MESA, Arizona — Friday was one of those days that people in the Midwest in the winter dream about coming to the Valley of the Sun to enjoy.
Game-time temperature: 74. (Yes, I know it was warmer in Chicago Friday.) Light winds. Not a cloud in the sky. Perfect conditions for baseball.
The Cubs offense didn’t do much in a 4-2 loss to the Indians. Until the ninth inning all they could muster were three singles, a hit batsman and two walks. Tommy La Stella reached second base on a wild pitch after leading off the first with a walk. Munenori Kawasaki tripled with two out in the second. Ian Happ was hit by a pitch and sacrificed to second by John Lackey.
Those were the only Cubs to get past first base until there were two out in the ninth, when Jeffrey Baez doubled and Happ smashed a home run to the back of the berm in left-center field. That was Happ’s fourth homer of the spring. He’s hitting .409 (18-for-44). It doesn’t matter; Happ will be sent to the minor leagues for 2017, either to Double-A Tennessee or Triple-A Iowa. Still, his bat has made people notice him. I doubt we see him at Wrigley before September unless there are multiple injuries.
More important on this day was the pitching performance of Lackey, who gave up just three hits and a walk to the Indians through five innings. Giovanny Urshela led off the sixth with a home run off Lackey, the only run he allowed. After Lackey left the game, he went to the left-field bullpen and threw about 25 more pitches, with one of the Cubs’ bullpen catchers standing in as if it were a game situation. He seems ready to go for the season.
Also important was Albert Almora Jr. leaving the game after trying (and failing) to make a diving catch on a sinking liner hit by Urshela in the third inning. Almora stayed in the game and batted in the bottom of the third (and was thrown out by Urshela on a nice play), but then departed. Here’s what we know now about that:
#Cubs evaluating Albert Almora Jr. (left neck tightness) after dive in center field.— Patrick Mooney (@CSNMooney) March 24, 2017
After the game, this good news regarding Almora was released:
Almora (neck) was seen by trainer after leaving Friday's game. He was cleared to travel with team to Vegas, where he hopes to play Saturday.— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) March 24, 2017
Friday’s game produced another injury, to Cleveland’s Lonnie Chisenhall, while trying to track down Kawasaki’s triple:
Brad Zimmer is heading out to RF and Chisenhall is exiting. Looked like he grabbed at right shoulder a couple times. Will keep you posted.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 24, 2017
Chisenhall hit the top of the wall pretty hard. Hope he’s OK.
On another part of the Sloan Park complex, there was news about Kyle Schwarber:
Kyle Schwarber says he felt good after catching four innings during a minor-league game today in Mesa.— Patrick Mooney (@CSNMooney) March 24, 2017
Schwarber: "“I love catching. For me to be able to do that – and feel pretty good about myself walking away from (it) – was a good step.”— Patrick Mooney (@CSNMooney) March 24, 2017
I wouldn’t expect Schwarber to catch many, or even any, games this year. But just to know he can do it, in an emergency, gives the Cubs some further positional flexibility.
Attendance watch: Another sellout of 15,473 brings the season total for 12 dates to 180,561, or 15,047 per date. Last year’s record of 15,078 per date is in jeopardy.
Saturday, the Cubs split their squad. Half the team heads to Las Vegas to face the Reds. Kyle Hendricks will go for the Cubs in Vegas against Cincinnati’s Robert Stephenson . Back in the Valley, the Cubs will also be on the road, at Talking Stick against the Rockies. In that game, Brett Anderson will face German Marquez. The Las Vegas game will be on CSN Chicago and 670 The Score; the Talking Stick game will be on cubs.com and available on MLB.tv through Root Sports Rocky Mountain, the Rockies’ TV outlet. Both games are at 3 p.m. CT.