Cubs Clutch Hitting Gets Lost in the Translation

Prepping for the first game of 2nd Round WBC play in San Diego on Sunday, Team Japan edged the Chicago Cubs 3-2 at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park on a cool & breezy Thursday afternoon in Mesa, AZ. 

box score

Only 6,591 fans attended the game, but it was one of the best Spring Training games I've seen in a while. There were several fine defensive plays by both teams, and Team Japan put on a clinic in the finer points of baseball fundamentals.

Carlos Zambrano got the start for the Cubs, and I guess for him it was almost like pitching in the WBC. Except instead of wearing a Team Venezuela jersey, he was clad in familiar Cubbie pinstripes.

Facing essentially a major league lineup of Japanese players that included the likes of Ichiro Suzuki, Kosuke Fukudome, Kenji Johjima, and Akinori Iwamura, Zambrano retired the first six hitters in a row on just 18 pitches (combined) over the first two innings.

But "Z" hit a bump in the road in the 3rd, laboring through the inning while throwing 27 pitches. The big right-hander allowed two runs (one earned) in the inning, on a lead-off single by Johjima, a one-out RBI triple by Munenori Kawasaki, and a walk to Ichiro. (The second run scored when Paul Bako got out of his crouch too early on a "safety-squeeze" bunt attempt by Yasuyuki Kataoka, as the ball glanced off Bako's glove and rolled back to the screen behind home plate). Zambrano averted further trouble by sucking it up and getting Kataoka on an infield pop up and striking out Norichika Aoki.  

"Z" gave up a one-out double in the 4th to Michihiro Ogasawara, but retired Fukudome on an F-8 (runner took 3rd) and Johjima on a 6-3 GO to complete his work for the day.

Zambrano's final line showed 4.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R (1 ER), 1 BB, and 2 K, 60 pitches (40 strikes), 3/7 GO/FO.

The Cubs threatened to score in the bottom of the 2nd against Team Japan starter Yu Darvish, loading the bases on consecutive one-out singles to the outfield by Mike Fontenot and Reed Johnson and a walk to Paul Bako. But Zambrano (who was apparently allowed to be his own DH today) and Alfonso Soriano struck out swinging to end the threat.

The Cubs did plate a run in the 4th off Satoshi Komatsu, however, as Fontenot singled again, and advanced to second on a WP, before scoring on an RBI single to CF by Bako. But Tetsuya Yamaguchi was brought into the gamre in relief of Komatsu, and struck out Zambrano swinging (again) and induced Soriano to bounce into a FC to end the inning.

With the Cubs now down 2-1, Kevin Gregg pitched the top of the 5th, and had an easy 1-2-3 inning, getting two routine fly outs and a 4-3 GO on just 13 pitches (eight strikes). Gregg really doesn't like to mess around, and while his stuff is by no means "Marmol Electric," he does throw strikes, sort of like the 2007 version of Bob Howry. 

Rule 5 RHP David Patton worked the 6th, and had his worst outing of the Spring, allowing one run on one hit, two walks, and no strikeouts, while throwing 25 pitches (only 11 strikes). He got the first two hitters out easily on just 10 pitches (although one of the outs required a diving catch by RF Doug Deeds), but then he had a complete control meltdown, throwing eight consecutive balls and walking two hitters in a row, before grooving a two out fastball to Kosuke Fukudome that resulted in a line-drive RBI single to left-center.  

As a Rule 5 pick, Patton will certainly get more leeway to fail than the average rookie pitcher in big league camp, but that doesn't mean he can afford another outing like the one he had today. His roster spot is not guaranteed.

The one thing that stood out about Patton in his previous outings was his ability to throw strikes and his poise. I doubt very much that Patton's sudden loss of control could have made Uncle Lou very happy. Patton looked like a real "A"-baller today, digging himself deeper and deeper into a hole as the inning progressed.  

Angel Guzman threw the 7th inning, and had a decent outing. He pitched around a lead-off bloop single to left that fell in front of So Taguchi (who must have been playing LF in the parking lot behind the scoreboard) followed by a stolen base (Gooz just wasn't paying attention to the runner), but he followed that with a strikeout (swinging) and two infield pop ups to get out of the inning.  

