MESA, Arizona -- Even considering the pitching in the Cactus League and the warm dry air and the altitude (about 1,500 feet above sea level), Kris Bryant is having an otherworldly spring.
Bryant homered twice in three plate appearances (the other, a walk) and drove in five in the Cubs' 12-10 win over the Mariners Saturday afternoon in front of another sellout at Sloan Park. The first of the homers was off Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, who allowed just 16 homers in 236 innings last year.
And these weren't just pop flies over the wall, either. Both of them were deep onto the left-field berm, 400-plus foot blasts. That gives Bryant eight for the spring in 10 games (nine in 11 games including the "B" game whose stats don't officially count). He is hitting .480/.551/1.462. That last number is the SLG, not the OPS -- the OPS is 2.013. He's 12-for-25 with two doubles, eight home runs, four walks and 14 RBI.
And he'll still likely start the season at Triple-A Iowa. You know the reasons, we don't really have to re-discuss them. Nevertheless, if there were a Cactus League MVP award he'd be running away with it.
Bryant started at third base for the first time in front of the home crowd. He made five plays flawlessly in the field, though you could tell he was being very deliberate with his throws. It's my feeling that in the long run he'll move to the outfield, though he could certainly handle big-league third base for a year or two... after he spends enough time at Iowa for the Cubs to get that extra year of team control.
The rest of the game was quite entertaining. Addison Russell also homered for the Cubs, his first of the spring, and he wasn't even supposed to play. Starlin Castro was a late scratch in this one due to reported groin troubles. It was pointed out to me today that Castro might have tweaked something pulling into third base on a seventh-inning triple Thursday night against the Diamondbacks. He didn't appear seriously injured, but got up slowly and (along with the other regulars, so no one really noticed) left the game. This injury doesn't appear to be anything serious.
Anthony Rizzo doubled, a good sign since he was 3-for-26 coming into today's game. Chris Coghlan had a pair of hits and Welington Castillo doubled and homered. Here's hoping scouts are giving glowing reports on Castillo, so he can be in another uniform in a couple of weeks or less.
All told, the Cubs knocked out 16 hits and had four walks in producing the 12 runs, a spring high. And they needed nearly all of them when minor leaguer Andres Santiago gave the Mariners three runs in the eighth. Actually, I should say Junior Lake gave them three runs, because with two runners on base Lake made an ill-advised dive on a sinking line drive to center. The ball rolled all the way to the wall and Seattle's Austin Wilson wound up with a three-run inside-the-park homer that closed a Cub lead that had once been six runs down to just one.
The Cubs scored an insurance run in the eighth on a Kyle Schwarber double and an fielding error that allowed Mike Olt (who also had two hits after he came in to replace Bryant) to score.
Hector Rondon posted his first save of the spring. The only Cubs pitcher who did something I'm concerned about was Neil Ramirez, who got touched up for two runs in the sixth on a pair of walks and two doubles. He did recover to strike out the last two batters of the inning, though.
The Cubs wives had a charity sale this afternoon that raised $15,000 for Paz de Cristo soup kitchen in Mesa, by selling mystery autographed balls and game-worn jerseys from both 2014 spring training and the regular season. I bought a No. 39 BP jersey from last spring -- Jason Hammel, then and now. The price was right at $35. By mid-game they had dropped the price on the game-worns to $20 so I scored a blue alt John Baker jersey with tags for that price. Baker, now with the Mariners, singled in the ninth inning off Rondon. He ought to be pretty familiar with Rondon's repertoire!
For those of you who think I was unhappy with the length of Saturday's three-and-a-half hour game, you'd be incorrect. It's not the length of games that bothers me, it's the pace. This game was filled with hits, runs and interesting plays, lots of action, and didn't drag at all. There were 26 hits, 22 runs and six home runs. Who wouldn't enjoy that? I certainly did. It's the 5-4 games with hitters interminably stepping out of the box and multiple mind-numbing pitching changes that run 3:45, like this one from last June, that are what baseball is trying to eliminate. So far this spring, the inning-break countdown clock has been very helpful in making games faster-paced. Saturday's game was long because... well, there was lots of action. That's a good thing.
Sunday, the almost-Cub James Shields will take the mound for the Padres against the Cubs' Jason Hammel.