SURPRISE, Arizona — It was one of those late-Spring Training games where neither side looked like they wanted to win and in the end, the Cubs just wanted it less than the Rangers as Texas came out as an 12-8 winner over the Cubs at Surprise Stadium.
The Cubs only started three players (Ian Happ, Joc Pederson, David Bote) who are expected to be in the starting lineup on Opening Day. Marquee Sports even sent out Mick Gillispie and Sean Marshall to call the game, just to complete the “B team” feeling. (Although it should be noted that Gillispie and Marshall did a fine job, maybe bordering on very good when you consider that 52 players actually played in this game.)
Jake Arrieta got the start for Cubs and he pitched pretty well, although you wouldn’t know it from his final pitching line: 2 2⁄3 innings, 4 runs, 5 hits, one walk and four strikeouts. Here’s an example of that as Arrieta gets Rougned Odor looking [VIDEO].
But bad defense did Arrieta in. In the first inning, Arrieta got an easy high fly ball to left field out of Joey Gallo, but nothing hit high in the air to left field was easy today in the Arizona sun. Happ lost track of the ball which dropped in for a single, putting runners on first and third with only one out. But the Cubs turned one of their few defensive gems on the next play, as Arrieta induced Nate Lowe to hit into a nifty 3-6-1 double play.
Arrieta was not as lucky in the second inning. After an infield single by Nick Solak and an bouncer through the hole between short and third by Andy Ibañez, Arrieta walked Leody Tavares to load the bases with only one out. The first run then scored when the umpire said that Jonah Heim was hit in the foot with an Arrieta breaking ball in the dirt. Neither Gillispie nor Marshall thought the ball actually hit Heim and I certainly couldn’t see it on the replay, but I’ll admit my view wasn’t definitive. But as I mentioned, it was one of those games where no one really cared and the Cubs didn’t argue as the hit batsman forced in the first run.
Arrieta looked like he’d gotten out of the jam with only one run scoring when he got a hard grounder right to shortstop Nico Hoerner. But while Hoerner’s toss to David Bote was in plenty of time to get the second out, Bote’s relay to first base sailed past first baseman Patrick Wisdom and a second run scored.
Arrieta then hit his pitch limit after the botched double play, so he left for Juan Gamez, who has never pitched above rookie ball unless you count his time in the Mexican League. Gamez was greeted with a sharp RBI single up the middle by David Dahl that Gamez deflected to Bote, who was left with no play to make it 3-0. Then Joey Gallo did those things that Joey Gallo does. [VIDEO].
Boom. Three-run home run and it’s 6-0 Rangers.
Arrieta returned to pitch to three batters in the third inning under the modified Spring Training rule:
Substitution rules (see Official Baseball Rule 5.10(d)) shall be relaxed, allowing for reentry for all pitchers.
And then he was done for the day. The line looks bad, but Arrieta actually pitched fairly well. Not great, but he certainly didn’t earn that terrible line in the box score.
The Cubs got on the board in the top of the fourth inning. Happ opened the inning with a double and then Joc Pederson does one of those Joc Pederson in Spring Training 2021 things [VIDEO].
The home run was Pederson’s eighth of Spring Training, which caused the Cubs official Twitter feed to comment that there were eight letters in Pederson and he’s hit eight home runs. I told them that Joc needed to change his last name to Saltalamacchia.
Texas regained their six-run lead in the bottom of the inning as reliever Ryan Tepera kept finding too much of the plate, leading to two more Rangers runs. [VIDEO].
The Cubs fought back from that 8-2 deficit over the next four innings. Matt Duffy celebrated making the team by tripling and then Wisdom proved that turnabout is fair play when he hit a high fly ball that Rangers left fielder Jason Martin lost in the sun, almost exactly like Happ had done in the first inning. [VIDEO].
The rest of the game, as far as the Cubs are concerned, was the Abiatal Avelino show. Abiatal hasn’t played much in Spring Training and had notched only three hits, all singles over 15 at-bats before today’s game. But in the seventh inning, Avelino did this [VIDEO].
Avelino’s solo home run started a three-run inning for the Cubs, cutting Texas’ lead to 8-6. Cubs top prospect Brennen Davis hit an opposite-field sacrifice fly with the bases loaded later in the inning and the Cubs got a sixth run on an error.
Then the Cubs scored twice and tied the game in the top of the eighth inning. Avelino had an RBI single, followed by Christopher Morel scoring the tying run on a heads-up base running play. Morel was on third when a pickoff throw got about ten feet away from Rangers first baseman Curtis Terry. Morel read the play perfectly and broke home quickly. He scored easily.
This Cubs comeback wouldn’t have been possible without some solid relief pitching in the middle innings. Most notable was Dillon Maples, who pitched a scoreless bottom of the seventh inning. Yes, he walked one batter after having him down 0-2 early in the count, but Maples struck out the other three batters of the inning with the typical Maples filthy stuff when he’s on his game. That was a good sign for one of the more controversial decisions on the Cubs Opening Day roster.
But Maples wasn’t the only reliever who pitched well. Jason Adam and Brad Wieck threw scoreless fifth and sixth innings respectively.
Unfortunately, James Norwood did not pitch well. Entering the game in the bottom of the eighth inning after the Cubs had tied the game 8-8, Norwood allowed a walk and two singles for one run. Then a two-out error by shortstop Andy Weber led to two more runs.
Norwood gave way to Manuel Rodriguez, who walked in one more run to make it 12-8 after eight innings. The Cubs did draw a couple of walks in the top of the ninth, but failed to cash either baserunner in and the game ended with a whimper instead of a bang.
The Cubs have one Spring Training game left in Arizona as they take on the Diamondbacks at Sloan Park on Monday at 2:05 Chicago time or 12:05 Arizona time. The game will be televised on Marquee Sports and on the radio on 670 The Score. The game will also be on Fox Sports Arizona (with D-Backs broadcasters, of course).
This one today and the one tomorrow don’t count. All of the rest of them will.