MESA, Arizona -- Brett Jackson came to the plate in the ninth inning in Mesa Sunday with a chance to be a hero, as he had been Saturday against the Royals in Surprise. The bases were loaded with nobody out.
This time? Not so much. Jackson, who went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts, hit into a double play. A run scored, but that was it in the inning and the game ended with a 3-2 loss to the Indians. It was the fastest game of the spring at two hours, 26 minutes, and one of the reasons for that was pinpoint control by starters Travis Wood and Justin Masterson. Both pitchers struck out eight in five innings with no walks. Wood was touched for two runs in the first inning when Jackson couldn't handle a long drive to right field by Jeff Francoeur, which went for a double after two of the first four hitters had reached.
After that, Wood retired 13 of the next 14 hitters, allowing only a fifth-inning single to David Adams. Wood wasn't done, either -- I spotted him throwing a dozen or so pitches in the bullpen during the sixth inning, after he was lifted from the game.
Masterson matched Wood, only better, since he gave up no runs and just two hits, Jackson's double and another by Luis Valbuena. The Cubs bullpen was decent today; in four innings they gave up four hits and two walks. One of the hits was a home run by Cleveland's Carlos Santana, who is changing his evil ways by moving from behind the plate this year to become their regular third baseman. That turned out to be the difference in the game after the Cubs' ninth-inning rally fell one run short.
Ryan Roberts looked good today, reaching base twice, once when hit by a Masterson pitch and again with a slicing double down the left-field line. Roberts, who had one big year for the Diamondbacks in 2011, does have a shot at making the 25-man roster. I'd much rather see him around than Donnie Murphy.
Speaking of Murphy, his was one of three home runs in Las Vegas that helped lead the Cubs to a 6-3 win over the Mets. Dan Vogelbach and Arismendy Alcantara, both expected to be a big part of this team's future, also homered.
Perhaps more important was Chris Rusin's four solid innings. He allowed just one hit and struck out a pair. The bullpen was touched up for three runs, including one off Casey Coleman (yes, still in the organization). who allowed a home run.
Rusin, in performing this well, solidified a claim on the fifth spot in the rotation, which is likely open due to Jake Arrieta most probably opening the year on the disabled list. Arrieta did throw 30 pitches in a simulated game today and reports were that all went well. Perhaps Arrieta could be throwing in a spring game by the final week.
Since neither I nor anyone else saw the game in Vegas, I'll have to go by the boxscore and other reports to tell you the rest: Alcantara wound up 3-for-3, Ryan Kalish singled, walked twice and scored two runs, Javier Baez went 1-for-3, and Kris Bryant, starting for the Cubs in his hometown, was a quiet 0-for-3.
Spotted at Mesa: Jim Hendry, the former Cubs GM, was in attendance today, undoubtedly scouting for the Yankees. Wonder who the Yankees are looking at? It could have been someone on the Indians, not the Cubs, but I know scouts are everywhere this spring. Makes me wonder, too, whether Jeff Samardzija could be of interest to the Diamondbacks, who have lost Patrick Corbin, their No. 1 starter, to a torn ulnar collateral ligament. You know what that likely means: Tommy John surgery, out for the year. I'd think Shark would definitely be on Arizona's radar. We'll see.
Attendance watch: The Cubs did not set another attendance record Sunday, but did have another sellout crowd of 14,918. That makes the spring total so far 122,972 for nine dates, an average of 13,664 per date. Keeping up that pace would break the all-time spring-training record set by the Cubs in 2009 -- in four more dates than they have this year. As of this writing a very small number of tickets remain for Monday's game against the Angels.
Speaking of which, the Cubs are home Monday afternoon against LA of A in a game that will be televised on CSN Chicago (and also FS-West if you are in the LA area) and also carried on cubs.com. The other half of the Cubs will travel to Phoenix Muni to face the Athletics; that game can be heard on athletics.com with their announcers. I'll be back in Mesa to see if the Cubs can improve on their woeful 2-7 record at home this spring.