Sori and Barney Wash Sox in Defeat
Darwin Barney singled and scored in the 2nd inning and sliced a two-out two-run triple into the RF corner to cap a four-run 5th, while Alfonso Soriano slugged a solo HR in the 4th and singled and scored in the 5th, leading the Cubs to an 8-7 victory over the crosstown-rival White Sox before a capacity crowd at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park in sunny and warm Mesa, AZ, this afternoon.
Matt Garza got the start for the Cubs and threw three shutout innings, before the Sox began to chip away at the ex-Ray for a run in the 4th (BB, 1B, GIDP, 1B) and two more in the 5th (Omar Vizquel two-run HR over the RF fence). Garza benefitted from two neat DPs turned by the Cub infield (Castro-Barney-Pena both times), one in the 3rd and one in the 4th, or the day might not have turned out so well.
As it is, Garza worked five innings (88 pitches - 57 strikes), allowing the three runs (all earned) on eight hits and two walks, with four strikeouts and a 5/6 GO/FO. It wasn't exactly what I would call a stellar performance, but at least it was better than his previous Cactus League outings, and he did get his pitch count up to near regular season levels.
Braden Looper followed Garza to the hill, working the 6th and 7th innings (35 pitches - 22 strikes). He allowed a run in the 6th (two singles and a double), but threw a shutout 7th with a walk the only blemish. Looper did not show a strikeout pitch today, but he did get some timely infield pop ups to get out of further trouble in both innings (2/4 GO/FO). Whether his performance today (coupled with his previous sometimes extremely mediocre Cactus League outings) will be enough to get him the last slot in the bullpen (long relief) remains to be seen, but if I had to guess, I would say probably not. I mean, why pay Looper a million bucks (plus incentives) when Casey Coleman (for example) can do the same job for MLB minimum wage?
I would have mentioned James Russell in the same sentence with Casey Coleman (see previous paragraph), except Russell probably pitched himself to Des Moines with his one inning of work today. Russell surrendered back-to-back home runs to Donny Lucy and Alexi Ramirez (and neither one was a "cheapy," either) on consecutive pitches to open the top of the 8th, cutting what had been a comfortable 8-4 Cub lead to 8-6.
Carlos Marmol pitched the 9th and made things interesting, but not because of walks or hit batsmen. Marmol did throw an unusually high-percentage of strikes, but he also allowed a lead-off single to Paul Konerko on a 3-2 pitch and a two-out RBI double into the LF corner to Donny Lucy (who had a nice day), before finally getting the final out on a called third strike he somehow got past Alexi Ramirez.
Meanwhile, the Cubs offense made major inroads against Sox starter (and one-time Met #1 draft pick and BA Top 100 Prospect) RHP Philip Humber, scoring twice in the 1st, once in the 2nd, once in the 4th, and then four more times in the 5th, to take an 8-3 lead.
Kosuke Fukudome drew a walk (something he does best) leading-off the bottom of the 1st, and Starlin Castro laced a double to left center to move Fukudome to 3rd. Marlon Byrd hit a more-than-adequate sacrifice fly to plate Kosuke, and then Aramis Ramirez pulled a shattered bat double into the left-field corner to score Castro with the second run of the inning.
Darwin Barney led off the bottom of the 2nd inning with a ground single through the box and into CF, and then Koyie Hill drew his first of two walks (if you can't hit your way on, might as well find another way). Matt Garza then faked a bunt and tried the ol' "butcher boy" slug-bunt play, and it really worked, too, as he chopped the ball almost over the 2nd baseman's head for a hit, save for a leaping grab and throw to 1st by Omar Vizquel to nab Garza. But the play did move Barney and Hill up a base a piece, and Fukudome cashed-in the scoring opportunity, scoring Barney with a another Cub SF.
After the Sox had scored in the top of the 4th to cut the Cub lead to 3-1, Alfonso Soriano got the run right back, clubbing a towering solo HR over the right-centerfield fence (just to the right of the CF "Green Monster" Batter's Eye) leading off the bottom of the 4th.
The Cubs seemingly put the game away in the bottom of the 5th against Humber and ex-Cub LHRP Will Ohman. Castro drew a one-out walk, advanced to 2nd on a Humber WP, and scored on a Marlon Byrd line-drive RBI single to RF. Aramis Ramirez walked, and then after Will Ohman came into the game and struck out Carlos Pena swinging (Pena's third strikeout of the game, the first two being called third strikes), Soriano grounded a single to left to score Byrd, and Barney tripled into the RF corner to plate Ramirez and Soriano, and close the Cubs scoring for the day.
The Cubs announced several roster cuts before today's game, optioning OF Fernando Perez to AAA Iowa, and sending INF Matt Camp, Scott Moore, Augie Ojeda, and Bobby Scales to minor league camp (where all four will be assigned to the Iowa squad). Perez had a poor Spring, and Reed Johnson simply outplayed the ex-Ray in just about all phases of the game (Perez is clearly a lot faster than Johnson), although Johnson himself just started to catch fire at the plate in recent days. Whether the Cubs will commit to R. Johnson as their 5th OF or continue to scour the eBis waiver wire for other alternatives remains to be seen.
I was somewhat surprised that the Cubs opted to keep Blake DeWitt on the Opening Day 25-man roster, when Bobby Scales and Scott Moore clearly outhit DeWitt throughout Spring Training. None of the three play 2B very well (Scales is actually probably the best of the three), and DeWitt does have one minor league option left, so it's not like the Cubs would have risked losing him off waivers if they had tried to send him down. And if DeWitt were to spend at least 100 days on optional assignment to the minors in 2011 he would not be eligible for salary arbitration post-2011, which would likely save the Cubs about $1M in 2012 payroll.