MESA, Arizona — The Cubs defeated the Brewers 4-3 Friday afternoon on a beautiful day in front of another sellout crowd at Sloan Park.
The result of the game was the least interesting thing that happened all day.
First, let’s talk about the fun stuff. You know that Cubs management and Tommy La Stella have been pranking each other all spring. TLS parked in Theo & Jed’s spaces and then left a bouncy house there. Theo & Jed made TLS wear a polo and chinos for a workout (it would have been funnier if they’d gotten permission and had him wear them for a game).
Friday, in the middle of the third inning, Anthony Rizzo’s voice suddenly came booming out of the PA speakers, telling the crowd how lonely Tommy is and that he’s looking either for casual dates or a committed relationship. It took about halfway through this “ad” before I realized it was management giving TLS the ultimate prank, in front of 15,831 at the ballpark.
Tribune beat writer Mark Gonzales managed to get a couple of photos of what was put on the video board:
Great payback by Theo, Jed & Co. on Tommy La Stella and his “need” for a life partner: pic.twitter.com/rA9pfOqpwz— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) March 23, 2018
Well done, Theo & Jed. Well done. And no, Tommy isn’t going to Iowa. I think it’s great that management and TLS can have this much fun with each other, especially after what happened two years ago. Sounds like Tommy is very much part of the team and well-liked.
This sort of thing shows how loose the team is this spring. It’s reminiscent of the fun they had in spring 2016, with Rizzo and Kris Bryant getting a scooter for “Grandpa Rossy” (among other amusing events) and that looseness stayed with the team all season. I think that’s an important thing for team unity. For whatever reason — World Series hangover, maybe? — they didn’t seem to have that last year. Now it’s back.
Here’s the other part of today’s news, the fact that the Cubs made a decision on the bullpen:
#Cubs Maddon says they'll go with 8 relievers— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 23, 2018
And that means just four bench players: a backup catcher, TLS, whoever isn’t starting in center field between Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr., and Ben Zobrist. The backup catcher spot still hasn’t been decided (at least publicly):
#Cubs Maddon on backup catcher situation between Caratini and Gimenez: "We kind of know what we're doing and we haven't spoken to everybody yet."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 23, 2018
Both Chris Gimenez and Victor Caratini played in Friday’s game; Caratini ended it by throwing out Jonathan Villar trying to steal second. So that was good. If I had to guess by reading between the lines of Joe Maddon’s quote, though, I think Gimenez gets the job (otherwise why open a 40-man spot?) and Caratini goes back to Iowa to work on his defense.
Regarding the last bullpen spot, it’s entirely possible that Justin Hancock will get it. Maddon seems to like him, and he was firing 97 and 98 mile per hour fastballs in two solid innings of relief in this game. He did walk Villar — after it appeared he had him struck out on a 2-2 pitch — but then Caratini bailed him out.
There are two 40-man spots open, so Hancock could get one of them. It also raises the question of what will happen to Eddie Butler if he’s not the last guy in the pen. Butler is out of options and the Cubs do like him, but would have to sneak him through waivers to keep him. We will see.
Oh, yes, the game. Happ hit yet another leadoff home run, his sixth overall homer and fourth leading off the game. We’re going to see quite a bit of Happ in the leadoff spot this year, I think.
Tyler Chatwood threw 5⅔ good innings, running into a bit of trouble in the second with three straight hits off him; a rundown play helped him get out of that with just one run allowed. Another run scored with two out in the fourth, but Chatwood struck out the side in that inning.
The Cubs’ three-run rally in the fourth gave them a lead they would not relinquish. Peter Bourjos, Chatwood (with a nicely-struck double) and La Stella drove in the runs. Bourjos left the game after his hit:
#Cubs Bourjos came out of the game because of cramping his in left calf. It was precautionary move— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 23, 2018
And then he left the organization:
Source: Going with eight-man bullpen, #Cubs are releasing Peter Bourjos as the veteran outfielder intends to look for a big-league job after a strong spring.— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) March 23, 2018
The Cubs actually did Bourjos a favor by releasing him now, giving him some time to hook up with another team. He hit .326/.362/.372 (14-for-43) and he could probably help some team as a fourth or fifth outfielder; there’s simply no room for him on the Cubs roster.
Brandon Morrow’s brief, two-batter outing (a hit and a walk) was planned:
22 pitches for Morrow over two-day span. Velocity was fine today. Breaking pitch was sharp on Thursday vs. Glenallen Hill's Colorado Triple-A team.— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) March 23, 2018
So all appears well in Cubs-land. We should know the official 25-man Opening Day roster by the time the Cubs leave Arizona for Florida after Sunday’s game.
Attendance watch: The sellout of 15,831 brought the season total to 206,179 for 15 dates, or 13,745 per date. Another sellout is expected for Saturday’s Sloan Park finale.
Saturday, the Cubs will have a split squad, with both games in the evening. One half of the club will travel to Peoria to face the Mariners. Eddie Butler starts that game facing Felix Hernandez. Game time at Peoria is 8:40 p.m. CT and there’s TV coverage via the Mariners network Root Sports Northwest.
At Sloan Park, Mike Montgomery will face the Rockies, who will start Jon Gray. Game time in Mesa is 9:05 p.m. CT and there will be radio coverage on 670 The Score and TV via NBC Sports Chicago.
We’re getting closer! Opening Day, just six days away.