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Cubs 7, Athletics 5: Kyle Hendricks looks ready for the season

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And the Cubs won their third game in the last four outings.

The expression never changes
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

MESA, Arizona — If you are thinking that I am really, really happy with the time and pace of Wednesday’s 7-5 Cubs win over the Athletics, you are 100 percent correct. Thrilled, actually, that the game ended an hour and 13 minutes earlier than Tuesday’s. What a difference!

There was good baseball played, too, by the Cubs, so let’s get to that.

Kyle Hendricks might have gotten out of his two-inning stint unscored on, except that Albert Almora Jr. made a rare defensive miscue. With two out in the first inning, Jed Lowrie hit a low line drive right at Almora, and AA misjudged it, breaking in for it when it was actually sailing higher and farther than he expected. It went past Almora for a two-base error, and then Khris Davis sent a two-run homer onto the left-field berm.

Hendricks struck out Matt Olson to end the inning, and struck out two more A’s in the second, and showed off that devastating changeup that’s been his out pitch. All in all, a successful outing for Hendricks, who was named as the “No. 2” starter Wednesday:

I put “No. 2” in quotes because really, any of the four behind Jon Lester could be considered a “number 2 starter,” even Tyler Chatwood, who I think is going to surprise a lot of people this year. Hendricks, as always, was low-key about this:

This is why Kyle is one of my favorites. Always focused, never letting anything bother him on the mound. He was throwing at 87 today, which is good, because last year his fastball was topping at 84 early in the season, which led to bad results. If he’s throwing easily at 87 in the first outing in the spring, he might be able to get that fastball up near 90 by Opening Day, which would make the changeup even more devastating.

Hendricks has a very different warmup routine than Lester. On Tuesday, Lester did quite a number of stretches and running and long toss before his warmup tosses in the bullpen. Today, Hendricks came to the pen, stretched for about 30 seconds, then joked around with the coaches and bullpen catcher Chad Noble. Yes, I can report that I actually heard Kyle Hendricks laugh!

Then he went to do long toss and warmed up, and I think this outing was quite successful.

Incidentally, I have been doing Facebook live video of the starting pitcher warming up, if you go to the BCB Facebook page at about 20 minutes to game time, I’ll do my best to keep doing this at games I’m attending. Here’s the link to the Hendricks warmup from this one.

The Cubs plated four runs off former Cubs prospect Paul Blackburn in the first inning, the big blows being a two-run single by Chris Gimenez and a two-run double by non-roster first baseman Efren Navarro, who was DH’ing this one. Gimenez singled in two more runs in the third before an ill-considered attempt to stretch that base hit into a double; he was thrown out. I suppose, not a bad idea to try that in spring training.

The last Cubs run was a solo homer by Ryan Court in the seventh. Court, who’s trying to hang on as the “injury replacement” infielder at Iowa this year, has impressed me so far with his bat, and his glove seems solid. I’d much rather have him there than Mike Freeman. We shall see if Joe Maddon and upper management agree.

Today was the first time we saw several relievers who will be on the 25-man roster. All did a good job, even Justin Grimm, who was the only one of the big-league relievers who was touched for a run, a solo homer by Olson. Mike Montgomery threw a scoreless inning, allowing two ground-ball singles. Carl Edwards Jr. had a 1-2-3 sixth, including a pair of strikeouts. Eddie Butler threw two innings and struck out three, though by then it was mostly A’s minor leaguers in the game.

Justin Wilson started his inning (the third) by throwing three straight pitches wide of the zone to Bruce Maxwell. Uh-oh, here we go again, I thought. But Wilson managed to harness his command enough to throw a 1-2-3 inning, with a strikeout of Matt Joyce for the last out. Early, and small sample size obviously, but it was a nice outing for him. Keep up the good work.

The game could have been even shorter than 2:24, but Luke Farrell stretched out the ninth inning by allowing a pair of homers and a single. Farrell’s expected to be in the Iowa bullpen, and if he shows better this spring, perhaps be one of the “Iowa shuttle” guys up and down for injuries.

David Bote, who has impressed more and more each day, made a slick play at third base to help Grimm out of the fourth, backhanding a ball down the line and making a strong throw to Anthony Rizzo. Bote is a guy who is making the most of his chances. I think we’ll see him at Wrigley sometime this year.

For those who have been asking, Jason Heyward drew a walk in the first inning, then grounded out twice. It’s still early to be making judgments about how he looks, as he still hasn’t had that many at-bats.

Attendance watch: It was a chilly day — 58 degrees at game time — and the lack of a marquee opponent, and the fact that it’s still February, kept the paid crowd to 8,313. That’s the smallest crowd in the four-plus seasons at Sloan Park, and the smallest crowd to see a Cubs home spring training game since March 9, 2013, when 7.685 paid to see the Cubs play the Indians at HoHoKam Park. That makes the season total 43,924 for four dates, or 10,981 per date. Attendance should pick up this weekend, I’d think, with warmer weather.

Thursday is the much-awaited Cubs spring debut of Yu Darvish. German Marquez will go for the Rockies. Game time Thursday is 2:05 p.m. CT, and again no TV, the broadcast will be a webcast on cubs.com.