MESA, Arizona — There was a forecast of scattered sprinkles in the Phoenix area Sunday, though it wound up sunny most of the afternoon. It would have been wildly appropriate, I thought, had it started raining right around the end of the ninth inning Sunday and the game headed into extra innings. Jordan Bastian, MLB.com’s Indians beat writer, joked about this even before the game started:
Indians play the Cubs today. It just started raining.... too soon?— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 26, 2017
But teams rarely play extra innings in spring training, certainly not this early when pitchers are just beginning their work, and so the game wound up ending after nine as a 1-1 tie between the Cubs and the Tribe, nothing at all like the last game the two teams played. You wouldn’t have expected that anyway, not with most Cubs regulars getting the day off and pitchers just getting their work in.
I was impressed with Jake Buchanan’s two innings. He induced three groundouts in the first, walked the second batter he faced in the second, but then got out of that inning with a double play. That’s Buchanan’s game — inducing ground balls. If he can keep doing that, he will be a valuable guy to have at Iowa in case the Cubs need an emergency starter or injury replacement.
Jason Heyward’s swing... I think it still needs work. He drew a walk to lead off the first inning, not swinging at a single pitch, but was caught stealing. He struck out swinging his other two times up and looked pretty bad doing it. This is still a work in progress:
Plan is to have #Cubs Heyward play two games, then take a day off as he continues to work on his swing— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) February 26, 2017
Thus we will not see Heyward play in Monday’s game.
The Indians took a 1-0 lead in the fourth off Casey Kelly. Tyler Naquin hit a grounder down the first-base line that Jeimer Candelario couldn’t handle. Anthony Rizzo likely would have. A fly to right and a ground ball to short scored him, but after that the Indians had just one hit, a seventh-inning single, and three walks. Naquin and one of the walks were the only Tribe hitters to get past first base, as the Cubs turned two double plays. We were also treated to a Javier Baez highlight:
Man, Javy is just so good no matter where he plays in the infield. He was 1-for-3 at the plate and wasn’t involved in the Cubs’ only run, which scored on a walk to Albert Almora Jr., a double by Jemile Weeks and an RBI single from Matt Szczur. Weeks took third and at first it looked like he might try to score on the single, too, but Gary Jones held him. Carlos Corporan struck out to end the inning.
The only other Cubs threat was in the seventh. After two were out, Chris Dominguez doubled down the line. Taylor Davis walked and Elliot Soto bounced a ball of the third baseman’s glove that was ruled a hit. With the bases loaded, it was up to Jason Vosler, who hit a foul popup to end the inning.
Dominguez is a big dude, listed at 6-4, 235. He played briefly for the Reds and Giants in 2015, and spent 2016 at Triple-A Pawtucket in the Red Sox organization. He’s got some power (113 HR in 862 minor-league games) but strikes out a ton (864 strikeouts in those 862 games), so you can see why at age 30 he’s still a career minor leaguer. He’ll likely play first base at Iowa this year.
Other than Buchanan, the pitcher I was most interested in seeing Sunday was David Rollins, the guy who was waived and claimed six times this offseason. You could tell why, too: he’s got a good arm and great stuff. He also lacks control and command, which is why he struck out the first two hitters he faced, then issued a pair of walks. Indians hitters also fouled off quite a few pitches before Rollins got out of the inning with a popup. As a lefthander, he’d be very much in demand for any big-league bullpen if he can sort out the control issues. He’ll probably get every chance to do that at Iowa.
Attendance watch: Another sellout of 15,388 brought the two-day total to 30,317, or 15,159 per date for the two dates. Last year’s all-time spring training record attendance at Sloan Park was an average of 15,078, so the Cubs clearly have a chance to break that record this year.
I was also glad to again see the white pinstripe uniforms at home; that’s been a Cubs Cactus League tradition for many years, even while some other Arizona-based teams wear their alternate jerseys at home. I hope this continues.