LAS VEGAS -- Chris Rusin threw four scoreless innings, while Donnie Murphy, Daniel Vogelbach, and Arismendy Alcantara each homered to lead the Chicago Cubs to a 6-3 victory over the New York Mets on Sunday.
Rusin (2-2), who started for the fourth time this spring, allowed only a second-inning single while walking none and striking out one.
Chicago jumped out to a 5-0 lead thanks in part to a first-inning throwing error by Mets second baseman Anthony Seratelli in the top of the first, scoring Ryan Kalish and Murphy, who later homered in the third. Ryan Sweeney had an RBI single to center, scoring Kalish in the fourth.
Mets starter Jenrry Mejia (0-1) took the loss, allowing three runs.
The good: Wood gave up two runs in the first inning, but only after outfielder Brett Jackson botched a fly ball in right field. What followed was four solid innings, including a stretch of 11 retired in a row by the lefty. Wood struck out eight while walking none, afterward declaring himself “ready now” for the regular season. He was so efficient he finished up his day throwing in the bullpen after his five innings were complete.
Luis Valbuena had two doubles, one to right center, then left center, as he’s begun to heat up.
James Russell pitched a solid inning of relief.
The bad: The Cubs' offense against opposing major league starting pitchers continues to struggle. Justin Masterson of the Indians gave up just two hits and struck out eight in five shutout innings.
The OK: Pitcher Hector Rondon gave up a home run to Carlos Santana, raising his spring ERA to 11.81.
Arodys Vizcaino threw hard but wasn’t fooling anyone as he walked one and gave up some hard-hit balls, including a couple of hits. But he didn’t give up a run due to a baserunning error.
Jackson’s run: Jackson helped win a game Saturday with five RBIs, then doubled in his first at-bat Sunday. But two strikeouts after that and a double-play ball in the ninth inning slowed him down. He’s hitting .235 this spring.
“I’m definitely comfortable at the plate right now,” he said before the game. “I’ll do whatever the team wants me to do to win. The ultimate goal is to win. How can I be a part of that? I’m happy to play any role that needs to be played.”
He’s not a favorite to win a roster spot when the team breaks camp, but playing all three outfield spots will help his cause. He has mostly played center field but feels comfortable in left or right. He misplayed a ball in right Sunday.
“I’ve played a good amount of both,” he said. “I’m comfortable playing all three. Outfield is outfield for me.”
What’s next: The split-squad games continue with two more Monday. The roster that played in Las Vegas this weekend against the New York Mets will return as the Cubs take on the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics in matinees. Edwin Jackson is scheduled to start at home against the Angels, while James McDonald starts in Phoenix against the A’s.
Masterson allowed two hits and walked none. He is slated to start on opening day.
The Indians got to Travis Wood for two runs and three hits in the first inning. But the left-hander rebounded with four scoreless innings after the shaky start.
Wood allowed four hits, struck out eight and walked none.
Carlos Santana hit his second spring homer for Cleveland.
“History tells us the last couple of years our starters have not done well on the sixth or seventh day so we’ll take that into account,” Bosio said on Sunday.
That sounds like the Cubs will try to keep their starters throwing every fifth day as much as possible. With three off-days in the first 15, that won’t always be the case. Jeff Samardzija will pitch opening day on March 31 and if he stays on schedule his next game would come on April 5 at Wrigley Field against the Philadelphia Phillies. Everyone else would get an extra day between starts as April 1 and April 7 are off-days. It means a fifth starter would be necessary on April 6 and April 12.
“I’ll have a couple plans of attack to give to Rick (Renteria), Jed (Hoyer) and Theo (Epstein) and we’ll plan accordingly,” Bosio said.
MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs starter Jake Arrieta finally faced hitters this spring, throwing against Cubs teammates on Sunday morning. He threw 41 warmup pitches and 24 batting practice pitches and came out of the session pleased with his progress.
