GOODYEAR, Arizona -- Is it OK if I'm a little bit, just a teensy bit, concerned about Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez?
The Cubs lost 10-5 to the Indians in their only night game of the Cactus League season Saturday, and Grimm and Ramirez were both pretty horrifying in their innings of work.
You might recall that Grimm was very good last season until September, when he suddenly, seemingly inexplicably, became unable to throw strikes (15 walks in 38⅔ innings through the end of August, then 11 in 11 innings in September). That happened again Saturday evening, when he issued two walks and threw what should probably have been ruled a wild pitch. The official scorer charitably called it "passed ball," and that would have made the two runs that had scored up to that point off Grimm unearned. All of that was made moot by Michael Brantley, who was playing in his first spring game. He hit a two-run homer, capping off a four-run inning and forcing Joe Maddon to come out and have mercy on Grimm, replacing him with minor leaguer Fernando Cruz.
Ramirez wasn't much better. He also walked a pair, but only one of the five batters Ramirez faced hit the ball out of the infield. Also, Ramirez might have gotten out of the inning if Munenori Kawasaki had made a better decision on a bases-loaded grounder. He wasn't at a good angle to go home, but he did anyway. The runner was safe. Had Kawasaki attempted a double play, he might have succeeded and the inning would have had far less damage.
Instead, minor leaguer Jeffry Antigua came in to replace Ramirez, and, facing many of the Cleveland regulars, he wound up allowing three more runs, all charged to Ramirez.
Both Ramirez and Grimm showed good velocity, so that isn't the issue. Control was part of the problem, and the aforementioned bad defensive choice was some of the rest. The Cubs hope both Grimm and Ramirez will be solid bullpen pieces this year.
But they are going to have to do better than they did Saturday night, especially with control.
The Cubs got a nice four-inning outing from Pierce Johnson, who was optioned to Iowa a couple of days ago. It was his best outing of the spring. If he can throw like that this year in the minor leagues, he still has a chance to become a decent big-league starter. Johnson also singled and scored on a Kris Bryant single in the third inning as the Cubs took an early 1-0 lead. It could have been more, but Brantley threw Ben Zobrist out trying to score.
After the Grimm and Ramirez debacles, the subs and minor leaguers took over for both teams. Matt Murton got some more playing time and singled in two trips. The Cubs made the score look less lopsided on a three-run homer by Jason Vosler, who was the team's 16th round pick out of Northeastern University in 2014. He played at South Bend and Myrtle Beach last year and at 22, might start the year back in High-A, though it's possible he could be in Double-A by the end of the year.
This game was the first time I'd been to Goodyear Ballpark when it was anywhere close to sold out, and I heard that not only was it a sellout, but they sold 2,000 standing-room tickets (in addition to general-admission berm, and they actually were checking berm tickets to make sure it didn't get overcrowded on the lawn). The announced crowd of 11,616 was a record for the park, and it felt pretty crowded almost everywhere. One thing I had not seen or heard before was a loud and somewhat annoying between-innings "host" on the PA system, including a giveaway to the "millionth fan" at Goodyear Ballpark. One of the possible prizes was a trip to Las Vegas. The fan they chose at random was from... Las Vegas. It kind of felt like a Midwest League game instead of a big-league spring game. I wasn't originally planning on going to this game, but when a friend offered free tickets, I decided to make the trek. Returning from this rather long game took only 40 minutes, a personal record.
The Cubs will take on the Royals Sunday afternoon in a televised game (WGN-TV in Chicago, and on MLB.tv with no blackouts if you have a subscription). Jon Lester goes for the Cubs and Ian Kennedy for the Royals. The game preview will post at 1 p.m. CT.