MESA, Arizona — If you left Tuesday’s Cubs game after the fourth inning — and a lot of people did, because it was chilly and windy even after the rain stopped — you saw all you needed to see about the regular Cubs being ready for the season.
There was a three-run homer by Addison Russell, his second in as many days:
There was an RBI triple by Matt Szczur (which followed a long double by Albert Almora Jr.):
At that point the Cubs led 5-1, because Alec Mills, Caleb Smith and Jim Henderson had combined for four pretty good innings. Mills got touched up for three singles, but managed to work out of those jams. Henderson walked a pair with two out but got out of the inning. Smith allowed the run, a solo homer by C.J. Cron. After that homer Almora showed some of the highlight-reel defense we’ve become accustomed to:
But after that, a number of miscellaneous Cubs pitchers couldn’t hold the Angels down. There was a Dallas Beeler sighting in the fifth inning. He might have gotten out of that inning unscathed but for an error by Munenori Kawasaki on what could have been an inning-ending double play. A run scored on the error, but Mune made up for it on the next play:
What was worse was watching Maikel Cleto, who you might remember kicking the ball around in one of the pitcher workout videos I posted here. Cleto pitched briefly for the Cardinals and White Sox from 2011-14 and not very well (6.60 ERA, 1.756 WHIP, 10 HR in 45 innings). His best-case scenario was going to be making the Iowa staff and being an injury backup. After he allowed five hits and four runs and didn’t finish his scheduled inning, that doesn’t seem like it’ll happen. One of the hits was a popup that dropped among all the infielders, the other four hits were solid, and there was a walk involved as well.
Meanwhile, the minor-league Cubs who took over for the regulars by the fifth and sixth innings managed just three singles and a walk over the last five innings, with no runner making it past first base.
The 7-5 loss to the Angels doesn’t mean that much, then, only that the guys who needed the work got it, the regulars who will be in the Opening Night lineup hit pretty well, and Mills looked decent enough to get more looks. He’ll certainly be in the Iowa rotation.
Jason Heyward made a couple of nice catches in right field, but went 0-for-3. Two of the hits were to the outfield, but I don’t know whether that means he’s making any progress on his new batting stance or not. Expect him to play Wednesday in Surprise, then have another off day, as per the schedule mentioned by Joe Maddon.
It rained most of the morning in Mesa, although there was some clearing that hinted that no more would fall after the gates opened at 11:30 a.m. Instead, one pretty intense shower popped up right over the area right then. It rained hard for about 10 minutes, then stopped. The grounds crew took the tarp off at 12:10, but then put it back on about half an hour later, and the game was delayed nearly 30 minutes even though no more rain fell. Eventually the sun came out and it was pleasant, if a bit windy. If you watched the game you probably saw a few fly balls that would have been routine on most days, instead carry to the warning track.
Attendance watch: The weather, and the fact that it was a Tuesday before most spring breaks start, held the crowd down to well under Sloan Park’s capacity. 12,688 was the announced attendance, bringing the season total for four dates to 57,626, or 14,407 per date. The average will increase over the weekend as the weather is forecast to be sunny and warm.
You’ll note the photo of Russell has him in the pinstripe uniform; the team wore the blue spring-training jerseys today, as mandated by MLB. There aren’t photographers at every spring game, so I’ve only got that one of Russell, which was from his home run hit on Monday against the White Sox.
Wednesday at Surprise, the last two World Series champions will meet in a game with much less meaning. Eddie Butler, who the Cubs acquired from the Rockies earlier this month for minor leaguer James Farris, will start against the Royals’ Nathan Karns.