SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- Let's put it this way. A Cubs pitcher faced four batters Thursday night, all of whom got hits and all of whom scored, and it wasn't Edwin Jackson.
The unfortunate soul who had that outing was non-roster invitee Anthony Carter, whose small chance of making the bullpen likely vanished in a nightmarish eighth inning in which he and Drake Britton blew a 5-4 lead. The five-run inning resulted in a 9-5 Diamondbacks win over the Cubs in front of the largest crowd in Salt River Fields history. 13,028 fans, probably two-thirds of whom were Cubs fans, saw a pretty good game from the Cubs' standpoint. For seven and a half innings, at least.
Now let's talk about Edwin Jackson. He wasn't great Thursday evening, but he wasn't awful, either. He pitched very well, in fact, for three innings, allowing just a single and a walk. The single was erased on a strikeout/throw out double play, as Welington Castillo threw out Ender Inciarte trying to steal. Scouts were likely impressed with Castillo defensively. He also walked twice.
While all this was going on, the Cubs fashioned a 2-0 lead partly thanks to Jackson's bat. Jackson hit a booming double to left-center field after Castillo walked leading off the second. Both scored when Dexter Fowler doubled in the left-center field gap.
This all sounds great, right? It was until Starlin Castro began booting baseballs again. He was charged with only one error, but that's because one of his misplays was ruled a hit and the Cubs managed to get an out on another one. So he could have had three errors. As it was, the one error in the fourth inning helped two of the three runs Arizona scored in that inning tally as unearned off Jackson. So Edwin left the game having allowed four hits and one earned run, with one walk and three K's, in four innings of work. His spring ERA is 1.00 -- in nine innings, just one of the seven runs off him is earned, thanks to bad fielding (some of it his own).
Maybe one of the scouts likely watching Jackson was impressed. We can only hope.
Castro made up, in part, for his fielding mishaps by doubling in two runs in the Cubs' three-run fifth. Jorge Soler tripled him in -- an odd triple, as it appeared from my vantage point to bounce onto the berm. That's usually called a double, but the umpires conferred and let Soler, who had reached third on an unnecessary head-first slide, to stay there. Soler also nearly made a spectacular catch off the right-field wall earlier in the game.
That aggressive style of play is something fans love, but managers and GMs likely cringe when they see it. Soler already has chronic hamstring issues and we certainly don't want to see him become someone who's injury-prone. You don't want to tone down this sort of play too much because it's part of what makes him so good. On the other hand, you also want that style of play on the field as much as possible and not on the disabled list.
Phil Coke, Felix Doubront and Francisley Bueno all threw scoreless innings in relief before the eighth-inning meltdown, the less said about which the better, except that the Diamondbacks' scoreboard operator and PA announcer were vastly confused. Ten men batted in the inning, but when the lineup came around to the 10th man, he was a different batter than the one the PA guy said had led off the inning. The Cubs' lineup on the scoreboard was even worse -- Mike Baxter and Junior Lake, among others, were shown batting in three different lineup positions.
One possible bad thing that happened in this game: Fowler, after hitting a double and walking twice (the Cubs drew eight walks in all), batted in the eighth and got hit on the right foot with a pitch. It looked painful on replays and he left the game for pinch-runner Jae-Hoon Ha. Hopefully this is nothing too serious.
One more note: Javier Baez looked awful. If you watched the game on TV, you saw what I saw: four strikeouts in five at-bats, looking progressively worse in each one. Baez is now hitting .100 (3-for-30) with 11 strikeouts. Granted that spring numbers don't always tell the whole story, but I'd say there's a fair chance he'll be spending at least the beginning of 2015 in Des Moines.
Before this three-hour, 28-minute marathon, I spent the afternoon at Sloan Park watching the Cubs defeat the Angels 7-6 in a "B" game. This game, whose statistics don't count even in the spring-training numbers, was played, apparently, under Calvinball rules. The following very odd things happened in this game:
- Albert Almora hit a two-run homer in the second inning. Three batters later the teams switched sides -- even though there were only two out.
- Pitchers batted for both teams even though both sides used the DH.
- Miguel Montero left the game as catcher (replaced by Kyle Schwarber), but later returned to pinch-hit.
- The Angels appeared to bat out of order multiple times. By the ninth inning I gave up trying to figure it out.
- Charles White, an outfielder from the minor-league camp, pinch-ran in the fifth and pinch-hit in the ninth.
- The ninth? Yes, the Cubs batted in the bottom of the ninth even though they were leading.
It was fun, though. With only a handful of people in the stands, I sat behind the Cubs' dugout. You can hear everything -- coaches and players encouraging their teammates, fielders yelling "I got it!" on fly balls, the pop of fastballs into catchers' mitts is very crisp, and you can hear the footfalls on the bases when players are running. I actually thought more people would show up for this affair, which ran two hours, 43 minutes. How often can you see major-league baseball for free?
Kris Bryant clouted a monster two-run homer in the third inning, but also struck out twice, both called. Kyle Hendricks threw five innings and gave up three runs, two of them on a home run by Daniel Robertson. Otherwise, though, I thought he looked good. He didn't walk anyone and struck out seven. Tommy La Stella had a pair of doubles and played both third base and second base -- part of the point of doing this game, which is to get players more at-bats and more reps at different positions. La Stella and Arismendy Alcantara switched and each played half the game at third and half at second. Alcantara had a triple in four at-bats.
Hendricks also hit a double, after which a woman standing toward the back started jumping up and down and cheering wildly. Apparently a bit embarrassed at this display, she said to anyone nearby, "It's OK! I'm his mom!"
That's what makes games like this so much fun. If you are ever in Arizona for spring training and the Cubs announce a "B" game is being played, go see it. The price is certainly right and the baseball was more or less excellent.
Except, that is, for Daniel Bard, who is trying to make his way back from injury. With a 7-4 lead, Joe Maddon had Bard inserted to throw the ninth inning. Unfortunately, it wasn't good. Bard had good apparent velocity -- I'm not sure what it was because the Sloan Park pitch-speed meter wasn't on -- but no control nor command. He hit the first man he faced, then issued a walk. Chris Bosio came out to talk to him. That was followed by a single and another walk. Two runs had scored, making it 7-6, and then Maddon came out and, mercifully, lifted him for minor-leaguer Justin Amlung.
Bard might still make it back, but he has a long way to go. He'll likely wind up at extended spring training once everyone else breaks camp.
Amlung got a fly to center and a game-ending double play. Or, it should have been game-ending. Some fans started singing "Go Cubs Go" (they'd also done an impromptu "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" in the middle of the seventh), but the Angels took the field and Alcantara, Addison Russell (who was 0-for-4), Almora (who singled) and Chris Valaika batted off Angels reliever Matt Lindstrom.
The latter was the likely reason for the inning -- Angels management brought him over to get some work in, and so they gave him the work.
That was a long, but enjoyable, 18 innings of baseball for me Thursday (well, except for the result Thursday night). Once again, the Cubs head to Camelback Ranch Friday, for the second time in three days. This time, it's to face the White Sox. Travis Wood will face Hector Noesi in another televised game, on CSN Chicago (with the White Sox announcers. Don't say I didn't warn you).
Here are some photos I took at the "B" game. Click on the images to open larger versions in a new browser window or tab.