Cotts No Relief for Cubs
Felix Pie hit a solo HR and Andres Torres hit a two-run shot, but it wasn't enough to overcome an atrocious relief outing by Neal Cotts, as the Giants defeated the Cubs 8-6 before a capacity crowd at sunny, cool, and breezy HoHoKam Park in Mesa (otherwise known as the far, FAR southwest side of Chicago) this afternoon.
Ted Lilly got the start for the Cubs, and he pitched OK. Not great, could have been sharper (not enough strikes), but certainly more than good enough for a first Cactus League start in early March.
Lilly worked two innings (31 pitches - 18 strikes), allowing one run on two hits, a walk, a HBP, and two strikeouts. Lilly was also the main cuplrit in allowing the Giants to steal four bases without challenge during his two innings, by essentially totally ignoring the Giants baserunners.
Juan Mateo worked the 3rd inning for the Cubs, on the heels of his nine pitch 1-2-3 outing on Friday. This time the right-hander surrendered a walk, but otherwise retired the side without a threat on 17 pitches (11 strikes). He still does not appear to be throwing very hard.
Flame-throwing Jose Ceda followed Mateo, working a shutout 4th inning (13 pitches - 9 strikes). Ceda was much better today than he was in his Cactus League debut versus the Giants in Scottsdale on Thursday (when he couldn;t even finish his inning), although he did hit the first batter he faced with his very first pitch today, and then after the runner was thrown out trying to steal second, he allowed a two-out double.
The Cubs came back to tie the score in the bottom of the 4th, capitalizing on a throwing error by Giants third-baseman Eugenio Velez (who stole THREE bases today) on a near-certain 5-4-3 DP ball, after Derrek Lee had walked and Geovany Soto singled to open the frame.
But then Neal Cotts entered the game, and it all went to crap. Unable to finish his assigned inning, Cotts threw 31 pitches (only 17 for strikes) and allowed five runs on three hits and three walks in just 2/3 of an inning. A pop-up bunt to the catcher on his very first pitch likely saved him further destruction.
RHP Jose Ascanio (acquired from the Braves in exchange for Will Ohman and Omar Infante in December, and literally given a black eye during the course of an attempted armed robbery outside a Scottsdale convenience store last week) followed Cotts to the mound, and although he did surrender an RBI single immediately upon entering the game in relief of Cotts in the 5th, he also did throw a 1-2-3 6th inning. For the day over 1.1 IP, Ascanio threw 24 pitches, but only 13 strikes.
Veteran Japanese RHP (and ex-White Sox closer) Shingo Takatsu pitched the 7th inning, throwing his usual slop (slow, slower, and slowest). And although he did somehow manage to strike out the last two hitters he faced (and they should be embarrassed!), he also once again gave up a towering HR, this time a two-run job to left-center by one Travis Denker, a 21-year old second-baseman who has never played above "A" ball.
Kevin Hart and Carlos Marmol each worked a scoreless inning to close out the pitching line for the Cubs (Hart the 8th and Marmol a 1-2-3 9th), and both threw the ball well. Hart did allow a line-drive double that was misplayed by LF Sam Fuld, however. This is the second time in three days that the usually reliable Fuld has turned a rope line-drive hit to left into two bases for the opposition, and this will not help his cause with Uncle Lou in his effort to beat-out Felix Pie for the starting CF job.
Fuld did better offensively, though, reaching base twice, once on an infield single, and once via a two-out walk (loading the bases during a stillborn 9th inning Cubs rally).
As for Pie, he had an interesting day, striking out swinging against Giants starter Matt Cain in his 1st AB in the 3rd, before slamming a home run in the 5th over the right-centerfield fence off RHP Brad Hennessey, grounding out 3-1 with a runner in scoring position to end the 6th, and drawing a walk off ex-Cub Scott Williamson in the 8th.
Unfortunately, Pie's propensity to make mistakes attempting to steal a base reared it's ugly head again this afternoon, as the speedy youngster was picked-off 1st base by Williamson at a key moment in the 8th (one run in, Cubs down 8-6, runners at 1st & 3rd, only one out, Eric Patterson at the plate). He tried to get to second, but was tagged out.
Offensively the Cubs came back rather nicely after finding themselves Cotts-down 6-1, scoring two runs in the 5th on Pie's homer and back-to-back doubles by Alex Cintron (1-2, with a double, a run scored, and a sac-fly) and Eric Patterson (2-5 with an RBI double and a bunt single, plus two strikeouts, one swinging and one called).
E-Pat played second-base again today (possibly as a showcase for the Orioles scout said to be in town "bird-dogging" the Cubs in preparation for a possible Brian Roberts deal), and was originally supposed to hit 6th, before being moved into the lead-off slot after Alfonso Soriano was a late-scratch. (Matt Murton replaced Soriano in LF and hit 6th, going 0-2 with a walk).
The Cubs also scored two in the 7th on a two-run opposite-field dinger by Andres Torres (hitting right-handed) following a single by Andres Blanco, and another run in the 8th on a single by Fuld, walks to PH Mike Fontenot and Pie, and a sac fly to right by Alex Cintron.
Down 8-6, the Cubs mounted a last-ditch rally in the bottom of the 9th (Torres reaching 1st on a throwing error, a single by J. D. Closser, and a walk to Fuld), but with the fans on their feet screaming for a big bomb, PH Jake Fox (who hit a HR at Tempe yesterday) popped up to short to end the game with the bases loaded.
After both got a day off yesterday, Kosuke Fukudome got the start in RF and Derrek Lee got the start at 1B for the Cubs today.
Kosuke went 0-3 (reached base on an error by the shortstop, took a called third strike, and grounded out 4-3). He also made a strong throw trying to cut down a runner at 3rd base, although it was not successful.
D-Lee went 0-2 with a walk and a run scored, and a strikeout (swinging).
It was also (possibly) noteworthy that the Giants started Rajai Davis in CF and hit him in the lead-off spot. Davis is one of a select few of right-handed hitting MLB "4th OF" candidates the Cubs might possibly be looking at right now, and it could have been a matter of the Giants "showcasing" Davis for the Cubs for future reference. If that was the case (and I don't know if it was), Davis went 0-4 with a HBP and a "K" and played an errorless game in CF.
The Cubs travel out to the west-side tomorrow, where they will be facing the Seattle Mariners at the Peoria Sports Complex (a megaplex baseball facility shared by the Mariners & Padres).