Bruce Chen Finds Out Javier Baez Can Do Whatever He Wants
Bruce Chen was torched for five home runs (two by Javier Baez and one each by David DeJesus, Alfonso Soriano, and Alberto Gonzalez) over five innings, as the Cubs cruised to an 8-3 vistory over the Kansas City Royals in Cactus League action this afternoon at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, AZ.
Baez took Chen deep with a solo HR onto the berm beyond the LF fence with two outs in the 1st, and then again with another solo HR (this one a Monster Jam) over the scoreboard and into the parking lot with two outs in the 5th, and has now hit four home runs in his last five plate appearances (he hit home runs in his final two PA versus Team Japan yesterday, including a walk-off two-run HR in the 9th).
LHP Hisanori Takahashi got the start for the Cubs and worked four solid innings (53 pitches - 15 strikes), allowing one run (a Mike Moustakas solo HR over the bullpens in RF) on five hits (three singles, a double, and the HR) and one walk, with one strikeout and a 7/3 GO/FO. He also picked a runner off 1st base.
The Cubs have stretched-out Takahashi as a starter over his past three appearances, and while he seems to be suited for that role, there does not appear to be a spot for Takahashi in the Cubs starting rotation at this time, even if Matt Garza (strained lat) and Scott Baker (TJS rehab) are not ready to start the season. The Cubs might have a "piggy-back" role in mind for Takahashi, where he would follow Scott Baker to the mound if Baker does not have his pitch count up to necessary levels by the end of Spring Training. (Baker would start the game and go as far as he can, and then Takahashi would follow and pitch multiple innings if necessary).
RHRP Michael Bowden took the mound in the 5th and pitched two shutout innings (26 pitches - 18 strikes), allowing two hits (a triple and a single) and no walks. He struck out two (the last two hitters he faced), and got the other four outs on pop ups or fly balls.
Bowden has pitched OK (not great but not bad) so far in Cactus League games, but he has an advantage over most of the other contenders for middle relief jobs in the Cubs bullpen because he is out of minor league options and thus cannot be sent to the minor without being exposed to Outright Assignment Waivers (which are irrevovable), but even if waivers were to be secured, Bowden can refuse an Outright Assignment and elect free-agency because he has been outrighted previously in his career. So the Cubs have to make sure to get a good read on what Bowden has to offer now and in the near future.
Shawn Camp followed Bowden and labored through a 27-pitch (only 12 strikes) 7th. Camp surrendered a single and a walk to start the inning, and eventually allowed a run on a two-out infield single, but at least he was able to get out of the inning without further damage.
Kyuji Fujikawa pitched the 8th inning and allowed a run on two hits (a lead-off double by Brandon Wood, a single, and an 8-6 RBI FC where CF Dave Sappelt just missed making a spectacular diving catch, but still was able to get to his feet in time to make an accurate throw to 2nd base that forced the runner who was on 1st).
Carlos Marmol worked a fast 1-2-3 9th (two deep fly ball outs and an infield pop up).
Six of their eight Cub runs resulted from the five home runs (Soriano hit a two-run dinger, and the other four were solo shots).
The Cubs scored another run in the 3rd, as Alfonso Soriano walked and later scored on a throwing error by the KC second-baseman, and collected their final tally of the day in the 6th on a two-out Justin Bour RBI ground single through the box that followed hits by Rafael Lopez and Christian Villanueva.
The Cubs made several roster moves yesterday, optioning IF-OF Junior Lake to Iowa, 3B Christian Villanueva to Tennessee, and OF Jorge Soler to Daytona, although they can continue to play in MLB Cactus League games (Villanueva and Soler played in the game at HoHoKam Park today, but Lake will be out 4-6 weeks with a rib injury).
The reason those moves had to be made yesterday is that normally an injured player cannot be optioned to the minors, but the one exception is a player who did not accrue any MLB Service Time the previous season, as long as the player is optioned to the minors no later than the 16th day prior to MLB Opening Day (which was yesterday).
By optioning Lake, Villanueva, and Soler to the minors yesterday (and Matt Szczur, Trey McNutt, Logan Watkins, and Rob Whitenack earlier this week), the Cubs covered themselves in case any of the seven (none of whom accrued MLB Service Time last season) are injured prior to being optioned (as happened with Lake) or in an MLB Cactus League Spring Training game.
If the Cubs did not option the seven to the minors by yesterday's deadline, they would be taking a risk that the player could be injured prior to MLB Opening Day. And if that happened, the Cubs would have to place the player on their MLB 15-day or 60-day Disabled List and pay the player at the MLB salary rate (about $2,650 per day), rather than the lesser minor league "split salary" rate (about $430 per day for Lake and Szczur, and about $215 per day for the others), with the player also accruing MLB Service Time for days spent on an MLB DL during the MLB regular season (which could eventually affect when the player would be eligible for salary arbitration and/or free-agency).
But because they were optioned to the minors by yesterday's deadline, any of the seven can be placed on the Disabled List of the minor league club to which the player was optioned. And this is exactly what will happen with Junior Lake. He will be placed on the AAA Iowa DL at the start of the season (and be paid at the minor league "split salary" rate), will probably spend about a month at Extended Spring Training at Fitch Park while getting back into playing shape, and then will be reactivated when he is ready to play.