Neal Cotts had an eventful day that started before he took the mound. While warming up to go into the game, Cotts apparently got a spike caught somewhere on the bullpen mound and did a header straight into the ground. Not too much the worse for wear, Cotts brushed himself off, entered the game, and worked a solid inning, allowing a one-out single while striking out one. Despite what would seem to be a rather hum-drum inning where he faced only four hitters, Cotts still somehow managed to throw 25 pitches, but only four of the pitches were balls!

Yes, Cotts may have set a record for a four-batter inning by throwing 21 strikes. The reason for the high pitch total for the inning (and the high number of strikes) was that the Japanese hitters kept fouling off pitch after pitch, most notably the #3 hitter in the inning (Senchi Uchikawa) who kept getting the hit & run sign and then kept fouling off Cotts' best offerings. It was a real battle, but Cotts did not cave-in (he made about a half-dozen throws to 1st base to keep the runner close), and he got though his inning with no real difficulty (other than throwing a lot of pitches and falling flat on his face in the bullpen).

Randy Wells worked his usual ridiculously ultra-efficient 1-2-3 inning in the top of the 9th, retiring the side on just five pitches (all five strikes), including three ground balls to SS Andres Blanco, who fumbled the second one for an error before starting a 6-3 DP to end the frame. 

The Cubs offense made noise throughout the game, but had trouble getting the big hit. After scoring their first run in the bottom of the 4th, the Cubs threatened to score in both the 5th and 7th innings, too, but they just couldn't get the key hit when it was needed.

Derrek Lee laced a double to the right-centerfield fence off Yamaguchi with one out in the 5th and advanced to 3rd base on a wild pitch, but Milton Bradley struck out swinging (and then angrily broke the bat over his knee) and Aramis Ramirez popped up to short RF, leaving D-Lee stranded at 3rd. Bradley got some boos after his anger management demonstration, and while he took the field (without a limp) after the 5th, he was pulled out of the game (along with most of the other starters) before Team Japan hit in the top of the 6th.

The Cubs threatened to score again with one out in the bottom of the 7th, as Andres Blanco lined a single to LF and Micah Hoffpauir (facing LHP Toshiya Sugiuchi) crushed a ground rule double that bounced off the warning track and up and over the fence in left-center. But then Doug Deeds lined a rocket that was caught by second-baseman Iwamura (outstanding diving stab going to his left), and Luis Rivas grounded out to short to end the inning.   

Down 3-1, the Cubs took their last shot in the bottom of the 9th against Team Japan closer Kyuji Fujikawa. Jake Fox led off and had an outstanding nine-pitch AB before roping a line double into the left-center gap on a 3-2 pitch  It may have been the best at-bat I've ever seen from Fox, who usually is dead meat once he's got two strikes. Too bad there isn't room for Foxy on the Cubs bench. He'd make a nice RHPH.

Taguchi was up next, and he smoked a double into the right-centerfield alley, scoring Fox. What was somewhat troubling about the hit is that Fukudome (having moved to CF from RF in the 7th) took an "up & out" route instead of a straight-line run to the ball, although he most likely would not have been able to catch it even if he had run a better route. 

So with the tying run on 2nd and no outs, Team Japan had a full pow-wow on the mound, planning a defense for a presumed sacrifice bunt attempt by the normally light-hitting Andres Blanco. And Blanco did indeed try a bunt (which he fouled-off), before surprising everybody in the park by swinging away and lining a laser beam headed toward RF. But Team Japan first-baseman Senchi Uchikawa made a sensational sprawling, diving catch, as Taguchi got back to 2nd base safely to avoid getting doubled off.

Micah Hoffpauir was up next and had a golden opportunity to be the hero, but he struck out (swinging) on three pitches. A wild pitch then moved Taguchi to 3rd base with two outs, but he died there as Doug Deeds also went down swinging.

For the day, the Cubs hitters had ten hits and drew three walks, but they also accrued six LOB in scoring position, and struck out 12 times (five times with men in scoring position). 

