Cactus home-opening win
The defending World Series champion Cubs displayed their trophy on the field before the game, and the sellout crowd of 14,929 at Sloan Park gave them a standing ovation as they took the field for the Cactus League opener against the Athletics. Matt Joyce and No. 4 A’s prospect Matt Chapman almost spoiled the day as both hit home runs for the A’s but Minor Leaguer Charcer Burks smacked a tie-breaking leadoff shot in the seventh to lift the Cubs to a 4-3 victory on Saturday. “It was different,” Cubs starter Mike Montgomery said of the crowd. “I’ve been in a few Spring Trainings now, and it was definitely a different experience. It was hard to control the adrenaline today a little bit. Usually in spring, it’s more laid back. Today, there was a lot of energy out there.” Montgomery, who could share the Cubs’ fifth-starter spot with Brett Anderson, walked two and struck out two in one inning, throwing 24 pitches. “It felt good to get it out of the way, first time facing hitters this spring,” Montgomery said. “I’ve definitely got some stuff to work on. I was a little erratic, and that’s just a timing thing.” Addison Russell walked to open the Cubs’ second, and one out later, he reached third on Jon Jay’s double. Both scored on Matt Szczur’s single. Ian Happ, ranked No. 2 on MLBPipeline.com’s list of Cubs prospects, followed with a double and Szczur tallied on Jason Heyward’s groundout for a 3-0 lead, chasing A’s starter Jesse Hahn.
Hahn was charged with three runs on four hits and one walk in 1 2/3 innings. Raul Alcantara pitched the third and retired the side in order. Oakland tied the game in the fourth against Jose Rosario as Joyce led off with a home run and Chapman added a two-run shot.
In Scottsdale, Jae-gyun Hwang lined a three-run homer in the sixth inning Saturday to seal the Giants’ 8-6 Cactus League win Saturday over a split squad of Cubs. The Giants broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth inning as Orlando Calixte singled, advanced to second base on Tim Federowicz’s walk and scored on Austin Slater’s opposite-field single to right. Up came Hwang, a non-roster invitee who hit 27 homers last year in Korea. Hwang, who struck out in both of his plate appearances in Friday’s spring opener against Cincinnati, also found the opposite field, clearing the wall in right with his drive off Jim Henderson. Javier Baez paced the Cubs’ offense early in the game, singling and scoring on Jeimer Candelario’s first-inning triple before doubling home a fifth-inning run. Kyle Schwarber, making his first appearance in left field since tearing two ligaments in his left knee during the third game of the 2016 regular season, played four innings and twice grounded out to second base. Trailing, 3-0, the Giants began their comeback with three fifth-inning runs. Justin Ruggiano started the comeback by launching a RBI double and scoring.
Both Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward had pleasing returns to action in their Cactus League debuts. Schwarber played outfield for the first time since April 7th while Heyward said Saturday’s game against the Oakland Athletics was a good starting point after spending the offseason working on his swing. Schwarber and Heyward were the leadoff batters in the Cubs’ respective split-squad games. In Scottsdale, Schwarber started in left field against the San Francisco Giants, the first time in the outfield since he tore two ligaments in his left knee in a freak collision with Dexter Fowler last season. Schwarber was the designated hitter in the World Series but wasn’t cleared to play outfield at that time. Against the Giants on Saturday, he faced Matt Cain and Mark Melancon and went 0-for-2, and didn’t have a single ball hit to him in the outfield. “It felt good being out there, just getting around on the grass and seeing some pitches and everything,” Schwarber said.
“I have so much confidence in him,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “The leg is good, he runs better than you think, even with the brace on. He runs routes, he throws well. He’s going to surprise people. I think he’s going to be a really good outfielder.” Schwarber is expected to be the Cubs’ leadoff man, although he’s not exactly a speedy guy. “What does a leadoff hitter look like anymore?” Maddon said. “There aren’t many of those high-on-base-percentage basestealing types. Guys don’t want to run as much because it beats their bodies up. It’s not easy to be a 50-bag guy or more because of what it does to your legs, your wrist, your hands. You’ll see, on occasion, guys who will go, but not like [Lou] Brock or [Maury] Wills or [Tim] Raines or guys who went all the time.”
Heyward obviously has the baserunning skills to be a good leadoff man, but we all know he struggled at the plate last season, batting .230 in his first year with the Cubs. On Saturday, he went 0-for-3, driving in a run with a groundout in the second. He was encouraged. “The only thing to do now is go play and react to that,” Heyward said of his long offseason. “It’s a good thing to have a clear mind doing that. Today was a good starting point. I swung at strikes, swung at good pitches, got a runner home. It’s good at-bats to take into the next day.” Heyward flied out to center in the first and fifth, and felt those were good misses instead of rolling over on the ball and grounding out. He knows he can make adjustments from there. As far as he’s concerned, his struggles are over. “It’s good to have a clear mind going into this [season],” Heyward said. “I feel I’m playing baseball again.”
Javier Baez has a new tattoo on his left shoulder to celebrate his first World Series championship. The tattoo was completed Thursday night, and features the trophy, the year, the Major League Baseball logo, and “World Series Champions” plus part of the Cubs’ logo. It’s just the start of what Baez has planned for his left arm. “When my whole arm is finished, it’s going to make more sense,” he said. “It looks really nice but it’s there, alone. I’ve got another thing [planned] for my arm.” Baez said the tattoos to come will feature his family. He has the image of his late sister, Noely, on his right shoulder, and that arm is completely covered. But what if the Cubs win another championship? “I still have my legs and my back,” he said.
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have revived their “Bryzzo” campaign. Last year, the two Cubs were filmed in an office for the souvenir company, and this year, they got some help. Baez and Addison Russell were included, answering phones as part of the company’s expansion. Retired catcher David Ross is an intern for the pair, and Ben Zobrist joins the fun with a sales pitch. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder even wrote a jingle. Stay tuned for that.
The Cubs gave reliever Pedro Strop a contract extension Friday through 2018 with a club option for ’19. Earlier this month, the sides agreed to a $5.5 million contract for 2017. The extension will pay Strop $5.85 million in ’18 and there is a club option for $6.25 million for ’19. The sides had talked about a one-year number during the arbitration process. “During that process, it was clear there was some interest on both sides in extending this relationship,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. Strop tore the left meniscus in his knee in early August and returned September 23rd. He compiled a 2.85 ERA over 47 1/3 innings in 54 games. The right-hander would have been a free agent after this season. “Pedro has been fantastic for us,” Hoyer said. “He’s had three excellent seasons for us, he’s a great teammate, everyone likes being around him. It’s exciting that he wants to be a Cub after this year. He wanted to stay here, he loves it here and we feel the same.” “The big thing with ‘Stroppy’ for me is to continue to work on improved fastball command,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “There’s still another level of him being better than he is. It’s such a perfect fit for us. He’s a perfect fit for any team. We’re fortunate to have him. Everytime you see the guy, he’s in a good mood. He’s just a good baseball player.” Strop didn’t want to pitch anywhere else. “They understand I love this team and I feel a part of this and I love the fans and I love the city of Chicago,” Strop said. “I’m real glad they made it happen.” Strop is one of the Cubs’ key setup pitchers, but wouldn’t mind closing someday. Actually, he’ll do whatever they ask. “We’ll do whatever it takes to take this team to another championship season and win,” Strop said. “I don’t care about roles; I like to win better than roles.”