why they've made two runs at locking up opening-day starter Jeff Samardzija -- though for now there's a sizable enough gap that talks appear to be on hold. Word is, the Cubs' offer was "well above" the nearly $3O million, five-year deal the Rangers gave Derek Holland last spring, though with Samardzija a year closer to free agency (he has three years to go) and other factors, he's believe to be seeking something in an entirely different ballpark.
Well. If you read this from Carrie Muskat, you'll see that might not be totally true:
The news surprised Samardzija, who threw five shutout innings against the Rangers at Cashman Field in Las Vegas on Saturday. "Everything’s been the same from what I understand," Samardzija said. "I haven’t heard anything since camp started and even before that, before the [Cubs] Convention [in January]." Samardzija’s agent was in Arizona to watch the right-hander pitch in a "B" game March 6. He said the two sides are "on the same page."
Looks to me like a lot of this will be determined by Samardzija's performance this year. It sounds like both sides do want to make a deal, but maybe it won't happen until after 2013. That would make sense -- two solid seasons, and Shark entering his age-29 season in 2014, would seem to be the perfect time to lock him up. So we're in a waiting game.
Sunday in Phoenix, Scott Baker will make his spring debut for the Cubs against the A's, facing Tom Milone. In Las Vegas, Carlos Villanueva will wrap up the two-game set against the Rangers, who will send Robbie Ross to the mound.