Kosuke Fukudome played the entire game for Team Japan, starting in RF and then moving to CF in the 7th inning. He got a big hand and a lot of cheers from both the Team Japan fans and the Cubs fans each time he came to the plate. For the day, Kosuke went 1-4, with a line-drive RBI single and three fly outs. He made good contact all four times, and generally speaking, he looked a lot more like the Fukudome of the first part of 2008 than the last part. Seeing so many Japanese players together at the same time showed me how many of them hit exactly the same way Fukudome does, with that forward weight-transfer and push onto the front foot right before contact.

It's back to Cactus League action for the Cubs tomorrow, with a "split squad" headed to Tempe Diablo Stadium to play the Angels, while the other squad remains in Mesa to play the Seattle Mariners.

And good luck to Team Japan in the WBC. They brought a lot of loyal fans to the game today, and they really seemed had a good time, even with the annoying presence of Ronnie Woo Woo roaming the aisles. He was at Minor League Camp at Fitch Park yesterday, too.    

Maybe Woo Woo can follow Team Japan to San Diego and give all the WBC fans out there that gift of his that keeps on giving.  

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Comments

Great description, Phil. I almost don't miss being able to watch it because of you.

Thanks, Phil!

Az Phil, are the full minor lge squads practicing now? Thanks.

Thanks for the great report, Phil.

Where do you see the Bako/Hill sweepstakes at this point?

but Milton Bradley struck out swinging (and then angrily broke the bat over his knee)
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Zambrano's already rubbing off on Bradley? Those wacky switch hitters, do they practice bat breaking in spring training too? Is Bradley better at breaking his bat over his knee from the left or right side?

Breaking bats is RISKY business. We don't need him MONOPOLIZING the dl this year. He does that too much he'll be SORRY.

I DONT WANT TO SPILL THE BEANS, but I think breaking bats is part of his STRATEGO. If he gets it down to PERFECTION he'll be able to exclaim YAHTZEE and scream "GUESS WHO's the best!".

I just hope he doesn't TWISTER up his knee one of these times he is yelling at an umpire.

I also hope the bleacher bums don't start taunting him, that could just open up a BARREL FULL OF MONKEYS with Bradley and BOGGLE his mind. The bleacher bums need to get a CLUE and realize that yelling racial slurs is a bit of a TABOO. But I guess it's all just part of THE GAME OF LIFE, dealing with idiot who can't count high enough to play CONNECT FOUR.

But if Milton starts hitting, it'll be MALL MADNESS trying to get his jersey at the local Sports Authority.

About half of those on both of your posts are actually Parker Brothers and not Milton Bradley (Clue, Monopoly, Risk, Boggle, etc.) but well-played nonetheless.

Don't steal my joy!

NERD ALERT

We had most of those games growing up and I remember the boxes. Also Parker Brothers is somewhat famous for Monopoly since it claims to be the most played commercial board game world-wide.

I checked out Clue! from the library the other day. Still a great movie.

WISC, i bet you love going around telling little kids that Santa and the Easter Bunny aren't real too, huh?

Jerk.

Sorry, if I had known you would have been just as crushed as a kid who found out Santa wasn't real, I would have held my tongue!

I also said it was well-played regardless, fwiw.

very well done...

Hasbro owns both Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley, fwiw, although they still have their own brands.

Yeah, Milton Bradley was acquired in the mid-80s. Parker Brothers was owned by General Mills of all companies, who also owned Kenner - of starting line-up fame - until it sold them to Tonka, and then Tonka was bought out by Hasbro.

The Milton Bradley games are only played when they feel like being taken out of their boxes.

I would rather have him breaking bats than going after umpires or announcers.

He doesn't have a CLUE how to react to a K.

Wow... Mike Fontenot is having a good spring. I hadn't even noticed til now.

12-33, 2 HR, .364/.400/.788, OPS: 1.188!

Submitted by John Beasley on Fri, 03/13/2009 - 5:27am.

Thanks for the great report, Phil.

Where do you see the Bako/Hill sweepstakes at this point?

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JOHN B: I would say Bako and K. Hill are about even.

