Jorge Soler and Chris Coghlan each belted two-run homers and Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro each added a solo shot to power the Cubs to a 6-3 victory Friday over the White Sox and former teammate Jeff Samardzija.
Samardzija, who was the Cubs’ Opening Day starter last year, will kick off the season for the White Sox this year.
Jason Hammel got the win. He gave up two runs on six hits over six innings but also got bragging rights against Samardzija. The two played golf earlier this spring, and both joked about the possibility of facing each other now that they’re on different Chicago teams.
“I didn’t actually think it was going to happen,” said Hammel, who singled off Samardzija in the second inning.
He was happy with his hit, although he had been looking forward to pitching to Samardzija.
“We have a good relationship, a good friendship, and I was kind of ticked off he didn’t get an at-bat because they put the [designated hitter] in for him,” Hammel said. “I love Samardzija. Hopefully, we can face each other in the World Series.”
– Carrie Muskat
Whether or not Kris Bryant will be on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster has been a hot topic, and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Friday that no decision has been made regarding the team’s top prospect.
What should be noted is that in his career, Epstein has never had a player make his Major League debut on Opening Day, other than a Rule 5 pick or a Japanese player. While most of the focus has been on Bryant’s call-up being linked to the start of the service time clock, Epstein said this is not a business decision.
“It’s for baseball reasons, and it hasn’t been about anything else besides baseball reasons,” Epstein said Friday. “We spend a lot of time thinking about which players to draft, how to get them off to a good start in their professional careers, how to help them advance in the Minor Leagues, and how to help them make that final leap to the big leagues and when and how to do it to put them in a position to succeed.”
Bryant has been the center of attention because of his Major League-leading nine home runs and .406 batting average, and because his agent, Scott Boras, has been outspoken about how the third baseman is being treated.
“It’s not about business,” Epstein said. “People are trying to make this about business. There are valid baseball reasons. The process of developing a player, taking them from amateur to Major League player and every step along the way, that’s a baseball process and those are baseball decisions, and that’s what we’re doing here.”
What Epstein is looking for is the right moment. Last year, the Cubs promoted Javier Baez and Jorge Soler to the big leagues, and both moves came when the team was on the road in hitter friendly ballparks.
“We haven’t made a decision yet,” Epstein said regarding Bryant. “We’re going to make a good baseball decision based on what we think is best for his development and what’s best for the team and the organization and other players affected. We haven’t made the decision yet.
“I look to things that have worked in the past for me as sort of a presumptive guideline for what to do in the future,” Epstein said. “I’m not saying it’s perfect, but I do think if you stack it up and look at some of the young players, it’s a pretty good track record. We haven’t made a decision. Whatever we decide on this one, it might be wrong, I’m not saying I’m right all the time, but it’s my professional judgement.”
– Carrie Muskat
Kris Bryant enjoyed his first game in the outfield since his junior year in college, but will that be enough to get him on the Cubs Opening Day roster? Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has never had a rookie start on Opening Day.
“I look at it as why not me?” Bryant said Friday. “I think I’m the type of guy who can go out there and do it. I’ve made it a point of mine to show them that I can.”
Bryant, who started in left field Thursday night, leads the Major Leagues this spring with nine home runs — and hit a 10th in a “B” game as well — and he was batting .406 with 11 strikeouts, including three looking on Thursday.
“Yesterday was good for me to go out there and face a pitcher like Jered Weaver who has incredible stuff,” Bryant said of the Angels ace. “He’s a different type of pitcher and it was really good for me to go out there and struggle a little bit, see what he’s going to throw me and learn from it. I took it as a learning experience.”
So was playing the outfield. Manager Joe Maddon had asked Bryant if he was willing to play there, and the only condition was that he had to take it easy on his throwing. Bryant was limited to designated hitter duties earlier this month because of fatigue in his right shoulder.
Bryant did fine, showing his baseball acumen when he backed up a play at third, and also turned a double play in the sixth, getting his first outfield assist since he was 13. He played center and right field his junior year at the University of San Diego.
“It was a little different,” Bryant said. “I heard some chatter out there [from the fans] but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. You see grass in front of you instead of dirt. It’s a little different, but I enjoyed it.”
Does he have a preference?
“Whatever helps the team win,” Bryant said. “Obviously, I’m a natural third baseman, but there’s some good guys in this clubhouse who can play everywhere and I’m willing to do what they want me to do.”
– Carrie Muskat
Jason Hammel gets the start Friday as the Cubs play host to the White Sox at Sloan Park in Mesa. Hammel will bat eighth, the fourth time manager Joe Maddon has done that this spring with his starting pitcher. Here’s the lineup:
La Stella 2B
Mike Olt hit a two-run homer and a triple, and Travis Wood smacked a pinch-hit home run but it wasn’t enough as the Cubs lost, 8-4, to the Angels on Thursday at Sloan Park in Mesa in front of 15,246. Jered Weaver struck out eight over 5 1/3 innings for the Angels, who got home runs from Albert Pujols. The Cubs did turn four double plays, including one by left fielder Kris Bryant. Bryant was making his first start in the outfield. The Angels had a runner at second with one out in the sixth and Bryant caught Collin Cowgill’s fly ball in left and fired to Javier Baez at second to get the runner and end the inning.
