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Astros 8, Cubs 6: One More To Go

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We’re almost ready for the 2017 season to begin.

Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Cubs lost another meaningless game Thursday evening, 8-6 to the Astros in front of a crowd that might have been half the announced 16,311 (and at least half of that half sounded like Cubs fans).

There are some takeaways from this game that are important, though.

First, Addison Russell clearly is fine. He homered in the third inning, but not until after turning in this slick play in the first:

Russell’s homer, his sixth of the spring, gave the Cubs a 5-2 lead. Unfortunately, Brett Anderson was also allowing home runs. Josh Reddick and Jose Altuve both homered off a guy whose strength, usually, is keeping the ball in the park. Here’s what Anderson said after he finished his five-inning stint:

Fair enough. Next time he takes the mound, next Thursday in Milwaukee, it’s for real. The best thing we can say about Anderson’s spring is that he made it through healthy. For a pitcher who’s made 30 or more starts once in the last seven seasons, that’s important.

Anthony Rizzo also homered for the Cubs, his fourth of the spring:

If that looked like a rocket launch, it was:

The homers gave the Cubs 56 as a team this spring. That’s eight more than anyone else (the Indians and Brewers are tied with 48). The Braves, who finished dead last in the major leagues in 2016 with 122 home runs, are dead last this spring, with just 18 in 32 games.

Anyway, the Cubs entered the bottom of the sixth leading 6-4 and that’s when Hector Rondon came in and... well, there’s no other way around it. Hector was just bad. He faced four batters and all of them got hits, and then Jhondaniel Medina came in and gave up two more hits that gave the Astros a four-run inning, all of them charged to Hector.

Hector has not been good this spring. He’s thrown 3⅔ innings, allowed eight hits and a walk and six earned runs (14.73 ERA, 2.45 WHIP). Now, maybe that’s just “working on stuff” numbers, but Rondon wasn’t good for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic either (two games, 1⅔ innings, seven hits, two walks, three home runs, five earned runs allowed, 27.00 ERA, 5.40 WHIP). I’m not sure what’s wrong, but I would not discount the idea that he might not be fully recovered from last year’s injury.

During that sixth inning, Kyle Schwarber moved from left field to catcher, the first time he’s caught in a major-league game since October 1, 2015, when he caught an entire game against the Reds in Cincinnati. Schwarber committed a passed ball in the inning, but then threw out former Cubs farmhand Marwin Gonzalez trying to steal second base, with a very nice throw right on the button, I might add.

I don’t expect nor want Schwarber to catch much this year. But given the way he came back from last year’s knee injury to do what he did in the World Series, I would not put anything past him. He’s a great athlete, determined to succeed, and if management thinks he can catch even occasionally, he’ll do it. He certainly did just fine in a three-inning test in this game.

Wade Davis and Pedro Strop threw scoreless innings. Davis issued a one-out walk but got out of the inning with a double play.

Friday afternoon, the Astros and Cubs will meet again at Minute Maid Park — where they’ve done a nice job reconfiguring the place after removing the nonsensical “Tal’s Hill”:

Kyle Hendricks will have his final spring tuneup start and will face Houston’s Joe Musgrove. The game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CT.