High Noonan Dooms Cubs, Two More Get Sent to Minor League Camp
Nick Noonan capped a five-run 9th with a two-out grand slam, as the Giants rallied to defeat the Cubs (and leave a lot of Cubs fans speechless) before a record crowd of 13,024 under sunny skies at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park in Mesa this afternoon.
Also, the Cubs sent have sent non-roster RHPs Esmailin Cardidad and Ken Kadokura to minor league camp. This brings the Cubs Spring Training roster down to 43 (including Ted Lily and Kosuke Fukudome, who are still playing in the WBC)
The 35-year old Karokura was making his U. S. debut after spending 13 years playing in Japan, and I suspect he will be released (or will request his release) prior to Opening Day and will return to Japan. He probably isn't at the point in his career where he would want to spend a year playing AAA ball. He didn't really have a bad Spring with the Cubs, but he had a tendency to get ahead of hitters 0-1 or 1-2 and then nibble, nibble, nibble. I don't think Manager Lou Piniella likes that approach too much.
Caridad is a different matter, however, I have him rated as one of the Cubs Top Ten prospects, and he pitched very well so far this Spring and could surface sometime this season in Chicago. Now 25, Caridad was (like Alfonso Soriano and Timo Perez) originally signed by the Hiroshima Carp and was assigned to their Dominican Academy, before pitching in Japan in 2007. But Caridad became a free-agent on a technicality after that season, and Cubs Player Personnel Director Oneri Fleita personally signed the right-hander while on a trip to the Dominican Republic in December 2007 Caridad pitched at Daytona and Tennessee in 2008 (going a combined 13-7, 3.73 ERA, 1.11 WHIP), and then pitched in the AFL with the Mesa Solar Sox in October-November '08. He can start or relieve.
As for today's game...
The Cubs led 5-0 through five innings, as starter Ryan Dempster was in mid-season form, tossing five shutout innings at the Giants while the Cubs were tagging reigning N. L. Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum to the tune of four earned runs on seven hits (including a HR and a triple) and four walks in just 3.2 IP.
The Cubs scored three runs in the bottom of the 1st, as Lincecum needed 29 pitches to get out of the inning. Alfonso Soriano hit Lincecum's very first pitch for a towering home run over the LF fence to the base of the scoreboard, and then Ryan Theriot and Aramis Ramirez walked. After Theriot was thrown out trying to steal 3rd (with no outs!?), Ramirez advanced to 2nd base on a wild pitch, and scored when Micah Hoffpauir slammed a triple to the right-centerfield fence. (Hoffpauir crushed a three-run homer off Arizona's Brandon Webb last Sunday). Mike Fontenot then grounded a single over the second-base bag into CF to score Hoffpauir with the Cubs third run of the inning.
The Cubs put runners on 1st & 3rd with one out in the 2nd after Joey Gathright led off the inning with a walk and advanced to third on a one-out sharp single to right by Alfonso Soriano, but Soriano was thrown out trying to steal 2nd on a 3-1 pitch to Theriot (with the infield pulled in for a play at the plate), and then Theriot grounded out 5-3 on a 3-2 pitch to end the threat.
The Cubs put two more runners on base in the 3rd when Mike Fontenot grounded another single to CF and So Taguchi drew a walk with two outs, but Paul Bako struck out, and so both runners were left stranded.
The Cubs had more luck against Lincecum in the 4th, as Gathright reached base on an infield hit off third-baseman Pablo Sandoval's nose to lead off the inning (Sandoval had to be helped off the field). Ryan Dempster and Alfonso Soriano struck out, but Gathright stole second, and then scored on a Ryan Theriot RBI single that knocked Lincecum out of the game (84 pitches total for Lincecum).
LHRP Jack Taschner entered the game in relief of Lincecum, and promptly walked Ramirez and Hoffpauir to load the bases. But Fontenot lined out sharply to short to end the threat.
The Cubs got their 5th run in the bottom of the 5th, as Taguchi led off with a walk, advanced to 3rd on a one-out single by Gathright, and scored on a F-9 SF to the warning track in RF by Brandon Guyer (2007 5th round pick out of U. of Virginia who was up at HoHoKam from Minor League Camp for the day).
Gathright had a nice day today, rapping two singles, drawing a walk, stealing a base, scoring a run, and making a spectacular diving catch of a pop up in short right-center for the first out in the top of the 5th.