“Everything felt crisp,” said Arrieta, who has been slowed by shoulder stiffness this spring training. “I wanted to throw everything for strikes including off-speed, just to get the rotation down.”
Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio was also encouraged by the outing.
"Today was really good," Bosio said. "We tried to simulate everything he would do on game day and he was right on his number. ... Couldn't be happier with how that went. The biggest thing will be how he feels tomorrow and the feedback from the medical staff."
Flores smacked a two-run homer over the left-field wall off the Cubs' Zac Rosscup with one out in the eighth at Cashman Field. The Mets tacked on one more run in the inning and two in the ninth.
Mets starter Bartolo Colon, who signed a $20 million-two year deal in the offseason, started strong then struggled. He gave up seven hits, four runs (all earned), had one walk and no strikeouts in four-plus innings.
Anthony Rizzo hit two solo homers off Colon.
Shields, who is slated to start on opening day, allowed an infield single and threw 49 strikes in 75 pitches.
Johnny Giavotella homered with Dyson aboard in the third. Giavotella drove in another run in the fourth with a sacrifice fly.
MESA, Ariz. -- You’ve heard about some of the major storylines in Chicago Cubs camp this year like Mike Olt’s attempt to win a roster spot and Javier Baez’ extraordinary power. Here are three storylines that have flown under the radar:
Closer Jose Veras: In four innings of work, he’s given up five hits and four runs while walking one and striking out two. He was fortunate to get out of a rough inning Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers when he picked off a runner at second because he was getting hit hard. Four innings isn’t enough of a sample size but his stuff hasn’t looked great so far. One scout watching didn’t love the look of his fastball and when you consider how the Cubs back-end of the bullpen performed in April last year, any concern is justified. Carlos Marmol had a 6.97 ERA in the spring and lost the closer’s job by the end of the first week. Veras has a 9.00 ERA and will certainly get more chances over the final two weeks to show his stuff, but Marmol got worse as the spring went along last year; Veras needs to go the opposite way. This is only his second year as a closer and yes, it’s still somewhat early and he’s a veteran, but those were the same things being said about Marmol last year at this time. Something to keep an eye on.
Justin Ruggiano: If the spring means anything, manager Rick Renteria may have found his clean-up hitter. Ruggiano is hitting a cool .500 going into games this weekend with an on-base percentage of .550. He’s shown pop with his two home runs and a double to go along with a team-leading eight RBIs. We can argue about the importance of protection in the order but there’s no arguing production. The Cubs need it. Anthony Rizzo takes his share of walks so it wouldn’t hurt to have a run producer behind him in the lineup. If Ruggiano is a Cub from start to finish, he could end up having the most at-bats of any outfielder. After hitting .222 last year with a devastatingly long drought (0 for 42) mid-season, Ruggiano could use some positive results no matter when they come. He’s just a season removed from hitting .313, where he hit lefties and righties nearly equally as well. Ruggiano might not be a long-term answer but the Cubs need something from their outfield now that Alfonso Soriano is gone and Ruggiano could provide that kind of pop if his spring carries over to summer.
Eric Jokisch: As pitching prospects go, Kyle Hendricks gets more publicity as do the pitchers at the lower levels of the minors like CJ Edwards. But Jokisch has opened some eyes over the last 12 months. He threw a no-hitter at Double-A Tennessee last year and pitched as well as anyone in spring camp before being sent to the minor league side. He was an 11th round pick in 2010 and didn’t give up a run in six innings of spring work and pitched effectively against his own club in an intrasquad game as well. Jokisch and Hendricks have a chance to pitch for the Cubs this season if things break right.
MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs trimmed their roster to 53 on Saturday, sending right-handed pitcher Kyle Hendricks to minor league camp. He’s expected to start the season at Triple-A Iowa but could be an in-season call-up as he was the Cubs minor league pitcher of the year last season, going 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA between Double and Triple-A.
Hendricks threw eight innings over three starts in spring games, giving up five hits and three runs while walking six and striking out 10. The walks and strikeouts were a bit of surprise as Hendricks isn’t overpowering but usually has good control.
