MESA, Arizona -- Before I begin my critique of Edwin Jackson in Friday's 7-2 loss to the Indians in Mesa, I want to present this as a caveat:
All right, that's all fine and dandy. The thing is, many of Jackson's fastballs weren't even in the strike zone. Though he didn't walk anyone, he did hit two batters and gave up a home run to Mike Aviles, three runs allowed in all, and struggled to finish the third inning. There was someone warming up in the bullpen in case he had exceeded whatever pitch count was on tap for him. Carlos Villanueva, who threw two reasonably good innings (also hitting a batter) before running out of gas in his third inning of work, did have to be relieved by Yoanner Negrin, one of the reasons these games are dragging on forever, this one just sneaking under the three-hour mark at two hours, 59 minutes.
Part of that was Blake Parker's poor ninth inning, which took almost 15 minutes to complete. Parker was facing Indians minor leaguers, and struck out the first hitter he faced, but then let five straight Tribesmen reach base, alternating singles and walks, and had to be yanked for Frank Batista.
In between all that, Wesley Wright and Arodys Vizcaino threw efficient 1-2-3 innings. Vizcaino, in particular, looked like his fastball was working quite well.
If you're wondering why I haven't said anything about the Cubs offense, that's because it was pretty much MIA after the second inning, when Kris Bryant sliced a windblown two-run homer off Carlos Carrasco that just made it over the right-field wall. Bryant wouldn't have even batted in that inning if not for Jeff Francoeur dropping a routine fly ball off the bat of Ryan Sweeney. After Bryant's home run, the Cubs had just two baserunners, both of them Ryan Roberts, who singled in the third (and was then caught stealing, and it wasn't close) and doubled in the sixth. Indians pitchers struck out 16 Cubs today. The only Cub starter who did not strike out was Javier Baez, and it's worth noting that even his groundouts (he had two) were hard-hit balls. The ball just sounds different coming off Baez's bat.
One of the 16 K's was registered by Brett Jackson, who was on mopup duty in left field after the eighth inning. Jackson still has talent, but it would seem to me that if he's ever going to make it, it will have to be with another team, the classic "change of scenery" scenario. Maybe the Cubs can find another team that has a similar player and swap them.
Meanwhile, in Tempe, the Cubs beat the Angels 3-2 on a ninth-inning rally that featured a single by Albert Almora, a double by Chris Valaika and a triple into the gap by Jorge Soler. I was watching this game on my phone while Blake Parker was stinking out the ninth inning in Mesa, and Soler's triple was a blast into the right-center field gap. Valaika, who hasn't hit much in his professional career, is a versatile player who's played several infield positions and the outfield this spring. He had two hits today. He likely won't make the 25-man roster, but is worth keeping around at Iowa as an injury replacement.
Attendance watch: the gorgeous weather and beginning of spring-breaking brought a near-sellout to Cubs Park, 13,440, the third-largest crowd of the spring. That makes the total attendance through five home dates 63,253, an average of 12,651.
Once again, I'm skipping the long trip to Goodyear Saturday, so I'll be following on cubs.com with all of you when Jason Hammel makes his first official spring start (he started the "B" game in Mesa last Monday, so I've seen him throw already). Alfredo Simon, who has pitched exclusively in relief for the Reds the last two years, will start for Cincinnati as he is a candidate for their rotation.