Cubs manager Rick Renteria wasn’t surprised that Javier Baez’s left ankle hurt when he fouled a ball off it.
“I was saying to him, ‘If the ball came off the bat like a normal human being’s ball comes off the bat, you would’ve been OK,’” Renteria said Thursday, “‘But since yours comes off like a bullet train, I would’ve gone down, too.’”
Baez lay on the ground for a few seconds, but stayed in the game. In his next at-bat, he hit an opposite field home run. Guess he was feeling OK.
“That was a great at-bat,” Renteria said of the home run in the Cubs’ loss to the Rockies. “Once he got to two strikes, the approach is significantly important. Most times, guys like Javy still want to drive the ball, but he’s capable of driving the ball to any part of the ballpark.”
It’s all part of the development process for Baez, who will open the 2014 season at shortstop for Triple-A Iowa. He’s been working at second and third as well in early sessions with coach Gary Jones, and Renteria said they will start Baez in a game at one of those positions soon.
The Cubs’ top prosect, Baez has been the center of attention this spring.
“It’s great, great for Javy, great for the Cubs,” Renteria said. “He’s an exciting player, as you guys all have seen. it’s not like you can hide it.”
And he does hit the ball hard, which is why Renteria cringed a little when he saw Baez on the ground after the foul ball.
“When he went down, I didn’t know if it was his foot, or shin,” Renteria said. “I just know the ball comes off his bat hot and it must have hurt wherever it hit.”
– Carrie Muskat
On Friday, the Cubs will have split squad games, sending half the team to Tempe to play the Angels, while the other half will be at Cubs Park to play host to the Indians. James McDonald will start in Tempe, Edwin Jackson in Mesa. Here are the early lineups (always subject to change):
At Angels in Tempe
Ch. Villanueva 3B
J. McDonald P
Vs. Indians at Cubs Park
E. Jackson P
Travis Wood makes his first spring start today when the Cubs travel to Goodyear to play the Indians. Wood was scheduled to pitch Saturday but that game was washed out by rain and he threw in the batting cages. It’s not quite the same as a game. Darwin Barney gets his first start at shortstop. Here’s the lineup:
T. Wood P
Javier Baez and George Kottaras hit back to back home runs for the Cubs but the Rockies took advantage of a throwing error by Christian Villanueva to post a 7-5 win on Wednesday in front of 10,598 at Cubs Park. Ironically, the Rockies made five errors in the game.
With the game tied at 3 in the seventh, the Rockies loaded the bases with two outs against Chris Rusin on a single and two walks. The lefty was lifted for Minor Leaguer Ryan Searle, and Rosell Herrera greeted him with a two-run single. Villanueva threw the ball into shallow right trying to get Herrera at second, and two more runs scored on the miscue.
Chicago loaded the bases in the seventh and scored on an infield single by Aaron Cunningham and a wild pitch by Kraig Sitton.
Charlie Blackmon tripled to open the game and scored one out later on Carlos Gonzalez’s groundout. It was a tough inning for Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija, who took a liner by Michael Cuddyer off his leg.
“I’m pretty used to these comebacker, get drilled kind of things,” Samardzija said. “It happened a few times last year. It’s part of pitching. Protect the vital organs and hopefully [the ball] stops close to you and you can get the guy out.”
Ryan Kalish reached on a throwing error by shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to lead off the Chicago first, stole second, reached third on a wild pitch by Tyler Chatwood and scored on a throwing error by catcher Mike McKenry to tie the game.
The Rockies loaded the bases with one out in the third, and Samardizja walked Gonzalez to force in a run. Tulowitzki followed with a sacrifice fly to go ahead, 3-1. Samardzija exited after giving up three runs on four hits over three innings.
The Cubs cringed in the third when Baez, their top prospect, fouled a ball off his left ankle, and fell to the ground. He lay there a few seconds, and after getting checked by an athletic trainer and manager Rick Renteria, stayed in the game. Baez looked just fine in the sixth when he hit an opposite field home run, his second this spring. Kottaras followed with his first blast to tie the game at 3.
* Travis Wood makes his first Cactus League start on Thursday when the Cubs travel to Goodyear to face the Indians. Wood’s first outing was washed out because of rain and he ended up throwing two innings of a simulated game under cover. The lefty is coming off his first season of 200 innings. Darwin Barney will make his first spring start at shortstop as the Cubs try to make the most of Starlin Castro being sidelined with a hamstring injury. The game will be broadcast on Cubs.com.
Jeff Samardzija is preparing for Opening Day but wasn’t about to name himself as the Cubs’ starter on March 31 against the Pirates. The right-hander tuned up for the season with his second spring outing Wednesday, giving up three runs on four hits over three innings against the Rockies. He has yet to throw his split, focusing instead on fastball command and his sinker.
“I want to come out and establish my other pitches and work on pounding the zone,” Samardzija said. “A couple hits fell and got through but other than that first triple [by the Charlie Blackmon], no damage, and that’s what you’re looking for is keeping the slugging down and keeping the walks down.”
Samardzija doesn’t have to worry this spring about making the Cubs’ rotation, just making sure the team gets off to a good start.
“When you’re younger, you don’t realize the pressure or severity of the situation, I guess you could say,” he said. “You’re out there young and dumb and just winging the ball around. I’m going into the season with the mindset of being ready for Opening Day and really working towards that and seeing what I need to do to prepare for that so we can hit the season running.”
Manager Rick Renteria has not named his Opening Day starter. Does that mean Samardzija, who had the honor last year, is the guy?
“I don’t know,” Samardzija said. “[Opening Day is] what we’re preparing for.”