Friday was his best outing as he struck out four in three innings of shutout work against the Los Angeles Dodgers -- without giving up a hard hit ball. The way he pitched Friday is the way he’ll have success if he can maintain it: by fooling hitters with off-speed pitches like his changeup and painting the corners.
Hendricks was acquired in 2012 from Texas in a deal that sent Ryan Dempster to the Rangers. Various prospect rankings don’t rate him high due to his less than overpowering stuff but he’s defied those expectations, becoming the “next up” Cubs prospect among starting pitchers.
With James McDonald off to a slow start and Jake Arrieta hurting, the Cubs’ depth might be tested early. Lefty Chris Rusin is ahead of Hendricks as he’s been an in-season call-up the last two years, but he hasn’t grabbed a starting spot in the rotation. He could be the fifth starter once the season begins but with the Cubs penchant for trading veteran players, there could be openings on the mound as the season progresses.
Right now, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel are likely candidates to be moved by the trade deadline and there’s always a chance a team comes calling for Edwin Jackson and the two-plus years that will be remaining on his deal. So there’s a good chance Hendricks -- if he performs well in Iowa -- will see Wrigley Field before season’s end. Then he’ll get the chance to prove he’s part of the young, core group the Cubs hope to turn the corner with in the coming years. His major league education this spring is over, but Hendricks is bound to be heard from again very soon.
Even if your team is bad now, it might be really good in three years. The rankings are designed to peer into the projected future. However, this year’s FPR also illustrated something else: baseball has achieved a tremendous amount of parity. If you look at the overall scores, you'll see that the gap between No. 1 and No. 5 (25.8 points) is larger than the gap between No. 5 and No. 25 (23.8). This kind of parity keeps fans’ hopes alive because, year to year, any team could be that surprise contender.
The rankings showed there were four elite teams with scores well above the average: the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers. Conversely, there was a significant drop to the last four teams: the Philadelphia Phillies, Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers and Miami Marlins. But what about that middle 22 teams?
For fans celebrating their teams ranked just below the elite at fifth or sixth, not so fast. For fans upset their teams ranked as low as 24th or 25th, not to worry. The reality is, there isn’t much difference between the fifth-ranked team and the 26th-ranked team, thanks to this new competitive balance. Any of the teams within this range can easily move up or down within a year with some solid moves and decisions.
But how did baseball create such competitive balance so quickly?
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Beckett, expected to be in the Dodgers' rotation, allowed only an infield single to Emilio Bonifacio while walking two and striking out one. He planned to go four innings, but left after three when the thumb, which he accidentally jammed in a door last week, began bothering him.
Cubs prospect Kyle Hendricks blanked the Dodgers for three innings. Hendricks allowed just an infield single by Dee Gordon, while walking one and striking out four.
The game drew an overflow crowd of 15,191, another Cactus League attendance record at Cubs' Park.
The Good: Starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks was better than good. He was excellent against a starting lineup of mostly Dodgers regulars in front of 15,191 fans. He went three innings and gave up one hit and one walk while striking out four. The Dodgers produced very little good contact off him -- Hendricks even broke Yasiel Puig's bat in the first inning on a pop-up. Even the hit he gave up to Dee Gordon was a dribbler to first base that Gordon beat out.
Before the game, manager Rick Renteria said he was “still working” on a fifth starter with Jake Arrieta likely to start the season on the disabled list, but Hendricks probably won’t be it. It doesn’t mean he can’t see Wrigley Field in 2014, especially if he keeps pitching like he did Friday.
Also, Nate Schierholtz had two hits and Luis Valbuena smacked his first home run of the spring.
The Bad: Closer Jose Veras gave up three hits and two runs in his one inning of work. He wasn’t fooling anyone as the Dodgers were all over his pitches. His ERA for the spring rose to 9.00. He limited the damage by picking off Alex Guererro at second base to end the inning. ... Outfielder Ryan Sweeney struck out three times and is hitting .056 so far this spring.
