* Arodys Vizcaino is all smiles after his two Cactus League outings. The Cubs right-hander, who has not pitched since 2011 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, was clocked at 98 mph on Friday in his relief outing against the Indians.
“I’m so happy right now,” Vizcaino said.
“His story is a great story because he’s trying to come back,” manager Rick Renteria said Sunday of the right-hander, acquired from the Braves in July 2012 in the Paul Maholm deal. “He’s worked very hard to get back to where he is right now and it’s still a progression. There are still some things that he’ll have to work through. We’ll be extremely patient with how we move forward with him.”
* Renteria said Sunday he had yet to speak with pitcher Edwin Jackson about the right-hander’s last outing in which he only threw fastballs. Jackson said he wanted to work on his fastball command, but didn’t tell Renteria or pitching coach Chris Bosio what his game plan was.
* Blake Parker knows it doesn’t matter what he did last year, or the year before. The right-hander is fighting for a spot in the Cubs’ bullpen and he’s not alone.
“There’s tons of guys here,” the reliever said, glancing around the Cubs’ clubhouse on Sunday. “You look around and you start putting yourself in places, and there’s a lot of competition in this locker room. There’s some unbelievable pitchers. Vizcaino is coming back from an injury, and I saw him the other day and he’s unbelievable to watch. It’s good for the team that you have a lot of competition. It only makes you better.”
But Parker has been a little inconsistent. In his first outing, he cruised through one inning of work. In his next two, he’s given up five hits and walked four over 1 1/3 innings. The problem, the right-hander said, are mechanical and mental issues.
“I felt like my last outing, I had a strong start,” he said of his relief appearance Friday. “I got a strikeout, and got 0-2 and threw a bad pitch and gave up a hit, and another hit, and kind of got away from attacking guys and got a little timid out there, which is what I meant by the [mental issues]. From that, [I tried] to make the perfect pitch, and my mechanics started to get out of whack, and then it spiraled downhill.
“It’s time for me to get it going and really focus on the things I need to focus on and get after it and work on the things I need to work on so I’m ready when the season starts.”
Parker is competing for a spot in the bullpen with right-handers Vizcaino, Hector Rondon, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, Alberto Cabrera, Pedro Strop, and Carlos Villanueva.
* Anthony Rizzo did not hit a single home run last spring, then belted 23 during the regular season. Does Cubs manager Rick Renteria need to see the first baseman connect to know if Rizzo is ready for the season?
“No, I know he’s got power,” Renteria said Sunday. “Once you start to get into the flow of the game and you’re swinging the bat well, a gentlemen like ‘Riz’ who has pop, those come.”
Last spring, Rizzo batted .229, and so far this year, he’s 7-for-16 with two doubles and a triple.
“I actually don’t use the [Spring Training] stats as much as you might think,” Renteria said. “I’m more concerned with the approaches they’re having at the plate. One thing we want him to do is focus on his strength, which is the left center field gap. His approach has been working, and I think it’s a conscious effort.”
– Carrie Muskat
Justin Ruggiano drove in three runs, including two on his second spring homer, Junior Lake smacked a tie-breaking RBI and a sacrifice fly, Brett Jackson had a two-run pinch-hit single, and Anthony Rizzo hit a RBI triple for the Cubs who rallied to beat the Brewers, 10-8, on Sunday. The game drew a Cactus League-record crowd of 14,770. The attendance topped the previous league mark of 14,680 set March 1 at new Cubs Park.
* Right fielder Ryan Sweeney had to leave the game after chasing Jeff Bianchi’s double because of soreness in his right knee. Sweeney was listed as day to day.
* Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013, gave up two runs on three hits and two walks over three innings in his second Cactus League start.
“I’m much happier with this [start],” Hendricks said. “I’m just disappointed that we go out and score two runs and then I go out and give them both back up. That will all work itself out as I get out there more and am more consistent with my mechanics.”
Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun was greeted by a chorus of boos from the sellout crowd during his two at-bats. Hendricks struck Braun out to end the first, but the Brewers outfielder doubled in the third.
“He got me on the second at-bat, but that wasn’t a bad pitch,” Hendricks said. “His barrel stays through the zone very well. I could’ve thrown a different pitch to him — but it was a good pitch, and he’s a really good hitter. He’s going to get his hits.”
