MESA, Arizona — Someday, the name Charcer Burks might mean something in Cubs history. He’s a legitimate prospect with midrange power and some speed, and at age 22 (his birthday is in a couple weeks) he’ll likely play at Double-A this year.
For now, you can remember him as the guy who gave the Cubs a 4-3 win over the Athletics in their 2017 spring-training debut at Sloan Park in front of a full house that gave the team a standing ovation just for running onto the field.
Really, that was well-deserved. Of the nine starters today (including pitcher Mike Montgomery), seven of them played in World Series Game 7, so this was the first time they’d played in front of the home folks since then.
Burks was one of several minor leaguers who took over in the middle innings after the regulars had two or three at-bats. The most significant guy to watch was Jason Heyward, who batted three times before leaving after the fifth inning. He was 0-for-3 with an RBI groundout. That was a 4-3 groundout and you can be forgiven if you find that reminiscent of Heyward’s 2016 season. But the two flyouts were hit with some authority and we shouldn’t make any judgments on one game. I would imagine Heyward will wind up batting high in the order for the first few games of the spring in order to give him more reps.
Montgomery, who started, faced Rajai Davis, he who nearly ruined our Game 7 triumph. Davis got booed:
Heyward heard #Cubs fans boo Rajai Davis in his 1st at-bat. "That's kind of an honor. That means you did something great"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) February 25, 2017
Then Montgomery threw a couple of high inside pitches to Davis to start the game, and wound up walking him. Davis stole second and third off Willson Contreras and Montgomery, but was stranded. It wasn’t a great outing for Montgomery, who threw 24 pitches. He did strike out two, but the control problems that have so far prevented Montgomery from becoming a good rotation starter were still in evidence. Hopefully he and Chris Bosio can work this out before camp is over. Joe Maddon had this to say before the game about the fifth starter spot:
On Anderson/Montgomery, #Cubs Maddon says neither has been stretched out 200 innings so that's why they could share 5th spot— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) February 25, 2017
Maddon on Anderson/Montgomery: "We can fold one into the bullpen while the other one starts." #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) February 25, 2017
That’s an interesting concept and if anyone can make it work, Joe can. Brett Anderson is slated to start Monday at Sloan Park against the Angels.
The Cubs got out of the second inning with a double play after Aaron Brooks issued a walk, then went to work on A’s starter Jesse Hahn. Addison Russell walked and Jon Jay slapped a double down the left-field line, moving Russell to third. Matt Szczur singled them both in. Ian Happ, who was last seen homering twice in the Arizona Fall League championship game, doubled Szczur to third where Matt scored on Heyward’s groundout for a 3-0 lead.
Jose Rosario coughed that lead up in the fourth. The A’s homered twice off him, a solo shot by former Pirate Matt Joyce and a two-run shot by Matt Chapman, a third baseman the A’s are quite high on.
After that several Cubs pitchers kept the A’s scoreless, allowing just a pair of singles in the eighth inning. The most notable appearance was by Jack Leathersich in the sixth; his 1-2-3 inning included a pair of strikeouts and I thought he looked real sharp. He won’t make this bullpen out of camp, but will head to Iowa and likely be one of the first callups if anyone’s needed.
Burks’ homer broke the tie in the seventh. The Cubs saved one major-league pitcher, Felix Pena, to throw the ninth in a save situation, and he set down three A’s minor leaguers 1-2-3 for that save.
There haven’t been many changes at Sloan Park this spring. An area selling Jim Beam products near the left-field corner is really just a couple of drink carts and some picnic tables. The Cubs have expanded seating in the “orange grove” in right field where food trucks park every day with different selections (highly recommended, incidentally, if you come to Sloan, and you can check this Facebook page to find out what food trucks will be there each day), and most of that new seating is shaded.
The gift shop has been nearly doubled in size — and yet, the lines to get in are still long. Prices are... well, they’re about what you’d expect for a place like this. Some things I found overpriced; others are pretty reasonable. If you’re looking for a spring-training souvenir you can probably find one without spending a fortune. There’s some World Series merchandise, too.
Another squad of Cubs split and played in Scottsdale and lost to the Giants 8-6. Of that game I can’t tell you anything other than what you and I can both read in the boxscore; Javier Baez doubled in a run and Jeimer Candelario tripled one in:
All the Giants runs were off pitchers who are not going to make this team: Jim Henderson, Maikel Cleto and minor-leaguer Tommy Nance. Among those making an appearance: the nearly-forgotten Dallas Beeler, who threw a scoreless inning.
Attendance at Sloan: 14,929, noted as a sellout even though the official capacity is 15,200. It seemed moderately crowded on the berm, but not stiflingly so, and the weather was spectacularly perfect, upper 60s, unlimited sunshine and almost no wind.
The Cubs wore their home white pinstripe uniforms at Sloan on Saturday; last year MLB made all teams, including the Cubs, wear their “special” spring-training tops for all games, home and road. It’s not yet clear whether the Cubs will be able to wear the pinstripes for home games the rest of this spring; I certainly hope so.
Sunday, in the game the Indians are billing as “Game 8” (nice try, guys), Jake Buchanan will start for the Cubs and Danny Salazar, who pitched only briefly in relief in the World Series due to injuries, will go for the Tribe.