MESA, Arizona — We almost had some weird history Friday afternoon at Sloan Park.
Through seven innings, Reds pitchers had faced the minimum number of Cubs hitters, 21. Two Cubs had reached base, both on walks (Jason Heyward in the first inning, Chris Dominguez in the sixth), and both were erased on double plays. (On the first DP, a real slick play was made by Reds second baseman Jose Peraza.)
A no-hitter? In spring training? How rare is that? Turns out there’s a fairly comprehensive list of these (at least over the last 78 years), kept by the terrific “No No Hitters” site. There have been 24 spring no-hitters since 1939, about one every three years or so, the last one in 2015 by nine Braves pitchers against the Astros.
According to that list, the Cubs have been involved in just one spring no-hitter (they were no-hit by the Giants on March 17, 1952, in of all places, Burbank, California) and that number stayed at one when Eloy Jimenez blasted a long home run halfway up the left-field berm with one out in the eighth inning off Jumbo Diaz. Diaz would have gotten out of the inning with just that one run, but a fielding error by Reds minor leaguer Sebastian Elizalde (love these names!) allowed Chesny Young to reach base. Taylor Davis singled and then Yasiel Balaguert smashed a three-run homer to make the final score look respectable at 8-4. Balaguert, who is 24 and is another Cubs Cuban signing, hit 19 home runs at Myrtle Beach last year. He also made a nice catch on a foul popup in the ninth inning and likely will be playing at Double-A Tennessee this year.
Much of the rest of the game had some respectable Cubs pitching. Mike Montgomery allowed a leadoff single, on which Peraza wound up on third base due to a rare error by Albert Almora Jr. It was a routine single but Almora tried to short-hop it, and the ball got by him. I imagine you won’t see him do that again. A single scored the run, but Montgomery struck out the side. Why did he go only one inning if he’s aiming for a spot in the rotation?
#Cubs Montgomery wanted to go more than 1 IP but had reached pitch limit. Also threw 60 plus side session before today— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 3, 2017
#Cubs Montgomery said he "felt like a pitcher again" today— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 3, 2017
Not sure exactly what “felt like a pitcher again” means, but if Monty is happy with his outing, then that’s certainly fine.
Cubs pitching got non-respectable in the third. Aaron Brooks allowed three singles for one Reds run, then hit a batter to score another. Even before the HBP, he had thrown a pitch behind a hitter. It didn’t seem intentional, but... Anyway, after Scott Schebler lined out to first base, Brooks hit another batter, plating a third run. That was enough for Joe, who brought in Dallas Beeler.
Beeler wasn’t any better. He hit Desmond Jennings with his first pitch, scoring another run, and then issued a four-pitch walk, plating Cincinnati run number four of the inning. When he finally threw a strike to Hernan Iribarren, the sarcastic cheer was quite loud. Iribarren hit into a fielder’s choice to score the last Reds run of the inning.
Small sample size, I know, but Brooks did not help himself in this one. On the other hand, Maikel Cleto, who had not pitched well in previous outings, had a 1-2-3 sixth.
The final Reds run scored off Brian Duensing, who allowed a solo homer to Patrick Kivlehan in the seventh.
Attendance watch: A sellout of 15,037 brought the season total at Sloan Park for five dates to 72,663, or 14,533 per date. The Cubs will be close to last year’s record average of 15,078 per date.
It would have been fun, I suppose, to see something as rare as a spring-training no-hitter, but I’m just as happy to have seen Eloy smash a home run, his first of the spring. No doubt, he’ll get more playing time until he’s reassigned to the minor-league camp in a week or so.
Saturday, the Cubs host the Dodgers and we get our first look at a member of the “top four” of the Cubs rotation. Kyle Hendricks goes for the Cubs and he’ll face the Dodgers’ Kenta Maeda. Saturday’s game will be televised in Chicago via WGN-TV.