GOODYEAR, Arizona -- When I saw the flags at Goodyear Ballpark before the game, indicating a wind blowing out to right-center field at a reported 15 miles per hour (with higher gusts), I thought there might be several Cubs home runs.
Only two Cubs went deep, but it was enough for a 9-6 win over the Reds. Believe it or not, this is just the second time this spring the Cubs have won consecutive games, not that wins or losses really matter.
There were quite a few good things that happened in this one beyond the homers by Anthony Rizzo (two-run shot in the sixth) and Tim Federowicz (two-run blast in the eighth that went off the back of the bullpen wall and bounced back onto the field).
Jason Hammel was probably on schedule to throw six innings Tuesday afternoon, and he started out as if he could go longer. He allowed two singles in the first three innings, but faced only the minimum nine hitters thanks to some excellent defense by Kyle Schwarber behind the plate. Schwarber picked Jay Bruce off first base after Bruce bunted his way on in the second, and then threw out pinch-runner Ray Chang in the third after Chang had singled. Kris Bryant also made a nice stop on a ground ball in the second inning, for the final out of that inning.
Schwarber's defense was very impressive Tuesday afternoon, and that's a very good sign if, as has been suggested, he's going to catch many of Hammel's starts.
Hammel got into a bit of trouble in the fourth with a walk and a double scoring a Cincinnati run, and then Bruce lofted a fly ball to left. It wasn't a routine play. Jorge Soler had to motor to get to the ball, but in my opinion a competent big-league left fielder should have caught the ball. Soler dropped it for a two-base error and a second run scored.
Maybe it's just spring. Maybe Soler's legs are bothering him, or he isn't going all-out because these are just practice games. But I am concerned about his fielding. I hope it improves.
So Hammel threw five decent innings, giving up three hits and a walk, one earned run and struck out three, and he and Schwarber seemed to work very well together. Since there was no TV for this game, I thought you'd like to see this short video I shot of Schwarber practicing in the bullpen before the game. It's clear he takes his craft seriously.
The Cubs had taken a 5-2 lead on Rizzo's homer, but Brandon Gomes came in and was horrid. The Reds hit him hard, getting four hits capped by a two-run homer by Devin Mesoraco.
This performance shows how far the Cubs have come in the last couple of years. In 2013 or 2014, we'd be having discussions on whether Gomes was good enough to be in the major-league bullpen. Clearly, he's not. But since the Cubs have at least seven relievers better than Gomes, they don't have to worry about him. Gomes will likely be sent to Iowa and be there as a backup in case of injury.
I'm very happy the Cubs have better players than this. Credit where credit is due: Theo & Co. have done a great job over the last couple of years getting together not only talent from the system, but building a base through trades and free agency. Well done.
So, that four-run inning put the Cubs behind 6-5, but a run in the seventh tied the game and a three-run rally off Reds reliever Blake Wood, capped by Federowicz' homer, won it. Federowicz is another guy who might have made the team a couple of years ago as a backup, but now he too will be at Iowa in case he's needed. He's decent behind the plate and has shown some power in the minor leagues, so he could be a useful spare part.
Trevor Cahill threw the final two innings without real incident; he hit a batter but then induced Jordan Pacheco to hit into a game-ending double play. It was a solid outing for Cahill, who is expected to be a key part of the bullpen.
Munenori Kawasaki again played half the game, and there seemed to be a large cheering section for him down the right-field line, cheering every time he touched the ball and came to bat. He handled a couple of chances flawlessly and executed a sacrifice bunt (big ovation) and walked in two plate appearances. He's still got a shot at the 25-man roster.
Goodyear Ballpark had a much smaller crowd than the Saturday game vs. the Indians, 8,144. Empty seats were in evidence down both foul lines. It's one of just three games I've been to this spring (out of 16) that were not sold out. I kind of like Goodyear, it's sort of like old-time spring training, a smaller park, feels a bit more intimate than some of the newer, bigger ones. And even with the beginnings of rush-hour traffic, I got back from there in 55 minutes.
Wednesday, the Cubs head to Surprise to take on the Rangers. Kyle Hendricks will face Derek Holland in a game that will be televised on CSN Chicago. After the regular game, Cubs prospects will face Rangers prospects in a "Futures Game."