SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- The Cubs lost to the Rockies 7-5 Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd (12,149, about two-thirds of which was Cubs fans) at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Thus Joe Maddon is winless as Cubs manager and I haven't seen a victory yet this year (two losses, a tie).
Quite a number of good things happened for the Cubs Saturday afternoon, so after I get the bad stuff out of the way, we can focus on that.
Bad: Jason Hammel. He struggled with command in the first inning and after walking leadoff man Brandon Barnes, he spent what I thought was way too much time trying to hold him on first base. Maybe this was Hammel's way of working on his pickoff move, but I think it made him lose focus. Roger Bernadina singled and Nolan Arenado followed with a home run that just sneaked onto the left-field berm inside the foul pole. Hammel had a better inning in the second, though he threw a strike-three wild pitch.
Which leads to one of the good things: Miguel Montero. Montero recovered the dropped third strike and threw Barnes out at first base, though Daniel Descalso, who was on second base, advanced to third. Just after that, Bernadina dribbled a ball out in front of the plate and Montero pounced on it and threw him out at first, not an easy play. This kind of defense is something we haven't seen from a Cubs catcher in quite some time and it's a real asset. (Bernadina suffered some kind of injury on the play and left the game.) I've been very impressed with Montero's play and his professionalism, exactly the kind of veteran leadership Theo & Co. were looking for.
One more bad thing: Tommy La Stella. La Stella was tried at third base Saturday after Kris Bryant departed, in an attempt to increase his versatility. The very first ball he fielded was thrown away for an error, helping lead to an unearned run. This isn't going to help La Stella's case for making the team. On a positive note, he reached base twice, once on a walk and the other on catcher's interference that might have been ball four anyway. That's a good thing and likely one of the reasons Theo & Co. traded for him in the first place. So, it's just one game and too early to judge him as a third baseman.
Bryant provided one of the highlights with a 420-foot home run just to the left of the terraced hitters' background at Talking Stick, a long homer that appeared to keep rising as it left the ballpark. Bryant looked good at third base, too, and that's his second home run of the spring. Matt Szczur homered in a two-run Cubs ninth inning off Rockies reliever Justin Miller, who was having trouble throwing strikes. After giving up hits to three of the first five batters he faced, he threw seven straight balls, first walking the bases loaded and then walking in a run. Eventually Rox manager Walt Weiss had to call on Brooks Brown to end it.
More positives: Jorge Soler. He singled and scored on Bryant's homer, and two innings later he nailed Cristhian Adames trying to take third base on a single by Barnes. It was an excellent throw, right on the money to Bryant. People are going to learn not to run on Soler.
Among other Cubs pitchers than Hammel, results were mixed. The first four pitchers in the game all allowed runs. Felix Doubront looked pretty much like the Doubront we saw last August and September -- effective at times, but eventually giving up an extra-base hit that resulted in a run. If he keeps throwing like this, I could see the Cubs cutting ties with him. Blake Parker and Joseph Ortiz also allowed runs in their innings of work.
Since I can't see the inning-countdown clock from where I sit in Mesa, I paid particular attention to it today. It starts counting at 2:25 and with 40 seconds remaining, the next batter is announced. I did see a few leadoff hitters wait until the clock counted down the last couple of seconds before standing in the box, but all of them were ready when the clock hit zero. This did have the effect of speeding up the pace of the game, which I think does help. Enforcing this inning-break time limit is, in my view, a good thing. The game was ready to end in about 2:45 until the Cubs' ninth-inning rally took up some extra time. That, of course, is fine and it would have been fine if they'd tied up the game or taken the lead. The length of rallies like this isn't the issue, it's the stalling around by both hitters and pitchers. The clock seems to help.
All in all, despite the loss, there were many good Cub things about Saturday's game and the rest... they've got four weeks of camp to work on.
Sunday in Mesa, Jake Arrieta will make his spring debut and Tsuyoshi Wada is expected to follow him, two innings each. Other Cubs expected to throw tomorrow: Eric Jokisch, Neil Ramirez, Zac Rosscup and Brian Schlitter. For the visiting Rangers (who will be a split squad), Ross Ohlendorf gets the call.