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Dodgers 9, Cubs 4: A position competition

Two Cubs infielders are going for what’s likely one backup spot on the Opening Day roster.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs lost to the Dodgers 9-4 on a chilly (mid 50s) February afternoon in the Valley of the Sun, their first loss of the this spring, but the story of the game is a developing position battle between two guys who are likely vying for one backup spot on the 26-man Opening Day roster.

I’m talking about Nick Madrigal and David Bote. Madrigal, up to now a second baseman, took some grounders at third in workouts and started this game at third base. Bote replaced him later in the game.

Truth be told, Madrigal looked pretty good. He handled ground balls well and made strong and accurate throws to first base. Obviously half a game’s worth is a small sample size, but it does appear Madrigal can handle the position. Here’s Madrigal in the field:

He also went 1-for-3, an RBI single:

Bote, who has considerable MLB experience at both second base and third base, over 1,100 major-league plate appearances, hit a three-run homer Saturday and had an RBI double Sunday, going 2-for-2 against the Dodgers. He also made a couple of nice defensive plays.

Bote missed considerable time in both 2021 and 2022 with injuries, and if he’s healthy I’d think he has the inside track to a roster spot. That’s partly because Madrigal has options and can work on third base at Triple-A Iowa, but perhaps also because Bote’s under long-term contract. That shouldn’t necessarily decide a roster spot, but you could understand if the Cubs want to get some value out of that deal. Bote was outrighted off the 40-man roster earlier this offseason, so that’s also a consideration.

All together now: “As always, we await developments.”

Anyway, the first tier of Cubs pitchers Sunday afternoon did quite well. Javier Assad retired all six batters he faced, two by strikeout. Michael Rucker, Brendon Little and Manuel Rodriguez also threw scoreless frames.

Uh... then it was Dodger minor leaguer vs. Cubs minor leaguer time, as the L.A. guys teed off on Nick Neidert (two runs), Bailey Horn (a three-run homer) and Hunter Bigge (four runs). Bigge won’t be anywhere near the big leagues this year — likely Tennessee to start.

There were another couple of pitch timer violations in this game, and we’re going to see those fairly frequently in the early action. Again, the hope is that by calling these from Day 1, players will get more accustomed to the pitch timer and this will happen a lot less often when the season starts March 30. The game still ran 2:54, largely because pitchers couldn’t throw strikes. Saturday, Cubs hitters drew 11 walks off the Giants. Sunday, Cubs pitchers issued 11 walks. Cut down on the walks and the games will be shorter. The pace is still good. A game with that many walks, hits and runs would have probably run 3:15 to 3:20 last year.

One more thing to note from this game: Pete Crow-Armstrong flashed some glove!

Monday, the Cubs will split their squad. One half will play the Guardians at Sloan Park. Jameson Taillon will make his Cubs spring debut against Cleveland’s Shane Bieber. That game is at 2:05 p.m. CT, TV coverage on Marquee Sports Network. The other half heads to Salt River Fields to face the Diamondbacks. Caleb Kilian will start that game for the Cubs and Brandon Pfaadt goes for Arizona. That game starts at 2:10 p.m. CT and will be available on MLB.TV through Bally Sports Arizona.