Did Hendricks hear the crowd?
“You could hear those boos,” Hendricks said. “All the Brewers fans were trying to cheer over them.”
* Jeff Samardzija will make his third spring start on Monday when the Cubs travel to Scottsdale to face the Giants. Samardzija will likely pitch at least four innings. In his last outing against the Rockies, he gave up three runs on four hits over three innings. So far, he has not walked a batter, which is good. The right-hander is working on being more efficient with his pitches. The game will be broadcast on Cubs.com.
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs play host to the Brewers’ split squad on Sunday at Cubs Park in Mesa. Javier Baez is scheduled to start at shortstop and backup pitcher Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013. Anthony Rizzo, who is 6-for-13 this spring, will be at first. If you can’t be in Mesa, you can listen to a webcast on Cubs.com, and it’s free. Here’s the lineup:
Jason Hammel has spent five seasons in the AL East. The NL Central won’t be any easier. Or anybody else the new Cubs pitcher faces.
“I’m pretty sure that in the Major Leagues, every team is pretty good,” Hammel said Saturday.
Reminded that three NL Central teams reached the playoffs last year, Hammel nodded.
“I understand that,” Hammel said, “but every team in the big leagues is good. If you think you have any pushovers in the league, you’re in the wrong sport. Three playoffs teams, it’s going to be a tough division. I’ve been around long enough to understand there’s going to be good days and bad days and every team will come out with something different every day. I’m learning new lineups now and I’m getting a good feel for it.”
The right-hander got his first look at the Reds on Saturday in his first Cactus League start. Rain last weekend delayed Hammel’s debut, and he tuned up with a “B” game on Monday. Against the Reds, he admitted to having some “butterflies” when he walked the bases loaded with one out in the first but escaped without giving up a run. He finished with three scoreless innings.
What’s helped Hammel is the addition of a two-seamer, which the Rockies tried to get him to add. It didn’t click until he worked with Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair. That pitch and his sinker should help him in the Central.
“The sinker is something you can get quick outs with if you’re throwing it for a strike,” Hammel said. “The command of that was a little off [on Saturday]. As spring goes further and further, I feel I can translate that.”
Hammel mentioned that even though he struggled in the first, he did throw some pitches that were “swing-attable,” a new addition to baseball lingo.
“My first-ever interview with the media in the Minor Leagues, I used ‘flabbergasted,’” Hammel said. “[The media] looked at me and they were shocked. You won’t ever get that again.”
– Carrie Muskat
Anthony Rizzo is wearing a new T-shirt this spring that he hopes will help cancer patients across the country.
The Cubs first baseman has joined forces with the Cardinals’ Jason Motte and his “Strike Out Cancer” movement. One player from each Major League team will promote the T-shirt — which will be in that team’s colors — and $5 will go to Motte’s foundation and $5 to the other player’s charity of choice. That will definitely benefit Rizzo’s foundation, which has already hosted two walk-a-thons in Florida and a celebrity “Cook-Off for Cancer” in Chicago.
“It’s nice that he reached out,” Rizzo said of Motte. “I saw the Cardinals wearing them last year and I liked it because of the cancer angle.”
Rizzo does have t-shirts promoting his foundation and has worn shirts given to him from cancer patients he has visited in hospitals. Rizzo is a cancer survivor himself, having been diagnosed with limited stage classic Hodgkins lymphoma in 2008.
“It’s really cool that [Motte] is doing this and hopefully one day, my foundation can be as big as that,” Rizzo said. “It helps mine, it just helps the cause. That’s really the nicest part that you can help out — it doesn’t matter if it’s my foundation or someone else’s. It’s just to help the cause.”
The Cubs version of the shirt was expected to be available for sale on http://www.108stitches.com later this month. Some Cubs fans apparently couldn’t wait for the blue shirt and have purchased the red one now on the site.
“I have had Cubs fans tweeting me, ‘Hey, man, I’m a Cubs fan, but my mother just got diagnosed with cancer and I’m showing my support for her,’” Motte told MLB.com.
– Carrie Muskat
Edwin Jackson decided to only throw fastballs on Friday, and apparently didn’t tell Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio or manager Rick Renteria, who planned to chat with the pitcher to figure out what happened.
