PEORIA, Arizona -- Those of you who know me well know that I despair of the ever-lengthening pace of major-league baseball games. Walks. Throws to first. Incessant mound conferences, multiple mid-inning pitching changes. All of those lead to dozens and dozens of games every year longer than three hours, and already this spring we've had one Cubs nine-inning game that lasted nearly four hours.
That's why Monday's 5-2 Cubs win over the Padres was so refreshing. The fastest of the spring so far at two hours, 14 minutes, it might have been even faster if this had been a regular-season game, because both starters -- Edwin Jackson and Clayton Richard -- were breezing. Jackson, dressed in a No. 82 jersey because he either forgot his No. 36 or it didn't get shipped or something, threw just 76 pitches in six innings. He issued the only walk of the game, to Padres catcher John Baker, and that resulted in a run when Cody Ransom forced Baker, stole second and scored on a single by Richard.
Hey, Clayton! You're not helping my argument in favor of the DH!
No doubt, Jackson, who batted for himself in the seventh but was lifted anyway, would have had a chance to complete this win, which was achieved (in addition to the fine pitching) mostly on the back of Dave Sappelt's bat. Sappelt hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning, putting the Cubs ahead 4-0 after Javier Baez had driven in the first run with a unusual 5-6-3 groundout that bounced off third baseman Ransom's hands, over to shortstop Everth Cabrera. While Cabrera was throwing out Baez, Darnell McDonald, who had singled, stolen second and advanced on a Jorge Soler groundout, scored. Jackson looked really, really good; here's hoping he keeps this going through the regular season.
Baez was 0-for-4 today, but I'll bet Dale Sveum thinks it was a productive day even beyond the RBI. Baez worked several long counts and laid off pitches in order to see more of them. The results weren't obvious Monday, but they will be in the future if he keeps this sort of thing going.
The game might have ended in less than two hours -- six innings were played in an hour, 15 minutes -- if not for a mid-inning pitching change by Padres manager Bud Black (I'll never understand spring-training changes with two out and no one on base), and the fact that Drew Carpenter, still fighting for a bullpen spot, ran a couple of long counts before recording a pair of strikeouts of Padres minor leaguers.
Hector Rondon threw an effective ninth inning and recorded a save, though, again, it was against Padres minor leaguers, so it's hard to tell whether he can retire big-league hitters. I will say that Rondon made his pitches and seems to have a good mound presence. You all know how I feel (in general terms) about Rule 5 picks. In this case, I think Rondon will make the 25-man roster and likely be an effective pitcher. Theo & Jed picked a good one... this time.
Attendance at Peoria was unusually low, considering the perfect weather and that it's getting to spring-break time for many from the Midwest who travel to Arizona. Of the 5,566 announced -- barely half capacity -- probably two-thirds were Cubs fans, some of whom seemed surprised when the game ended at 3:20. Usually, we're heading into the seventh inning around that time. Two hours, 14 minutes. Love it. Would love to see more of it. Not good news: Scott Baker is having a "precautionary" MRI. Usually that means he'll be out for half the season, but maybe it'll be all right.
The Cubs reduced the spring roster to 46 by sending Baez, Barret Loux and Rafael Lopez to minor-league camp, optioning Soler to Daytona, optioning Christian Villanueva to Tennessee, and optioning Junior Lake and Josh Vitters to Iowa. (Lake, of course, is injured and likely won't play until May.) None of these moves are surprising, or should be, anyway.
Tuesday in Mesa, Chris Rusin (who is still in the running for a possible bullpen slot) will face the Rangers' Alexi Ogando. Also Tuesday, we will get a sneak preview of the Opening Day lineup:
David DeJesus will lead off and play center, followed by shortstop Starlin Castro, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, left fielder Alfonso Soriano, right fielder Nate Schierholtz, catcher Welington Castillo, third baseman Luis Valbuena and second baseman Darwin Barney.
This will likely be the lineup vs. RHP, at least to start the season. I like Castro in the 2 spot and Barney batting eighth. This lineup will struggle to score runs at times, but if Rizzo, Soriano and Schierholtz produce, it could be at least decent. Let's hope.