MESA, Arizona -- The Cubs accommodated ESPN's request to start Thursday's game at 4:05 Arizona time, a very odd time to start a baseball game. Just as the first pitch was thrown by Eric Jokisch, shadows started crawling over the home-plate area, making it difficult for many hitters to see.
The Cubs' former Cardinals rival Albert Pujols didn't have any trouble seeing a fifth-inning fastball from his former teammate Jason Motte. He sent it into the fading light for a three-run homer and that was the Angels' biggest blow in the Angels' 8-4 win over the Cubs, the Cubs' fourth consecutive defeat in front of another sellout at Sloan Park, 15,246.
Pujols, though, wasn't the only one to go deep Thursday... well, what would you call it? Afternoon? Evening? Anything that starts before 6 p.m. local time is considered a day game, so I guess "afternoon" it is. Mike Olt homered and tripled for the Cubs, and best of all, didn't strike out in three trips. It's nearly certain that he'll be the team's Opening Night third baseman.
Another homer was hit by Travis Wood, this one as a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning. Joe Maddon has said that he might use Wood often in this role, a mid-inning pinch-hitter to save the bench if and when a starting pitcher is knocked out early. Wood rose to the occasion today, and off one of the better pitchers in baseball, Jered Weaver. Of course, we can't expect that all the time, but the more experience Wood has in this role the better. I like the idea -- even though, as you know, I'm in favor of the DH. If the Cubs have a pitcher like Wood who can hit, then absolutely, use his abilities to their fullest.
Kris Bryant, playing his first game in left field as a Cub, had only one defensive chance and made the most of it. He snagged a line drive from Collin Cowgill in the sixth inning and doubled Johnny Giavotella off second base. The throw was accurate in direction, though it bounced in front of Javier Baez. Baez made a nice pick to complete the double play, one of four the Cubs turned in this defeat.
Another slick DP by the Cubs came in the ninth inning. With Cowgill on first, Daniel Robertson hit a dribbler down the third-base line. Tommy La Stella made a nice play to get Robertson, but Cowgill tried to take third against Cub sub Jonathan Mota at first. Mota fired the ball to Arismendy Alcantara (who had come into the game at shortstop) at third to nail Cowgill.
So there were good things to be seen in this defeat; along with the double plays and homers, Neil Ramirez, Justin Grimm, Zac Rosscup and Brian Schlitter all threw scoreless innings. The first three are likely going north with the team; Schlitter's still on the bubble. The only discordant note was Motte, who got hit hard and recorded only one out before Maddon came to get him.
Anthony Rizzo also hit well today, after a very slow start to the spring, hitting two doubles in four trips. He's still hitting just .158 this spring, but he should be fine come April 5, I think. Baez also had two hits, but struck out twice and is at .159. Of course, he's not an established big-league hitter like Rizzo, and I still think he's best served starting the season at Triple-A Iowa. As Josh posted earlier today, the Cubs cut down to 40 men in camp and will likely make more cuts early next week. Baez probably will stick around until the last round of cuts.
The crowd brought the season total for 11 dates to 163,108, or 14,828 per date. I'm told the next two games are sold out, though there are still tickets available for Monday against the Giants, and the final Sloan Park game of 2015, Wednesday against the Brewers.
The Cubs hosted a reception for spring season-ticket holders before the game with free drinks and snacks, a nice gesture, so here's thanks for that. Appreciated.
Friday the Cubs will host their crosstown rivals, the White Sox, and it'll be old home week again -- the all-A's-trade matchup: Jason Hammel against Jeff Samardzija.