All's Wells at HoHoKam Park
Joe Inglett clubbed a two-run homer with two outs in the top of the 9th, as the Milwaukee Brewers overcame an early 3-0 deficit and defeated the Cubs 5-3 in Cactus League action at cold and rainy Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park this afternoon in Mesa.
The start of the game was delayed almost an hour as a noon-time downpour flooded HoHoKam Park. But the rain did stop, and the dark clouds gradually broke apart, even allowing the sun to shine through by mid-game.
Randy Wells got the start for the Cubs today, and pitched three shutout innings (4/2 GO/FO), striking out two, and facing the minimum number of batters possible (nine) while throwing just 28 pitches (21 strikes), with the pitches fairly-evenly spread over the outing (12 pitches in the 1st inning, five in the second, and 11 in the third). He did allow a Craig Counsell first-inning line single to center, but then Counsell was erased when Wells picked him off with a nifty move, totally freezing the veteran like the proverbial "deer in headlights." Not satisfied with just a dominating pitching performance and a fancy pick-off, Wells also drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.
The Cubs threatened but did not score in the bottom of the 1st, as Ryan Theriot reached base on a infield single when Milwaukee starting pitcher Jeff Suppan could not cleanly handle a topper in front of the mound. Then with two outs, The Riot stole second and advanced to 3rd on a catcher's overthrow error, but Aramis Ramirez struck out (looking) to end the threat.
The Cubs fared better in the bottom of the 2nd, however, as Marlon Byrd roped a double into the LF corner leading off the inning, and Alfonso Soriano followed with another double off the CF "Green Monster" (Batter's Eye). But because Byrd went back to tag up at 2nd with the expectation that the ball might be caught, he did not have enough time to score on the play, and so the Cubs ended up with runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs. Mike Fontenot then lined a single to CF to score Byrd with the first Cub run (running at less than full-speed, Soriano held up at 3rd), and Wells knocked-in Soriano with his sac fly to right.
Derrek Lee lined a home run over the right-centerfield fence leading off the bottom of the third to make the score 3-0, and then closer Carlos Marmol got the early call (managers often will use their closer early in a Spring Training game so that he can face major league hitters). But Marmol struggled with his command today, as it took him 31 pitches to get through the one inning. He had nasty stuff and he did strikeout the side (Counsell, Edmonds, and Gerut), but he also allowed two runs (one earned) on a walk and two singles along the way. (One run was unearned because catcher Geovany Soto air-mailed a throw over Aramis Ramirez's head at 3rd base while trying to cut down Carlos Gomez on a stolen base attempt, allowing Gomez to score).
NRI RHP (and 2009 Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year) Casey Coleman was next to take the hill for the Cubs, and he worked two complete innings plus two batters into a third inning. He struggled with his control (43 pitches - only 21 strikes), but he also somehow found the means to pitch out of trouble, allowing just one run while stranding five Brewer baserunners during the course of the outing, all this despite allowing three hits (a single and two doubles), two walks, and a HBP. RHP Marcos Mateo relieved Coleman when the youngster reached his pre-planned pitch count max limit, and got the final two outs of the 7th inning.
While Coleman is expected to spend the 2010 season in the Iowa Cubs starting rotation (he projects as an MLB 4th or 5th starter), I suppose it is possible that Coleman might get "drafted" into the Cubs bullpen at some point, especially if there are no othyer viable options. While Coleman does not have closer (or even set-up) type stuff, he probably could make a decent middle-reliever capable of giving the Cubs a quality inning or two when needed.
Meanwhile, the Cubs threatened in both the 5th and 7th innings, but did not score.
Theriot led off with a double and Kosuke Fukudome followed with a walk in the bottom of the 5th, but both runners were left where they started after D-Lee lined out to LF, Ramirez popped-out to Brewer 1B Prince Fielder in foul territory, and Byrd flied out to deep left-center (nice running catch by Gomez).
Facing ex-WAS RHRP Marco Estrada in the bottom of the 7th with the score tied 3-3, PH Kevin Millar worked a lead-off walk, and was advanced to 2nd base when Sam Fuld put down a picture-perfect 1-4 sac bunt. Starlin Castro then reached base on an infield hit (a "swinging bunt" down the 3rd base line), with Millar advancing to 3rd with the potential go-ahead run. But then with Starlin Castro breaking off first, Micah Hoffpauir struck out swinging on a 3-2 pitch, and Castro was called out for sliding past 2nd base (he had the base stolen easily, too). I hate to say this because it's not fair to Castro, but the play brought back nightmares of Ronny Cedeno running the bases.
LHP James Russell worked a 1-2-3 top of the 8th for the Cubs, striking out the side on just 14 pitches. I wouldn't be surprised if Russell makes the Cubs Opening Day 25-man roster as a reliever, especially if both Tom Gorzelanny and Sean Marshall begin the season in the Cubs starting rotation (what with Ted Lilly not expected to be ready at the start of the season).
Tyler Colvin roped a single to RF with two outs in the bottom of the 8th, but Darwin Barney flied out to the warning track in deep right-center to end the inning, keeping the game tied at three going into the 9th.
2009 Iowa Cubs closer Blake Parker made his 2010 Cactus League debut in the 9th, and eventually allowed the two-out two-run game-winning HR to Inglett, after getting off on the wrong foot by walking the first man he faced. Like Randy Wells, Parker is a former catcher who was converted to pitcher by the Cubs, and while he has the potential to be a decent MLB reliever, he also has had a nasty habit of surrendering 9th inning gopher balls going back to the last couple of weeks of the PCL season last Summer and then again with the AFL Mesa Solar Sox in October-November '09. Perhaps as a direct result of this misfortune, Parker tends to nibble a lot (he threw 18 pitches in the 9th inning today, but only nine strikes), before having to groove a pitch down the middle to avoid another walk. He really needs to learn to just trust his stuff.
The Cubs went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 9th against Brewers NRI LHP A. J. Murray, although Welington Castillo did hit a near game-tying HR down ther RF line (it was caught by Jody Gerut on the warning track in front of the fence).
The San Francisco Giants visit HoHoKam Park tomorrow, and Carlos Zambrano is scheduled to get his second start in the game.