MESA, Arizona — Once again, do not let the sunshine in the photo of Anthony Rizzo above fool you. It was just 55 degrees at game time, which might be the coldest temperature I can remember for any spring training game I’ve attended.
The sunshine made it feel nice on the berm at Sloan Park, though, and the Cubs’ performance in a 6-1 win over the Rangers made everyone feel good.
Javier Baez started the show with a couple of sparkling defensive plays in the early innings. There was no TV of this game and no video available, so let me see if I can describe these Javy highlights for you.
With two out in the first inning and a runner on first base, Nomar Mazara bounced a ball over Rizzo’s head that appeared headed for right field. Javy raced over, dived and stopped it as Rizzo headed back to the bag, and threw Mazara out. The play at first wasn’t particularly close, either.
Then, in the third inning, this time with a runner on first and one out, Jurickson Profar bounced a ball off Cory Mazzoni’s glove. Javy, who was headed toward the bag for a possible double play, speared the ball and made one of those cross-body throws that he makes that you can’t possibly believe they’re going to be accurate, but this one was, as it usually is. Once again, the play at first wasn’t particularly close.
The Rangers had taken a 1-0 lead in the second when Eddie Butler got himself in trouble with walks. He walked the first two hitters he faced. Willson Contreras threw one of them out, but there was a scary moment at second base. Javy and Addison Russell appeared to have their signs crossed on who was supposed to cover, and they nearly collided. Fortunately, no one was injured, and Addy caught the throw for the out. A single then put runners on first and third, and got Butler out of the game. Mazzoni’s first pitch got away from Contreras for a passed ball to score the run.
But the Cubs got those runs back and more in the fourth. Kris Bryant had a really nice at-bat off Rangers reliever Connor Sadzeck, fouling off several pitches and then drawing a walk. Rizzo followed with a two-run homer to left-center, and Contreras made it back-to-back to almost the same spot on the left-field berm.
After that it was farewell to major leaguers and Cubs non-roster guys and minor leaguers played the rest of the afternoon. The Cubs got two nice innings out of Luke Farrell, who struck out three, and those were actual Rangers major leaguers before they, too, made their substitutions. Dillon Maples showed off a good fastball in his one inning of work; he allowed a double and a walk, but then induced a nice double-play ball, a bouncer in front of the plate picked up by Taylor Davis, who threw to third for a force play, and then Jason Vosler got the runner at first to end the inning.
The Cub subs put a pair on the board in the sixth on a single by Ryan Court, a walk to David Bote and an infield hit and a throwing error with Charcer Burks at bat. Court doubled with one out in the eighth and after a hit by Bote, Burks beat a relay throw to first and Court scored.
Court also made a couple of nice plays in the field and stole a base. Obviously it’s early but this is the guy I’d much rather have stashed at Iowa as an infield injury replacement than Mike Freeman.
Don’t read too much into the Cubs’ win today; other than Jose Leclerc, who threw a 1-2-3 third, not one of the Rangers relievers who went in this game have any real chance to make their 25-man roster. For that matter, we’re two games in and have yet to see any Cubs reliever who’s going to be on the 25-man. Perhaps tomorrow.
Oscar De La Cruz threw the ninth, and he showed off a pretty good fastball. He issued a walk, which really should have been a strikeout as plate umpire Kerwin Danley was calling a pretty tight zone.
Sloan Park was pretty much as it was a year ago; there’s a new “Jim Beam” sponsored bar in the left-field corner and old Chicago favorite Portillo’s is no longer sponsoring the Italian beef cart, but otherwise the food choices are the same, including several new food trucks in the orange grove in right field, where they have added much larger shades over tables, a useful addition. Though most probably, many would rather have not been in the shade on a day when the weather was so chilly by Arizona standards. This would have been a nice weather day for Opening Day at Wrigley, but for spring training? Give me a bit more warmth, please.
Here’s a look at the extended netting at Sloan Park, now all the way to the outfield end of the dugouts:
Attendance watch: Early in the morning there were seats available and several hundred lawn tickets, but the sunny weather, the first Cubs home game and it being Saturday apparently brought a good walkup sale, as 14,821 paid for this game, only about 400 short of an official sellout.
Sunday, the Cubs will visit Scottsdale Stadium to take on the Giants. Jen-Ho Tseng will get the call against Madison Bumgarner. Incidentally, we now know when we’ll first see Yu Darvish:
#Cubs Darvish threw 28 pitches in live BP today. Scheduled to make 1st start Thu vs Rockies— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) February 24, 2018
If we see Jon Lester start Wednesday against the Athletics, that would (to me at least) tell us that Lester will likely go Opening Day, followed by Darvish. We already know Tyler Chatwood will go Monday against the Mariners, the first expected rotation starter to go this spring, and that could begin to set up the rotation for the season. We shall see.
Sunday’s game is on cubs.com with Len and Mick, and can be seen via MLB.tv on the Giants channel NBC Sports Bay Area. I’m not going to this away game so I’ll be watching with all of you.