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Cubs vs. Reds at Mesa Preview, Friday 3/6, 2:05 CT

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Jon Lester makes his Cubs spring debut this afternoon.

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- Today's game will be one awaited for several months by Cubs fans, ever since Jon Lester signed with the team. Of course, his "real" debut will take place Opening Night, April 5, but it will still be good to see Lester in blue pinstripes throwing pitches in a game, even if only for two innings.

One thing I neglected to note in yesterday's recap and that's important for anyone coming to games at Sloan Park: they have moved the gate-opening time from two hours before game time to 90 minutes before game time. Thus for most games gates will open at 11:30 a.m. (2:30 p.m. for the March 26 game vs. the Angels). This doesn't affect anyone wanting to watch batting practice, because that takes place on practice field 1, after which the players walk over to Sloan Park. They are supposed to stop to sign autographs along a walkway near the Home Plate Gate. I've heard some players are more willing to do this than others. Depends on the day, I suppose.

One more note from Thursday's game: Athletics pitcher Pat Venditte is trying to make the squad and become the first full-time ambidextrous pitcher. He threw a 1-2-3 inning against the Cubs and it was kind of cool to watch him throw lefthanded to Dexter Fowler and Anthony Rizzo, then righthanded against Starlin Castro. Fowler, though, wasn't too happy about the whole thing, as Venditte warmed up righthanded and then told umpire Brian Gorman and Cubs manager Joe Maddon he'd face Fowler lefthanded:

Which meant Fowler needed to change his batting helmet so he could get a protective flap on the correct side, and start thinking about swinging right-handed. Fowler wasn't too happy with the short notice.

"My whole thing was, I should be able to take practice swings right-handed instead of just walking up there and having to hit," he said. "It was kind of weird. You get up there and you're getting your timing and stuff left-handed, and then he switches around. Then you see him getting practice warmup pitches when he switches -- he threw the ball to second base. We should be able to step out."

Fowler has a point, I think, especially for switch-hitters. If Venditte does make the A's roster, he should be required to warm up for innings from the side he's going to choose to face the first hitter of the inning.

Here are today's particulars:

Cubs lineup:

Denorfia RF, Alcantara 2B, Baez SS, Olt 1B, Ross C, Lake LF, Valaika 3B, Castillo DH, Szczur CF

Many of the regulars, as you can see, are getting the day off. Mike Olt might also play some outfield this spring, to increase his versatility. Welington Castillo gets more at-bats, perhaps to increase his trade value. Meanwhile, the Reds are bringing quite a few of their expected regulars:

Reds lineup:

Hamilton CF, Phillips 2B, Frazier 3B, Bruce RF, Dominguez 1B, Negron LF, Schumaker DH, Cozart SS, Barnhart C

As noted above, Jon Lester will make the start for the Cubs and be followed by Zac Rosscup, Justin Grimm, Jason Motte and Hector Rondon, possibly others, not necessarily in that order.

The Reds will go with Tony Cingrani. Former Cub Paul Maholm will also see some time on the mound today for Cincinnati.

Today's game will be on cubs.com with Len Kasper and Mick Gillispie.

MLB.com Gameday

Here is the complete MLB.com Mediacenter for today.

For spring-training games, we'll have a first-pitch thread at five minutes to game time and one overflow thread, 90 minutes after game time (because I know how you all like overflow threads!). For today, that will be 2 p.m. CT and 3:30 p.m. CT. These threads will not post individually onto the front page; instead, you can find links to them in the box marked "Chicago Cubs Game Threads" at the bottom of the front page. They will also appear in this StoryStream™. The pitcher box and regular-season stats will return on Opening Day.

Discuss amongst yourselves.