What’s Next: The 7-8 Cubs will play split squad games over the next three days, including games in Las Vegas against the New York Mets on Saturday and Sunday. Tsuyoshi Wada and Chris Rusin are the scheduled starters there, and Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood will throw against the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians in Arizona on those days.
The Cubs lineup on Saturday against the Roylas looks like this:
Junior Lake CF
Ryan Roberts 2b
Welington Castillo C
Justin Ruggiano LF
Mike Olt 1b
Chris Valaika SS
Josh Vitters DH
Brett Jackson RF
Christian Villanueva 3b
The lineup sets up this way against the Mets in Las Vegas:
Darwin Barney 2b
Donnie Murphy 3b
Nate Schierholtz DH
Anthony Rizzo 1b
Ryan Sweeney RF
Javier Baez SS
Darnell McDonald LF
Eli Whiteside C
Matt Szczur CF
Manager Rick Renteria has been saying for a while that Olt would play third base soon. Olt threw from there on Friday during practice as he recovers from a sore shoulder that's nagged him since spring training began.
“All things being equal, he’s coming along and showing everybody he’s back on track as to who he was in the past,” Renteria said.
That’s a reference to Olt's hitting more than anything else. Olt belted two home runs Wednesday night against the Mariners and raised his batting average this spring to .333. But that’s all happened while playing first base or as the designated hitter.
Olt called it a “big week” coming up with his chance to debut at third very soon. He is scheduled to play first base again this weekend, so the soonest he would play third is next week. It sounds like Renteria is aware of the implications.
“We were very happy that the day he had (and it) was really important to us,” Renteria said.
Hammel progressing: Jason Hammel pitched against Cubs minor leaguers Thursday, going six innings while giving up eight hits and three runs. He threw 75 pitches and didn’t walk anyone.
“He was elevated a little bit, made some adjustments towards the end of his outing,” Renteria said. “His slider was working well. Had some good action.”
Replay strategy: Renteria still isn’t convinced batter Ryan Kalish was out on a close play at first base in the fourth inning of Wednesday’s game against the Mariners. He asked for his first replay of the season.
“It was inconclusive,” Renteria said of what the umpires told him.
Similar to football, an inconclusive replay means the call on the field will stand. Renteria believes if Kalish was initially called safe that call would have been upheld. The Cubs are still finalizing their strategy for challenging calls.
“It’s a work in progress,” Renteria said.
Now he gets to play in them.
Even though he was sent down to minor league camp recently, Bryant will travel with the big-leaguers to Las Vegas this weekend as the Cubs play the New York Mets on Saturday and Sunday, a tradition that's gone on for several years.
"When I was in high school I went to the Cubs/Sox game there, and I actually saw Josh Vitters play there," Bryant said.
That was in 2008 when Vitters was the hot prospect having been drafted No. 3 overall the previous June. Now it's Bryant who has all eyes on him as the No. 2 pick last summer. He and his friends attended in a suite that day to watch Vitters and the Cubs, now he thinks those same friends will be in the same suite watching him now.
"I get to play for the Cubs in my hometown which is pretty cool," he said. "I'm happy they're letting me go. Should be a fun weekend."
He won't start in Saturday's game but should on Sunday. Either way, his family is excited that he's coming home.
"I'm so proud of him," his father Mike said by phone. "We all are. We'll have friends and family there to see him then go out to dinner."
The younger Bryant wouldn't mind a home-cooked meal but mostly he'll be savoring his final days with the big-league club until next spring -- unless he makes it to Wrigley Field this season. That's highly unlikely.
"I'm having a blast," Bryant said of his first spring training.
So are his parents.
"Either way I got to see my boy in the big leagues for 3 weeks," Mike said. "I couldn't be more proud."
As long as the Cubs continue going to Las Vegas for exhibition games each spring Bryant is hopeful this is the first of many trips home.
"It'll be cool they don't have to come see me play, I'm coming to them," he said.