MESA, Arizona — While all the Cubs who played in Wednesday night’s loss to the Diamondbacks were spared the long bus ride to Glendale to play the Dodgers, Jon Lester pitched on Field 6 at the Sloan Park complex against a team comprised of Cubs minor leaguers in front of about 100 onlookers (including me) in a game that began just before 10:30 a.m.
Lester threw 62 pitches and according to this article by Bruce Levine, was primarily spending the day working on his fastball command:
Lester wants to build more arm strength and gain full command of his fastball.
“I am just trying not to die out there,” Lester joked of throwing fastballs to young hitters who know they were coming. “We just threw a lot of fastballs. They obviously knew that. My goal was to get my fastball back to the right location and angle. I missed a lot today. I just will continue to work on it.”
This explains why he allowed a home run to Jeffrey Baez and a couple of other long extra-base hits. The team he faced was comprised of some names you’ve seen in boxscores of major-league spring games so far: Stephen Bruno, Yasiel Balaguert, Wladimir Galindo, among others.
Also perhaps important for Lester was spending this time working with Willson Contreras, who was also held back from the trip to Glendale. Contreras will be the Cubs’ No. 1 catcher this year and will supposedly work all of Lester’s starts. While I was there only one runner reached first base (besides those who had extra-base hits) and as is Lester’s custom, he didn’t throw over. Contreras did make a couple of pickoff throws from the plate toward first base, though he didn’t pick anyone off.
I liked this shot I took of Contreras and thought I’d share it with you:
This swing resulted in a ground ball to third base.
I did some Facebook Live video of the Lester game; you can watch the first inning here, the second inning here and the third inning here. I don’t have any doubt that Lester will be ready for his Opening Night start in St. Louis April 2.
As far as the game against the Dodgers in Glendale is concerned, the Cubs shut out the Dodgers 4-0, their first shutout win this spring. Albert Almora Jr. (double) and Matt Szczur (RBI single) produced a first-inning run; when the minor-leaguers came in, Taylor Davis (single) and Bijan Rademacher (RBI double) plated a run in the eighth, and more Cubs runs were driven in by Chris Dominguez and Jacob Hannemann in the ninth.
Eddie Butler, who’ll be in the Iowa rotation this year, looked very good, throwing four shutout innings against most of the Dodger regulars. He allowed just one single and struck out four, two of them looking on nice breaking balls.
The Dodgers TV announcers talked a lot about Butler and the fact that he was a No. 1 pick of the Rockies (46th overall) in 2012, but hasn’t had much success in the thin air in Denver. They speculated he might have more success at Wrigley with his good breaking stuff. I concur with that; Butler didn’t have any luck pitching at altitude for the Rox’ Triple-A team at Albuquerque, either. Maybe Iowa will be more to his liking. Of all the various pitchers who have been brought in to give the Cubs starting pitching depth this year, Butler, to me, appears to have the most chance of future success. He just turned 26 earlier this week and might be a good candidate for Bosmosis.
Justin Grimm, David Rollins, Jim Henderson and Caleb Smith did not give up any runs after entering in relief of Butler. Entertainingly, Henderson got a called third strike on Yasiel Puig in the seventh inning — looked like a strike to me — and Puig got himself tossed, a spring-training rarity. The four relievers combined for five innings, allowing two hits and two walks, striking out five.
The Cubs will bus to Glendale again on Friday for a St. Patrick’s Day matchup with the White Sox that will also be televised (CSN Chicago with the Sox announcers). Please note, this game starts at 12:05 p.m. Arizona time, so 2:05 CT. The Sox are starting this game an hour early because the Dodgers are hosting a night game at Camelback Ranch on Friday and yes, it might actually take that extra hour to clear all the traffic out of there so they can await the night-game crowd. Friday’s game is a sellout.