MESA, Arizona — Willson Contreras might just be setting himself up to have that monster, MVP-type season we’ve all dreamed he could have. (One particular front-page writer on this site would certainly be very happy about that.)
Contreras went 3-for-4 and drove in five runs Wednesday evening and the Cubs crushed the Padres 8-2.
The game went into the bottom of the second with the Cubs up 1-0. Ian Happ walked leading off the first, went to third on a Contreras single and scored on a wild pitch.
With two out in the second, this happened [VIDEO].
I’m sorry, but this play is the final, FINAL straw for me. As you know, I’ve been in favor of the universal DH for some time now. This play, THIS PLAY, is exactly why.
Kyle Hendricks looked like he had singled to right. But wait, Padres right fielder Wil Mywers is going to try to throw him out at first! And a better throw would probably have gotten Hendricks out. But the throw was offline, and first baseman Jake Cronenworth was in a position that forced Hendricks to make an awkward step on the base (he was safe) and tumble down.
Seriously. Is this how you want to lose the Cubs’ Opening Day starter? To a possible injury running the bases in a spring training game?
Not me, nope nope nope, not ever. There’s going to be more of this during the season, outfielders trying to throw out pitchers running to first after apparent hits. Most pitchers won’t want to hurt themselves running the bases, and they shouldn’t, because there is a solution, the universal DH.
It’s not too late for MLB and its players to come to an agreement on this for the 2021 season. I know they’ve said no, but...
For those of you who insist that pitchers batting is some form of lyrical art or some sort of thing brought on stone tablets from Mount Sinai that belongs in the sport forever, I acknowledge some little bit of strategy will be lost when we have the universal DH. I wouldn’t be opposed to one tweak in the DH rule that could bring some strategy, and that’s to have it used only until the starting pitcher leaves, then you have to use pinch-hitters. This would probably push teams to leave starters in games longer and it would pretty much eliminate “openers.” I could live with that — if that were done, pitchers would only bat in extreme situations.
I cringed when I watched that “hit.” No more, please. Fortunately, Hendricks was not injured on that play and it didn’t seem to affect his pitching. And if you think Hendricks is against the universal DH, think again:
Kyle Hendricks on his single: "Three steps before the base, it's either I'm out, or I'm running into him. So, the competitiveness took over. I was like, 'I'm not getting thrown out from right field.'"— Maddie Lee (@maddie_m_lee) March 18, 2021
He thinks he helped the case for the universal DH tonight.
Anyway, Happ followed with a single and Contreras hit a baseball deep into the Mesa night [VIDEO].
That made it 4-0. Hendricks allowed a couple of runs in the third and was lifted with two out in the top of the fourth. The Cubs extended their lead to 5-2 in the bottom of that inning thanks to Anthony Rizzo [VIDEO].
That was Rizzo’s third homer of the spring.
The Cubs put the game away in the sixth. P.J. Higgins led off with a pinch-walk, one of seven walks the Cubs drew in this game. Happ followed with a single, his second hit of the night, and then it was Willson again [VIDEO].
Contreras is now hitting .348/.464/.739 (8-for-23) this spring with a double, triple and two home runs. Hopefully he can carry this through the beginning of the regular season, at the very least.
Also, the fact that Willson has been batting second much of the spring isn’t just to get him extra at-bats. Per Jordan Bastian, he might wind up in that lineup spot:
“I’m just trying to see that, what it looks like on a daily basis,” Ross said. “I’d definitely consider it. That’s why he’s in there.”
“I’ve moved him around,” said the manager. “I think he’s just one of the valuable pieces, a real pesky at-bat, a real right-handed [bat] in-between maybe a guy like Happer leading off — for the most part from the left side — and Rizzo maybe in the three or four hole.”
It just might work.
Cubs relievers Andrew Chafin, Craig Kimbrel, Dan Winkler, Jonathan Holder and Joe Biagini combined for five shutout relief innings, allowing four hits and striking out six. It was the first good outing for Kimbrel, who did allow a single but got out of the inning with a slick double play turned by Javier Baez and Nico Hoerner. Kimbrel was sitting at 95-96 on his fastball per the Sloan Park pitch speed meter, which is good, but to be really effective he’s got to be at 97-98. Hopefully that will come.
The Cubs will take on the Indians at Goodyear Thursday afternoon. Jake Arrieta is the scheduled starter — which likely means he’s going to be slotted into the No. 2 spot in the rotation behind Hendricks and start the second game of the regular season. Zach Plesac will start for Cleveland. Game time is 3:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via SportsTime Ohio with the Cleveland announcers. That feed will be carried live nationally on MLB Network (no blackouts).