Cub Rally Falls Short at HoHoKam
Doug Mientkiewicz homered, drove in two runs, and made a spectacular sliding catch, and a 9th inning Cubs rally fell one run short for the second day in a row, as the Dodgers edged the Cubs 5-4 in Cactus League action at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, Arizona, in a game played before a capacity crowd under partly cloudy skies and in mid-60’s temperatures
Ryan Dempster got the start for the Cubs and had a long and eventful 1st inning (22 pitches). Matt Kemp led off with an infield single, and stole second easily (off-line one-hop throw by catcher Koyie Hill). Kemp advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by pitcher Randy Wolf (the first time I can ever remember seeing a pitcher hit in the second slot in the original lineup of a Spring Training game), and then James Loney hit a one-bounce chopper to 1st baseman Derrek Lee, who threw home hoping to nail Kemp coming in from third. But Kemp immediately reversed direction and headed back to third base, while Koyie Hill hesitated and double-clutched the throw, allowing Kemp to make it back safely and Loney to reach base on a FC, and leaving runners at 1st & 3rd with one out. Blake DeWitt walked to load the bases, and then Kemp scored on a Brad Ausmus infield hit, and Loney scored on a Mientkiewicz FC ground out to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead. Both runs were (technically) earned, but probably neither runner would have scored if Hill had immediately thrown the ball to third. He who hesitates is lunch (or gets placed on waivers)
Dempster had far more efficient 2nd & 3rd innings, getting through both on just 20 pitches (combined), leaving him with a final line of 3.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R (2 ER), 1 BB, 2 K, 42 pitches (23 strikes), 4/2 GO/FO. I would say that despite the two runs allowed, Dempster looked pretty good today.
Luis Vizcaino, Justin Berg, and Esmailin Caridad worked one scoreless inning each in innings 4-5-6, with Vizcaino's outing the most impressive of the three, with a "rocking chair" easy 1-2-3 inning (12 pitches – 2/1 GO/FO). Vizcaino looked good in his last outing, too. .
The hard-throwing Berg (12 pitches – seven strikes) got into a jam when a Chin-lung Hu one-out line-drive hit to right got under the glove of RF Brad Snyder and rolled to the fence for a single + two base error, allowing Hu to reach third. But then with the infield pulled in for a play at the plate and Hu on third (not first), Ryan Theriot made a nice play on a hard-hit ground ball, and threw out the runner Hu was trying to score from third. Kemp was then thrown out trying to steal (the second of two CS by K. Hill today).
Caridad got through his inning with no damage, although he did allow a walk and was behind just about every hitter he faced (16 pitches – only eight strikes).
The Cubs got on the board in the bottom of the 6th, on a one-out triple into the RF corner by Snyder (for a big guy, Snyder can really motor around the bases), followed by a towering Micah Hoffpauir F-8 SF RBI to the warning track in right-center. Mientkiewicz got the final putout of the inning, with a death-defying sliding catch in front of the Cubs dugout on a foul pop-up, the type of “maximum effort” play rarely attempted in a Spring Training game. I applaud Mientiewicz for the fine effort.
With the Cubs trailing 2-1, Mitch Atkins took the mound in the top of the 7th, and was immediately greeted by That Man Mientkiewicz again, who drilled a lead off home run into the Cubs bullpen beyond the RF fence. Atkins labored through his one inning of work (18 pitches – 11 strikes), working very slowly and deliberately and making a number of “keep ‘em close” throws to 1st base after Xavier Paul reached on a single. (Paul swiped second anyway). It looked like Atkins was afraid to throw the ball to the plate. Atkins has looked uncomfortable all Spring Training, like he doesn’t believe he belongs in big league camp (and he probably won't have to worry about that much longer).
Down 3-1, the Cubs narrowed the gap again to one run in the bottom of the 7th. Joey Gathright reached on an E-4, as second-baseman Juan Castro appeared to juggle the ball in fear he might not get Gathright if he didn’t hurry his throw. (Gathright does that to infielders). Gathright then stole second (although a good throw probably would have nailed him), and advanced to 3rd on the overthrow by Dodger catcher Danny Ardoin. (Gathright is VERY fast, but he doesn’t appear to get good jumps on stolen base attempts). Gathright then scored on a GO RBI by Aaron Miles.
Rookie RHP Jeff Stevens (one of the pitchers acquired from the Indians for Mark DeRosa) took the mound to start the 8th, and he was just plain terrible. He couldn’t find the strike zone (27 pitches – only nine strikes), and when he did throw the ball over the plate, he gave up a couple of laser-beam doubles, one of which was a two-run two-bagger roped into the RF corner by ace PH Delwyn Young. Stevens was yanked by Manager Lou Piniella with two runs in and the bases loaded, and Randy Wells immediately got out of the jam on just four pitches. I doubt that Uncle Lou has been much impressed by Stevens so far this Spring.
NRI RHRP Brian Schlitter (acquired from the Phillies last August for Scott Eyre) worked an uneventful the 9th (11 pitches), allowing a walk. Schlitter (pronounced "Sklitter" not "Shitter") will likely compete with Marcos Mateo for the closer job at AA Tennessee.
Down 5-2, the Cubs tried to rally the forces in the bottom of the 9th against ex-Cub RHP Tanyon Sturtze. Gathright walked, and advanced to second on a ground out. Miles drove in Gathright with an RBI single, and then with two outs, PH Doug Deeds laced an RBI double into left-center, splitting the gap and driving home Miles.
With two outs and the tying run on second base, southpaw Brian Mazone was summoned to face the dangerous (but strikeout-prone) Brad Snyder, and the lefty-swinging Snyder did indeed strike out (swinging – swish!) to end the game.
The Cubs travel to Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix (51st Avenue & Indian School Road) tomorrow to face the Milwaukee Brewers in a game that will be televised for all to see on WGN-TV.