SURPRISE, Arizona -- Edwin Jackson clearly took my advice (not that he really listened to it, he likely just did what the team told him) and took the team bus to Surprise from Mesa, about a 45-mile ride. He was loosening up in the outfield at Surprise Stadium by 12:40 and took the mound promptly in the bottom of the first inning, already staked to a 1-0 lead on a Miguel Montero home run. (That could have been 2-0 if Tommy La Stella hadn't inexplicably been thrown out trying to steal after a leadoff single.)
Truth be told, Jackson pitched pretty well, at least the numbers say so: 4⅔ innings, one hit, one walk, three strikeouts. That, however, doesn't include some questionable fielding on his part, including an error that allowed Jarrod Dyson to reach base leading off the third inning. Dyson stole second and advanced to third on Montero's bad throw, and then the defensive gems began. Alex Gordon grounded to Javier Baez. Dyson, no doubt going on contact, was thrown out without a slide.
The next hitter, Kendrys Morales, hit a double to deep right-center field. Ryan Sweeney got to it quickly and fired to the cutoff man, Baez. Gordon rounded third -- were any of you thinking about the 2014 World Series? -- and Baez threw out his second runner of the inning at the plate. Again, the play wasn't close.
Baez has played excellent defense this spring, and from that standpoint looks like a fine big-league second baseman. Offensively? Uh... not so much. He struck out three more times Sunday afternoon, going 0-for-4 in all. That gives him 20 strikeouts in 52 at-bats, about the same ratio he had during his two months in the big leagues in 2014. He's got nine hits this spring, just one for extra bases (a home run). I think he's headed to Iowa to start the season, though no one's saying anything about that right now.
Jackson, meanwhile, got a nice round of applause when removed with two out in the fifth from Cubs fans seated behind the first-base dugout. That was nice to hear, actually.
Power was also provided by Junior Lake, who homered leading off the eighth, and Matt Szczur, who hit a two-run shot off one of last year's top closers, Greg Holland. Szczur is hitting .333/.409/.795 this spring (13-for-39, two doubles, two triples, four home runs) and almost certainly has made the 25-man roster.
The three homers gave the Cubs 41 in 28 games this spring, second only to the Dodgers who have 45. The Cubs' four-run ninth also featured a two-run double by minor leaguer Stephen Bruno, who was the Cubs' seventh-round pick in 2012. He played at Double-A last year and might someday have a chance to have a big-league career as a utility player. Here's a short profile of Bruno written by BCB's Tim Huwe about a year ago.
The rest of the Cubs staff also had a good day. Phil Coke, Justin Grimm, Brian Schlitter (who also got some warm applause when lifted), Blake Parker and Neil Ramirez combined for 4⅓ innings with just two hits allowed. I know some of you had been concerned about Ramirez' velocity this spring. It wasn't a problem Sunday, at least according to the stadium scoreboard, which had him touching 95.
Kris Bryant "played" left field Sunday afternoon. I put "played" in quotes because in Bryant's five innings in the field, not a single baseball came his way, so there's no further judgments we can make about his abilities there. According to Carrie Muskat, Bryant is going to get more time in the outfield:
Kris Bryant made his second start in left field on Sunday and manager Joe Maddon wants the Cubs top prospect to get more time there. The Cubs are emphasizing versatility among their position players, and trying to get all Minor Leaguers to play at least two positions. "You never know where the need will arise," Maddon said Sunday. "All of a sudden, you could have a need here, and he hasn’t played there."
Well. Right there you have a "baseball reason" to send Bryant to Iowa for a short time.
It was another very hot afternoon. I'm told that the three consecutive 95+ days in the Phoenix area has never happened before in the month of March. The scorching weather had many in the crowd of 8,697 departing long before Szczur's homer in the ninth. Too bad, they missed some nice Cubs offense in the late innings. One more bit of news was made Sunday, also via Carrie Muskat:
The Cubs open the regular season one week from today, and they have adjusted their travel schedule. The Cubs will finish the Cactus League schedule on Saturday with a game at Chase Field against the Diamondbacks. But expect to see Minor Leaguers in that game. The Major League team will fly to Chicago on Saturday morning in order to get settled in time for Sunday’s night game against the Cardinals. The Cubs and Diamondbacks games at Chase Field were on the schedule before ESPN switched the opener from April 4 to Opening Night April 5. That said, the Cubs could have one of their starters stay back and start the game to get his work in. That’s still to be determined.
Kyle Hendricks will start Monday. Jon Lester's turn comes up Tuesday; he'll throw in a minor-league game and Eric Jokisch will face the Rangers. Not sure who's coming up after that, but that leaves Travis Wood, Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta and Jackson for three remaining games (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday), and one likely going in a minor-league game Thursday.
Incidentally, I think it's a good idea for Cubs major leaguers to return home Saturday morning to get enough rest for Sunday night's game. On the other hand, it's somewhat unfair to ticket buyers for Saturday's game -- who are paying regular-season prices for the game against the Diamondbacks.
Monday's game against the Giants will feature Hendricks, as noted above, against San Francisco righthander Tim Hudson. The game will be televised on CSN Chicago.