“He threw 50 pitches, 50 fastballs,” Renteria said Saturday. “He wanted to work on his fastball.”
Making his second spring start, Jackson gave up three runs on four hits in his three innings of work against the Indians.
“I think maybe, as we talk about fastball command, maybe he was thinking, ‘I’m going to try to hit the spots,’” Renteria said. “He got into a little trouble yesterday and he had some elevated pitches and some pulled pitches. I think you have to kind of allow some flexibility in what he’s trying to do. In his mind’s eye, he had a particular idea of what he wanted to do and he did it for three innings.”
Was Renteria surprised at Jackson’s game plan?
“I saw a lot of fastballs,” Renteria said. “I’ll just say that I noticed it.”
Jackson is in the second year of his four-year contract with the Cubs, and coming off a season in which he led the National League with 18 losses. Renteria didn’t seem bothered by the pitcher’s improvisation.
“I’ll probably talk to him and have a conversation and clarify what the process was,” Renteria said. “That doesn’t hurt.”
– Carrie Muskat
Cubs reliever James Russell, slowed because of a tired arm, threw off the mound on Saturday and the lefty said he felt fine and should be ready for Cactus League games next week.
Russell didn’t have any problems this offseason except with the winter weather.
“I got a little tired once I got out here,” Russell said. “The weather was so bad in Texas and I couldn’t get out there every day. [I was throwing] every other day and then coming out here and throwing every day kind of snuck up on me a little bit.”
Russell, who has appeared in more than 70 games each of the last two seasons, said he needed one more side session and should be ready for games.
“It was only four days,” he said of the time he was sidelined. “I was cranked up, ready to go. All the long tossing went well and I feel strong.”
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs travel to Goodyear on Saturday to face the Reds. Jason Hammel, a free agent who signed with the team shortly before camp opened, will get the start and also a chance to swing the bat. The Cubs tweaked the lineup, and will not use the designated hitter on Saturday. Plus, Mike Olt is now starting at first base in place of Chris Valaika, who played nine innings on Friday. The game will be broadcast on Cubs.com. Here’s the lineup:
– Carrie Muskat
Kris Bryant hit his second spring home run but it wasn’t enough as the Indians beat the Cubs, 7-2, on Friday in a split squad game at Cubs Park in Mesa. Edwin Jackson took the loss, giving up three runs on four hits over three innings. Jackson said he threw only fastballs because he wanted to work on his command. In the other game, Chris Valaika drove in two runs and Jorge Soler hit a RBI triple to lift the Cubs to a 3-2 win over the Angels. James McDonald gave up one hit over two innings.
On Saturday, the Cubs will face the Reds in Goodyear. Jason Hammel is slated to start for Chicago. Here’s the early lineup:
– Carrie Muskat
Darwin Barney wasn’t sure how it would feel being back at shortstop, and the Indians didn’t waste any time testing him on Thursday. Cleveland leadoff man Michael Bourn hit a slow roller to Barney to start the game, and he cleanly fielded it and threw the runner out. And that was the last ball hit to him. A Gold Glove second baseman in 2012, Barney started at short while the Cubs wait for Starlin Castro to heal from a mild hamstring strain.
“There was a time when going back to shortstop felt more comfortable than playing second base and that was probably the first two years when I moved,” said Barney, who was a shortstop before switching to second full time in 2011. “Over time, that feeling goes away. Now I felt like I had to really focus on certain things.
“After a few innings, I felt really comfortable and you find out how much you miss that position,” he said. “It’s part of the game. I found out I’m a really good second baseman and I’m happy there, too.”
What’s next? Manager Rick Renteria says he’ll continue to rotate the infielders. Barney expects he’ll be back at second base but Renteria is getting to know the roster and what the players can and can’t do.
“As we continue to go through our workouts, he’ll remember,” Renteria said of Barney at short. “I think a lot of his movements are natural. He was over there a long time.”
On Friday, Barney was the designated hitter in one of the Cubs’ split squad games, which was a chance for more at-bats. He wouldn’t mind more playing time at short.
“I think I have value [at shortstop],” he said. “I’m pretty good over there and I like it over there, too.”
– Carrie Muskat