Cub Bats Go Silent at Talking Stick
Five Colorado pitchers combined to throw a five-hit shutout, and Jordan Pacheco crushed a pinch-hit three-run home run, leading a Rockies split squad to a 4-0 whitewashing of the Cubs in afternoon Cactus League action at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick Resort on Salt River Maricopa-Pima Indian Community land located east of Scottsdale today.
The Cubs got their lead-off hitter on base in four separate innings, but could not get the big hit when they needed it.
Geovany Soto reached on a ground rule (fan interference) double leading off the top of the second, but failed to advance to third on a ground-out bouncer over the pitcher's head that would have allowed him to score on another ground out later in the inning.
Starlin Castro singled to lead-off the 4th, but was left stranded at 1st base when the next three Cubs hitters went down in order. (And Castro was totally perplexed by Rockies LHP Jorge De La Rosa's delivery, to the extent that he kept returning to 1st base every time De La Rosa threw the ball home).
Facing RHP Clay Mortensen, Kosuke Fukudome walked to lead-off the top of the 5th, and then Blake DeWitt followed with a line-drive single to right-center that sent Kosuke scampering to 3rd. But Scott Moore and PH Max Ramirez both struck out swinging (although M. Ramirez launched a 400-ft foul ball that drifted just outside the LF foul pole), and Fernando Perez grounded out sharply to 3rd (nice diving stop & throw by Rockies 3B Thomas Field, who robbed Perez of an RBI).
And finally Jim Adduci led off the 8th with a pinch-hit single up through the box (deflected by the pitcher), but Reed Johnson popped out, Matt Camp struck out, and Lou Montanez popped out to end the inning.
Bobby Scales also singled with two outs in the 7th.
And that was the extent of the Cubs offense.
Carlos Zambrano was the Cubs starting pitcher today, and he labored through his three innings. Although he worked fast and didn't walk anybody, he did throw 61 pitches (41 for strikes), including a 25-pitch 1st inning. He allowed one run (earned) on five hits (all singles), but one of the hits was a pop-up to LF that Tyler Colvin misplayed into a single. (Colvin initially broke back, then tried to recover, spinning his wheels as he tried to go forward, as the ball dropped safely in front of him). Colvin has struggled with his outfield defense throughout Spring Training.
While Zambrano did not allow any extra base hits and none of the singles he surrendered were hit particulary hard, he only had one strikeout (he couldn't put hitters away once he got two strikes, as the Rockies hitters kept fouling balls off) and he had trouble keeping the ball down, the second time in a row this has happened. It almost looks like he is either short-arming the ball (even more than usual), or maybe his back is bothering him. But he doesn't look quite right.
Sean Marshall threw a shutout 4th inning and looked good, except he essentially needed to get four outs because the Cubs infield once again could not turn a routine 6-4-3 DP. (Blake DeWitt's relay throw to 1st was off-line, and 1B Scott Moore missed the batter-runner with the tag).
Veteran RHP Braden Looper (battling for the 5th starter's job) was next, and he breezed through the 5th & 6th (16 pitches total - 12 strikes), retiring all six men he faced. But then it was as if he hit a wall when he came out to pitch his third inning (the bottom of the 7th), as he was unable to throw strikes, could not control his breaking ball, and lost some velocity on his fastball. It was this inning where (off Looper) Rockies PH Jordan Pacheco hammered his three-run jack. For the day Looper threw 35 pitches (20 strikes), but it looks like if he throws anything more than about 15-20 pitches, he's gassed.
Burly RHP Robert Coello (recently acquired from the Boston Red Sox for minor league 2B Tony Thomas) pitched the 8th inning, and once again he had absolutely nasty stuff, was almost impossible to hit (he racked up two strikeouts), and he had a lot of trouble throwing strikes (24 pitches - 14 strikes in 1.0 IP). He did throw seven straight strikes after receiving a visit to the mound from new Cubs pitching coach Mark Riggins, however.
Today was my first time inside Salt River Fields (it just opened last month), and it is a magnificent faciility conveniently located between two freeway off-ramps. The main stadium is very nice (comfortable chair-seats, informative scoreboard, steeply-sloped outfield lawn seating, concession stands with grills, rest rooms located right behind the grand stand, and lots of shaded seating). The grounds are shared by the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks (both teams moved their Spring Training operation and Minor League HQ up to Maricopa County from Tucson after last season), with the Rockies practice fields, ticket office, and clubhouse located on the south end of the property, and the D'backs' fields, ticket office, and clubhouse on the north side. Each team's roomy two-story clubhouse includes a fitness center and plenty of office space and meeting rooms. The two teams share the main stadium (one team is home each day). Each side of the shared complex features ten batting cages, four full fields, and a half-field that can be used for bunting drills, baserunning instruction, and Pitchers Fielding Practice. Elevated walkways have been constructed above and next to the batting cages and back fields, providing outstanding views for the fans.
Most all of the Cub brass was at today's game and gave the facility a close inspection, probably to help gather some ideas for the new Cubs Spring Training & Minor League complex that will be constructed at Riverview Park in Mesa (at 8th Street & Dobson Road) over the next couple of years.