– Carrie Muskat
If you’re making the drive to Goodyear for Thursday’s Cubs game against the Indians, Darwin Barney will make his first start at shortstop this spring while Anthony Rizzo will be the designated hitter. Travis Wood gets the start. Here’s the lineup:
T. Wood P
Jake Arrieta, slowed this spring because of tightness in his right shoulder, threw 10 pitches off the mound on Tuesday, the first time he’s thrown off a mound.
“It felt awesome,” Arrieta said.
The right-hander is hoping to catch up to the other Cubs starters and be ready by Opening Day.
“My endurance is ahead of schedule,” Arrieta said.
– Carrie Muskat
Jeff Samardzija makes his second Cactus League start on Wednesday when the Cubs play host to a Rockies split squad team at Cubs Park in Mesa. You can follow along on a webcast on Cubs.com. Here’s the lineup:
* Justin Ruggiano and Anthony Rizzo combined for three runs, Albert Almora delivered a tie-breaking RBI single and Mike Olt smacked a two-run home run to lift the Cubs to a 6-3 victory Tuesday over the Athletics’ split-squad team. Ruggiano hit a RBI double in the first and a two-run homer in the third, driving in Rizzo both times, and Almora delivered a tie-breaking RBI single with one out in the eighth as the Cubs won for the second straight game.
Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year after going 13-4 at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, gave up one run on two hits and three walks over two innings in his first Cactus League start. The right-hander walked three batters in four of his 27 starts last season, and posted a 1.058 WHIP for the season.
* Last spring, Mike Olt struggled to bat .194. On Tuesday, he collected his first Cactus League home run in just his third at-bat and it wasn’t a relief as much as affirmation that everything is going well. Olt, hoping to find a spot on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster, belted a two-run, pinch-hit homer in the eighth.
“I’ve been feeling good at the plate the last couple days and as long as I’m feeling comfortable, I think good things will come,” Olt said.
The infielder was dealing with vision problems last year, although it took him while to figure that out. He went 6-for-31 in 19 spring games last year with the Rangers, including two home runs. He was assigned to Triple-A Round Rock, where he continued to struggle, batting .213. Texas included Olt as one of the four players in the deal to get Matt Garza from the Cubs. Tuesday’s home run was another step in Olt’s comeback.
“It’s really not me getting hits,” he said. “It’s about me seeing the ball well and that’s my main goal in Spring Training. Obviously, you want hits and you want to perform but the main goal in Spring Training is to get comfortable and it’s definitely a noticeable difference just the way I feel right now, and that’s what I’m happy about.”
* Cubs reliever James Russell has yet to appear in a game this spring. He said Tuesday it was because of his allergies but manager Rick Renteria said the lefty is going through a “dead arm” phase, which Russell has dealt with in the past. Russell is coming off his second straight season in which he appeared in 70-plus games. Renteria wasn’t worried about the lefty, who threw on the side Tuesday.
* Looking ahead, Jeff Samardzija starts on Wednesday against the Rockies and will be followed by Chris Rusin. Travis Wood will go Thursday, and James McDonald will make his first Cactus League start on Friday against the Angels in one of the Cubs’ split squad games. Edwin Jackson will get his second spring start in Mesa against the Indians. McDonald gave up six runs on three hits against the Angels in his first outing last Friday.
* Samardzija on the addition of Ted Lilly to the Cubs front office: “I wouldn’t have had the success I did my rookie year without Teddy.”
– Carrie Muskat
Ted Lilly knew he couldn’t pitch any more but wanted to stay in the game, and on Tuesday, was named to a job in the Cubs’ front office. Lilly, 38, officially is a special assistant to Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer, and he will do a variety of tasks, such as helping with scouting and developing the young players. Epstein, Hoyer and Lilly discussed the job at the Cubs Convention in January.
“His reputation with the Cubs is sterling, which is fantastic, and not only as a person but as a competitor,” Hoyer said. “I really liked what he had to say. A lot of guys want to get back in and don’t want to work that much, and he made it clear he wants to work and wants to get involved in scouting.
“I think we’ll use him in a variety of ways,” Hoyer said. “He feels he has a pretty eye and likes to try to evaluate but also was really humble and knows he has to learn how to do it. He was excited to get back involved and I think we’ll feel out how to use him.”
Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry hired Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux in a similar role in 2010. Hoyer said Lilly will watch the Minor League pitchers, visit the Cubs’ affiliates, and scout some amateur players.
“It was pretty clear after a few conversations that he had something to add,” Hoyer said of Lilly. “I like the fact that to finish it off, he was with a Cubs team that won 97 games and they had success, and as we try to figure out how to build a winner in Chicago, he was part of it.”
Lilly pitched for 15 seasons with the Expos, Yankees, Athletics, Blue Jays, Cubs and Dodgers. He was in Chicago from 2007-10, helping the team win back to back National League Central titles in 2007-08.
“I wanted to stay in the game,” Lilly said. “I would love to keep playing, too, but at this point, I’m sure that I’m retired from being on the field. I want to be around the game and I feel like I have something to offer. This is an organization that I’d prefer to be with, so it worked out.”
Lilly was limited to 13 starts the last two seasons with the Dodgers because of injuries. He started thinking about doing more than pitching in that time.
“The last couple years, when I had a lot of free time to think, I did start thinking about when my career was over,” Lilly said. “I wanted to keep playing but I definitely started thinking about this [type of work] at the end.”
Lilly has two young children, a 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter, and another child due in September, which makes a job as a pitching coach tough because of the time commitment needed. He is committed to the Cubs.
“The experiences I had the first couple years here winning were incredible in the sense that we put together a team that was expected to win,” Lilly said. “We didn’t accomplish the ultimate goal of winning a World Series but it was such a great experience. We had so many professionals in the clubhouse and guys who went about it the right way. I think that’s why I’ll always refer to those two years in Chicago as the best years I’ve had as a player.”
– Carrie Muskat