Meanwhile, Dempster was retiring the Giants with a minimum of difficulty, finishing with a line of 5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 GIDP, 6/5 GO/FO, 69 pitches (44 strikes). Dempster allowed two batters to reach base in only one of his five innings (the top of the 1st), and that threat was snuffed-out by an inning-ending 4-6-3 DP.
Chad Gaudin entered the game in the top of the 6th, and immediately surrendered a ringing double to right-center to Edgar Renteria. Gaudin then walked Fred Lewis, and both runners advanced on a Benji Molina F-9 FO to the warning track in RF, and then both runners advanced again (Renteria scored) when Ryan Rohlinger banged a F-7 SF to the warning track in LF. John Bowker then lined a single to CF with two outs to score Lewis from third with the Giants 2nd run of the inning. Gaudin threw 17 pitches (11 strikes) in his one ining of work.
Veteran RHP Luis Vizcaino pitched the top of the 7th for the Cubs, and had mixed results, allowing a one-out solo HR to Venezuelan Winter League MVP Jesus Guzman to left-center to cut the Cubs lead to 5-3, but also striking out the side (19 pitches - 14 strikes). He actually looked pretty good, throwing strikes fairly consistently, and doing it with some juice on his fastball. Vizcaino is a slow worker, though, so his innings never end quickly.
Kevin Hart pitched the 8th, coming into the game having struck out seven of the last eight hitters he has faced. And he continued to dominate the opposition, throwing a 1-2-3 inning while striking out the last two hitters in the inning after a 4-3 GO.
Prior to last Sunday, Jose Ascanio had made four Cactus League appearances, retiring all twelve men he faced, 12 up & 12 down. But then he entered a game last Sunday in Tucson versus Arizona, and was unable to finish the 9th inning despite starting the inning with a six-run lead (he allowed three runs on three hits and a walk, before David Patton came into the game to get the final out and the save).
Today,,Ascanio once again was brought into a game in the 9th, but this time in a save situation (protecting a two-run lead).
Ascanio retired John Bowker on a 3-U GO to open the inning, but then Eugenio Velez crushed a catchable ball to the warning track in RF that was misplayed into a triple by Brandon Guyer. PH Juan Uribe rapped a line-drive RBI single to LF to score Velez, but then Jesus Guzman flied out to RF for the second out, and it looked like Ascanio might get the save. But veteran AAA OF Andres Torres (who played for the Iowa Cubs last year) singled to center to send Uribe to third, and then PH Buster Posey (Giants 2008 #1 draft pick and the #5 overall pick in the 2008 June draft) was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
At this pont, Ascanio had thrown 25 pitches, and LHP Jason Waddell was ready in the Cubs bullpen, with 19-year old left-handed hitting Nick Noonan (a 2007 Supplemental 1st round draft pick who has not played above Lo-"A:") due to hit.
But Manager Lou Piniella opted to leave Ascanio in the game to face Noonan, and the rookie made the Cubs pay, powering a two-out grand slam HR over the fence in right-center to give the Giants their first lead of the game, 8-5. Ascanio got the final out on a 5-3 GO, but the damage was done.
The Cubs didn't quit, however, mounting a last-ditch rally of their own in the bottom of the 9th against SF rookie RHP Waldis Joaquin (who also has yet to play above "A" ball).
Joaquin went 3-0 against Micah Hoffpauir before striking out the lefty slugger swinging, but then Bobby Scales pulled a double down the RF line, and scored on a PH line single by Jake Fox, putting the tying run at the plate. Mark Johnson lined a single to CF to send Fox to second, and after Gathright hit into a 6-4 FC (just barely beating the relay at first), PH Aaron Miles (the potential winning run) worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases for lefty-swinging Dylan Johnston (who, like Brandon Guyer, was up at HoHoKam Park for the day from Minor League Camp).
At this point, Giants manager Bruce Bochy brought veteran minor league RHP Felix Romero into the game in relief of Joaquin, and Johnston (who hit 288/349/379 with 15 HR at Peoria last year) struck out swinging on a change-up (and looked bad doing it) to end the game, leaving the bases loaded.
Kevin Hart definitely is making a play for one of the one or two open slots in the Cubs bullpen, with another impressive inning of work today. On the other hand, Jose Ascanio really hurt his cause today with his second terrible outing in a row.
The Cubs travel to the Peoria Sports Complex tomorrow to play the Seattle Mariners.