MESA, Arizona — For the first time this spring, a game at Sloan Park had close to a regular-season feel.
Both starting pitchers made it through five innings. Kyle Hendricks did Robbie Ray one inning better by completing six excellent innings. He allowed one run on three hits, didn’t walk anyone, struck out seven and appeared to have his changeup working quite well. Hendricks also batted, going 0-for-2 and failing on one sacrifice bunt attempt.
In fact, the Arizona run off Hendrickswas a bit of a fluke. Daniel Descalso popped a ball into short center that the wind blew out of reach of Addison Russell, and Nick Ahmed’s double took off in the wind past Kyle Schwarber in left. Usually there isn’t much wind at these games, but today’s game-time wind of 14 miles per hour was gusty in a day that would have felt fine weatherwise for Opening Day at Wrigley, but not really for Mesa in March: 66 degrees, and when it got cloudy it felt downright cool.
Yes, I know, #firstworldproblems.
Jason Heyward had given the Cubs a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second, following a single by Schwarber. His homer to right-center also had some help from the wind; on an ordinary day that would have been a double in the gap, so it was at least well-struck.
The rest of this game blew by (ha, ha, right?) very quickly. The Cubs had just three hits after the second inning and just one runner (Kris Bryant, a double in the third), and from the fourth through the eight the D-backs had just two hits, both singles, and a walk. The walk, issued by Kyle Ryan to Arizona first baseman Christian Walker leading off the seventh, was the only base on balls for the entire game.
In so doing a situation was created that we almost never see. The next hitter, former Cub Alex Avila, hit a routine fly to Heyward in right. It was deep enough for Walker to tag and take second... except the Cubs tried the appeal play and were successful. Walker, said the umpires, had left first too early and Ryan stepped off the mound and threw to first baseman Efren Navarro to complete an unusual 9-1-3 double play.
Ryan threw two decent innings; he’s got a chance to be on the Iowa shuttle this year.
All of this was great until minor league righthander Stephen Perakslis took the mound in the ninth. After a deep fly out to right led off the inning, Perakslis served up back-to-back homers to pinch hitter Rey Flores and to Walker, and the D-backs had a 3-2 lead. Antonio Bastardo, one of three veteran D-back relievers in this game trying to make the team (Brad Boxberger and Neftali Feliz were the others), set down Cubs minor leaguers in the ninth in order, and thus the Cubs posted their first Sloan Park defeat of the spring, 3-2 to the D-backs (they are 8-1-3 at home).
Thus, Arizona’s minor leaguers were better than Cubs minor leaguers. Hendricks, on the other hand, looked great, and had this comment after the game:
Final: D-backs 3, #Cubs 2. Heyward 2R HR. Hendricks 6 IP 7 Ks. Kyle: "It felt like the most normal game so far for me." Att: 15,829— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 15, 2018
As noted above, the paid crowd was 15,829, second only to Tuesday’s this year (and all-time for the Cubs and the Cactus League). That brings the season total to 159,322 for 12 dates, or 13,277 per date.
Friday, the Cubs travel to Camelback Ranch to face the White Sox. Yu Darvish will go for the Cubs and Reynaldo Lopez for the Sox. Game time is 3:05 p.m. CT. Audio coverage is on cubs.com, and there will be TV coverage on NBC Sports Chicago, with the Sox announcing team. Outside the Chicago market this game will be carried on MLB Network.