Travis Wood may have started Wednesday night but that didn’t stop the Cubs pitcher from getting an extra at-bat on Thursday, and he took advantage of it.
Wood led off the fifth with a pinch-hit home run off the Angels’ Jered Weaver for his first spring homer, and 32nd by the Cubs.
Last season, Wood belted three home runs, second most in the National League behind the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner (four). He’s 1-for-7 in his career as a pinch-hitter with a double. The lefty does like to hit, and is in favor of manager Joe Maddon’s lineup move to have the pitcher bat eighth, which he now has done three times.
– Carrie Muskat
* Manager Joe Maddon is still tinkering with what he wants to do with the batting order. He’s experimented with the pitcher in the No. 8 spot twice (Jason Hammel and Travis Wood), and said he likes having Arismendy Alcantara follow in the No. 9 spot because it’s like having another leadoff batter.
* Javier Baez led off Thursday, the second time he’s done that this spring.
“Part of it is to try to increase his confidence and let him know we support him,” Maddon said.
They’re hoping Baez can focus on hitting the ball up the middle and getting on base.
* Junior Lake moved to the infield Wednesday, and that’s also part of Maddon’s machinations. He doesn’t expect to start Lake at third, but could move him there if needed.
“I like to be able to try to present all the options in advance so they’re not surprised when the actual moment shows up,” Maddon said. “Players like that little bit of heads up.”
* Albert Almora, 20, the Cubs’ first-round pick in 2012, was assigned to Minor League camp Thursday.
“He’s kind of a complete baseball player and really young,” Maddon said. “He’s the kind of kid who you know will be a great teammate. Ego does not get in the way at all. I see him as a fine Major League baseball player.”
* Maddon was not happy that Edwin Jackson arrived late to his game in Mesa on Tuesday and spoke to the pitcher about it in private.
– Carrie Muskat
Cubs manager Joe Maddon was happy with what he saw from Jon Lester’s outing Thursday in a Minor League intrasquad game. Lester threw 54 pitches, facing 12 batters.
“What I was really watching was him and watching his face and he never seemed like anything bothered him, so I know his arm feels great and that’s all I was worried about,” Maddon said. “He felt good and his energy was good today. … He threw some nice fastballs, nice cutters, yeah, yeah, yeah, but I thought he looked comfortable and that’s the most important thing.”
Lester has already thrown 70 pitches in a spring outing before he was shutdown with a tired arm. His next start also will be in a Minor League game.
“I’d imagine he’ll be 75 to 80 [pitches] next time out, which puts him right around a hunskey, 95 or so for Opening Night. … I liked what I saw today,” Maddon said.
A “hunskey” is 100.
Maddon wasn’t worried about Lester’s frustration with some pitches.
“I’ve worked against him and I know what he’s like,” Maddon said. “He’s a perfectionist and a wonderful professional. He’s really good. Guys like that are normally very difficult on themselves.”
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs assigned 12 players to Minor League camp to reduce the spring roster to 40 players.
Right-handed pitcher Blake Parker and left-handed pitcher Joseph Ortiz were optioned to Triple-A Iowa.
The Cubs also assigned 10 non-roster invitees to Minor League camp, including right-handed pitchers Daniel Bard, Anthony Carter, Jorge De Leon and Gonzalez Germen; left-handed pitcher Francisley Bueno; infielder Chris Valaika; outfielders Albert Almora, Mike Baxter and Adron Chambers; and catcher Kyle Schwarber.
The Cubs spring roster now consists of 20 pitchers (one non-roster invitee), four catchers (one non-roster invitee), nine infielders (three non-roster invitees) and seven outfielders.
– Carrie Muskat
Jon Lester threw 54 pitches in a Minor League game Thursday, and didn’t want to look ahead to Opening Night, but focus on his next start and what he needs to do to prepare for that.
Lester struck out three of the 12 Double-A Tennessee batters he faced and gave up one hit and walked one. It was easy to determine which pitches the left-hander wasn’t happy with as he expressed himself with a few expletives.
“You can tell how I like a pitch or don’t like a pitch by my reaction,” Lester said. “It is what it is, it’s who I am. It’s something people have tried to change with me, but it’s who I am.”
Catcher David Ross, who was behind the plate for the early workout, has heard it before.
“That’s why he’s the pitcher he is,” Ross said. “He competes hard and he’s a perfectionist.”
This was Lester’s first “start” since he was scratched from a Cactus League game on Saturday because of a tired arm. He will make at least one more start before the season opener April 5 at Wrigley Field, but didn’t know if it would be in another Minor League game or in a Cactus League game.
“Today was good, today was a normal day,” Lester said. “[I’ll] come back tomorrow and go about work again.”
Did Lester’s arm look tired?
“It looked nice and freckly when I saw it,” Ross said, smiling. “No tan — farmer’s tan, lot of freckles. I couldn’t tell whether it was tired or not.”
– Carrie Muskat