MESA, Arizona — There are a number of interesting storylines from the Cubs’ 8-6 loss to the Mariners Thursday afternoon, some of which actually had to do with the score.
Let’s talk about that first, then. The Cubs took a 5-4 lead into the ninth inning, and Brian Duensing, the last of the Cubs’ scheduled pitchers for the day, came into the game.
Duensing was not good. The first four men he faced reached base, three of them on well-hit balls. All of these were hit by Mariners minor leaguers, and Seattle had sent a rather makeshift team to Sloan Park in the first place, given that Jean Segura, Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano are all off at the World Baseball Classic.
Duensing then issued a walk — to former Cubs prospect Dan Vogelbach, who has slimmed down quite a bit — there was a stolen base, a throwing error, two more hits and then Joe Maddon had seen enough. But this might not be simply a case of a guy having a bad outing. Duensing walked off the field with the trainer. I don’t have any specific information, but this usually means there’s an injury issue. Hope it’s nothing serious.
Before all that, Cubs regulars (and today’s was likely the lineup you’ll see in St. Louis on April 2) had very little luck off Mariners starter James Paxton and their first reliever, Evan Scribner. Only Anthony Rizzo had a hit, and it was a home run (his first of the spring), giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead. Paxton and Scribner retired all the other Cubs they faced, striking out seven.
Meanwhile, Mike Montgomery had an effective first inning but served up a homer to Mike Zunino in the second. Brett Anderson allowed two runs, the first after two out in the third on a double followed by a single. Danny Valencia, who singled in the run, tried to take second on the throw in, and was tagged out by Rizzo, who had cut off the throw from Jason Heyward.
The Mariners added a run in the fifth off Wade Davis, who deserved better. Again, he retired the first two hitters easily. Valencia singled, and then Davis got Zunino to hit a fly ball to center. Jon Jay lost it in the tough mid-day sun and it dropped for an RBI double. Eventually Davis got out of the inning on a nice curveball that struck out D.J. Peterson.
In the next inning, Tyler Smith hit a long flyball to left off Koji Uehara. Kyle Schwarber raced back and stole a home run from Smith, his glove just over the yellow padding at the top of the wall in left-center. I wish there were video I could show you, because this was absolutely outstanding effort on Schwarber’s part. He took a perfect route to the ball and nabbed it.
Justin Grimm and David Rollins had scoreless innings. Grimm retired all three hitters he faced, two on called third strikes. Rollins gave up two hits but was helped out by a double play.
The Cubs were mounting a comeback in the middle innings. Willson Contreras and Taylor Davis hit back-to-back doubles with two out in the fifth and Jay singled in another run to make it 4-3. Davis singled in another run in the seventh to tie the game and Jacob Hannemann singled in one in the eighth to make it 5-4.
Heyward later singled in that inning. He was 0-for-2 and was hit by a pitch. The two outs were strikeouts on which he didn’t look particularly good, so he’s still a work in progress.
Before this game there was a “B” game on Field 1 next to Sloan Park, which began at 10 a.m. in front of maybe 100 fans. The only 40-man roster position player in this game was Tommy La Stella, and as is common in many “B” games, they arranged for him to bat in every inning. I watched the first three innings of this game and TLS batted three times, flying out twice and grounding out. (They also ended an inning after Felix Pena allowed a three-run homer.) There were about 10 scouts standing behind home plate watching this one, and I couldn’t help thinking that this was a showcase for TLS in front of some scouts who might represent teams interested in dealing for him.
Attendance watch: A sellout of 15,107 attended on a day where the temperature pushed into the upper 80s. That makes the season total 103,208 for seven dates, or 14,744 per date.
Friday, these two teams will meet again, this time at the Mariners’ home park in Peoria. Kyle Hendricks will make his second spring start and Chris Heston will go for Seattle.