Keeping Bako would cost the Cubs about $300K more in payroll, but if they release him (and they have to make that decision by the end of next week) they would have to pay him a $150K severance, which makes the ultimate financial differential less.

If I had to guess, I would say Bako makes the team, and the Cubs will try to outright K. Hill to AAA. It's not very likely that Hill would get claimed off waivers, and although he has the right to refuse an outright assignment and become a FA (because he has been outrighted previously in his career), he would likely accept an outright assignment to Iowa and defer that right to be a FA until the end of the season (he's done that before).

Submitted by Hagsag on Fri, 03/13/2009 - 5:02am.

Az Phil, are the full minor lge squads practicing now? Thanks.

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HAGSAG: "Live" BP should begin today or tomorrow and then there should be intrasquad games the middle of next week (Wednesday & Thursday) and then I believe minor league ST games (versus other organizations) will start next Friday.

As far as I can tell, Dae-Eun Rhee (2008 TJS rehab), Jon Nagel (pre-2008 Rule 4 Draft TJS rehab), Andrew Cashner (strained oblique), and Billy Muldowney (unknown type injury) are the only pitchers on "limited activity" status, but that number will certainly increase (probably by one or two every day) as the pitchers throw more.

How many guys have been sent down to minor league camp so far?

Submitted by ddp33 on Fri, 03/13/2009 - 10:36am.

How many guys have been sent down to minor league camp so far?

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DDP33: Three NRI pitchers (Andrew Cashner, Edward Campusano, and Rocky Roquet) were assigned to Minor League Camp a week ago, but there should be more cuts announced today or tomorrow, once the split squad games are done.

And then of course individual players at Minor League Camp will be called up on a daily basis when extra men or extra pitchers are needed in Cactus League games.

I would think the next group of cuts (probably today) will be RHP Mitch Atkins, Justin Berg, and Jeff Stevens, and OF Richie Robnett optioned to Iowa, and RHP Marcos Mateo optioned to AA Tennessee, and SS Darwin Barney, C-1B Steve Clevenger, 1B-OF Jason Dubois, LHP J. R. Mathes, RHP Brian Schlitter, and LHP Matt Smith (all NRI guys) will be sent to minor leagure camp for reassignment). It's also possible that the Cubs will ty to outright OF Brad Snyder (on the 40-man roster but out of minor league options) to Iowa at this time.

Also, Rule 5 players (like David Patton) and Draft-Excluded players (minor league players added to an MLB 40-man roster after last August 15th) can be outrighted to the minors starting next Monday, and a player with a non-guaranteed contract who is released before next Saturday (3/21) gets 30 days severance (1/6 of his 2009 salary). A player with a non-guaranteed contract who is released during the 15 days prior to Opening Day gets 45 days severance pay (1/4 of his 2009 salary). 

Thank you, Phil! Great info, as always!!!

Any thoughts on Doug Deeds? His bat has, no doubt, opened a few eyes this spring...

What do you make of the log jam of outfielders likely headed to Iowa? Dubois, Fuld, Robnett, Snyder, Deeds... if Hoffpauir doesn't make the roster I imagine they'll try to get him some work at the corner spots, with Jake Fox playing at first. Maybe Robnett to AA? Of the group, he strikes me as the most raw hitter...

Submitted by ddp33 on Fri, 03/13/2009 - 11:18am.

Thank you, Phil! Great info, as always!!!

Any thoughts on Doug Deeds? His bat has, no doubt, opened a few eyes this spring...

What do you make of the log jam of outfielders likely headed to Iowa? Dubois, Fuld, Robnett, Snyder, Deeds... if Hoffpauir doesn't make the roster I imagine they'll try to get him some work at the corner spots, with Jake Fox playing at first.

Maybe Robnett to AA? Of the group, he strikes me as the most raw hitter...

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DDP33: Doug Deeds has played very well. He's made some athletic plays in LF and RF and he has hit the ball hard, though sometimes right at 'em. .

If there is a log-jam at Iowa, I would think Jason Dubois will get released, and Richie Robnett could get sent to AA. As you said, Robnett is the most-raw of the group.

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