MESA, Arizona --- You might see headlines like this from time to time here if Ian Happ proves to be as good as advertised from his minor-league career.
Saturday afternoon at Sloan Park in front of one of the the largest crowds in Cactus League history (more on this below), Happ smacked a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to lead the sub Cubs to a 4-3 victory over the proxy Rockies, the starters for both teams having long since departed.
Another Cubs prospect we hope will someday have a major impact at Wrigley Field, Eloy Jimenez, also homered in that three-run eighth inning, an opposite-field smash that landed in nearly the same spot Happ’s did.
For Happ, it was his second homer in as many days. Eddie Butler, who the Cubs acquired from the Rockies last month for minor leaguer James Farris, pitched the eighth and ninth innings, retiring all six batters he faced (five on groundouts) for his third win of the spring.
The earlier part of the game was not so good for our favorite team. The Cubs were mostly impotent offensively through the first six innings. Kyle Schwarber homered in the third, his first this spring, in the third inning, but the Cubs had just two other baserunners through six: Schwarber’s leadoff single in the first inning and a single by Anthony Rizzo in the fourth. Eight Cubs went down on strikes over the first six innings on a hot day where the temperature touched 90 during the game (or so it said on my car thermometer when I left; game-time temp was 87), K’d by Tyler Chatwood, Adam Ottavino and Mike Dunn, all of whom will be on the Rox’ 25-man roster.
Meanwhile, Jon Lester strugged early, allowing hits to the first two men he faced. Charlie Blackmon doubled and DJ LeMahieu singled him in. After that Lester did a bit better, allowing just two other hits and a walk through three innings. He struck out four overall.
I’m going to single out Kris Bryant because he did not have a good day. He went 0-for-3 and made two errors, something he’s done just twice in the regular season (oddly, one of those was against the Rockies, last April 15 at Wrigley Field). One of the errors was a bad throw that pulled Rizzo off the bag at first and allowed Ian Desmond to get to second base. He was stranded. The second error, a booted ground ball in the sixth inning, led to an unearned run off Carl Edwards Jr., who otherwise threw well.
The Cubs’ two primary setup men, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon, threw the fourth and fifth innings, respectively. Strop allowed a single and was the beneficiary of a slick fielding play by Addison Russell, who got a force at second on the stop. Rondon allowed a home run by Trevor Story, who has picked up this spring where he left off when he was injured last summer — that was his fourth homer of the spring.
Caleb Smith threw a 1-2-3 seventh. The Cubs like Smith’s arm and sinker and while he has little chance of making the 25-man roster, I suspect the Cubs will work out a deal with the Yankees so they can keep him and send him to Triple-A Iowa.
Tommy La Stella served as DH today, and I’m convinced he’s being showcased for a possible trade (there were at least 10 scouts watching the “B” game he played in on Thursday). He didn’t do anything Saturday that would have convinced a scout to take a chance on him — 0-for-3, two groundouts and a swinging strikeout.
Attendance watch: Saturday’s crowd of 15,501 was the third-largest in Cubs and Cactus League history (two games last year drew 15,509 and 15,523). That makes the season total for eight dates (the Team Italy game does not count in Cactus League numbers) 118,709, or 14,839 per date. The all-time Cubs, Cactus League and spring record was set last year: 226,163, or 15,078 per game. Those marks could be broken this year.
Sunday, the Cubs make their annual visit to their former spring home, HoHoKam Park in Mesa, to take on the Athletics. Jake Arrieta goes for the Cubs, making his second spring start; he’ll face A’s righthander Raul Alcantara.
A reminder that tonight, while most of North America goes on Daylight Saving time, Arizona does not. That means Arizona will be two hours behind Chicago starting tomorrow, and thus Sunday’s game (and most spring games going forward) will begin at 3:05 p.m. CT.