MESA, Arizona -- Eight Cubs pitchers shut out the Angels 3-0 on a very warm, brilliantly sunny afternoon at Sloan Park, giving the Cubs their first victory of what we hope are many in 2016.
Really, I should write these spring recaps (at least for the first week or so) after the fifth inning because once that's over, it's like the Iowa Cubs playing the Triple-A affiliate of whoever the Cubs are facing that day (for today, that would have been the Salt Lake Bees). It's really hard to write things about players you know won't be coming north with the Cubs once April begins. There were some nice performances, though, from those guys, more on that later.
Addison Russell, getting his first start of the spring, struck out in his first at-bat and then, with Javier Baez on base and two out in the fourth, did this:
There's no closeup of the area on the berm where Russell's blast landed, but I got close to that one -- maybe 10 feet away, it bounced in front of me and I couldn't get close enough to grab it. Maybe next time.
The other significant play made by a member of the expected 25-man roster was this outstanding catch and throw by "Grandpa" David Ross:
Ross made a great diving catch of Cliff Pennington's bunt attempt and then fired a throw right to Russell to get C.J. Cron trying for second.
That's a great play for any big-league catcher, never mind one who's going to be 39 years old in less than two weeks. Even if "Grandpa" doesn't hit much, his defense makes him worth having on the roster, as well as his leadership. That play was in the top of the fourth, before Russell's homer, and could well have kept the Angels from taking the lead. Neil Ramirez, who wound up with a scoreless inning thanks to Ross' defense, recorded the win.
John Andreoli, who's always been a popular fellow in the organization, showed some nice glove with a fine running catch in the ninth inning. Andreoli won't make the team and, essentially, he's a taller version of Sam Fuld. Likely headed for Iowa, where he stole 33 bases last year, you could see him as a Quintin Berry-type September addition to the roster. (Berry, incidentally, played the last four innings for the Angels today in center field.)
The other interesting thing to see today, for me, anyway, was the return of Stephen Fife to active pitching duty. Fife, who missed all of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery, threw two innings, got four ground-ball outs and allowed a single that barely bounced past Russell, and was clearly very happy to be on the mound:
#Cubs quote of the day from Stephen Fife: "It feels great to wear an MLB uniform and throw strikes"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 4, 2016
Fife, who was drafted by Theo's Red Sox in the third round in 2008, was at one point a highly-regarded prospect for the Dodgers, who acquired him in a three-way deal in 2011. He's 29 now and his future is likely in the bullpen, but it can't hurt to have an arm like this in camp.
Jason Heyward, playing his first game for the Cubs, had no chances in the field and struck out twice. (I'm sure this will get better.)
Baez appeared to handle first base reasonably well, though there's not much you can tell from four innings' worth of work there.
As for Sloan Park, there was one significant addition to the park, now in its third season:
This is an excellent idea. The fonts used were large and very easily readable from just about anywhere in the park. If only the board had been able to keep up with the action -- at times it was as much as an inning behind. Also, it wouldn't hurt to have the player's uniform number, especially with so many non-roster guys around, and a pitch-speed number is always helpful. But this is a very good addition to the park.
What wasn't good Friday was that none of the water fountains were working. That's not good, especially in a park named for a water valve company. I'm hoping this was a one-day glitch and that it'll be fixed for Saturday's game.
Friday's game drew 15,446, a new Cactus League (and overall spring training) single-game attendance record. Something tells me that number might be broken again before this month is over, and with many games already sold out, it's likely the single-season attendance record (set last year) will also fall.
Saturday, Trevor Cahill starts for the Cubs against the Reds' Brandon Finnegan. Radio coverage of tomorrow's game will be on 670 The Score, their first Cubs broadcast, with Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer.