Cubs Rehabbers Shut-Down D'backs at Riverview

SP Erick Leal tossed five innings of one-run ball and four relievers combined to hurl five shutout innings, leading the Cubs "B" team to a 3-1 victory over the Diamondbacks in Cactus League Extended Spring Training game action Tuesday morning on Field #1 at the Riverview Baseball Complex in Mesa, AZ. 

The game was pre-planned as a ten-inning contest. 

At one point Cub pitchers retired 14 D'backs in a row. 

Four Cubs pitchers on Active Rehab at EXST saw action in the game: 

1. Erick Leal: FB 89-90 - CV 76-78 (62 pitches - 15 swings & misses)   
2. Tony Barnette: FB 90-91 - SL 81-84 
3. Danny Hultzen: FB 94-97 - SL 85-86 (12 pitches - seven swings & misses) 
4. Chad Hockin: FB 90 - SL 84-86 

In his three EXST game outings Hultzen has been unhittable. He has thrown three shutout innings (75% strikes) with eight strikeouts while allowing no walks and just an infield single and a weak P-6. His max FB velo has increased from 92 to 96 to 97 and his SL velo increased from 84 to 86 in a span of eight days. The difference seems to be that he has changed to a lower arm-slot (a lot like Andrew Miller circa 2015-16) which apparently puts less-stress on his shoulder and has led to a stunning uptick in his velo.

Here is the abridged box score from the game (Cubs players only):

CUBS "B" TEAM LINEUP:
X. Eddy Julio Martinez, DH #1: 0-3 (FC, F-7, F-8, BB, RBI, CS)
NOTE: E. Martinez batted third in the bottom of the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th innings 
1. Pedro Martinez, 3B: 1-3 (BB, 4-3, 1B, E-4, R, RBI, SB)
2. Abraham Rodriguez, 1B: 1-4 (F-8, P-3, K, 1B)
3. Jonathan Soto, C: 1-4 (K, 1B, 6-3, 6-4-3 DP) 
4. Luis Verdugo, SS: 1-3 (1B, F-8 DP, K)
5. Rochest Cruz, 2B: 0-2 (1-3 SH, 3-U, 4-3
6. Jose Gutierrez, CF: 0-2 (K, 6-3, BB, R, SB)
7a. Carlos Morfa, RF: 1-2 (K, 1B) 
7b. Yovanny Cuevas, PR-RF: 0-1 (K, R)
8. Kevin Moreno, LF: 1-3 (E-5, F-7, 1B, RBI, SB, CS)
9. Ervis Marchan, DH #2: 0-3 (K, K, F-9)
10. Brandon, Vicens, DH #3: 0-1 (P-2, SB)
NOTE: Vicens PR for E. Martinez in the bottom of the 7th/
Slot was skipped first two times thru batting order 

CUBS "B" TEAM PITCHERS
1. Erick Leal: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R (1 ER), 1 BB, 6 K, 1 PO, 3/2 GO/AO, 62 pitches (43 strikes)
2. Tony Barnette: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K, 2/0 GO/AO, 11 pitches (8 strikes)
3. Danny Hultzen: 1.0 IP, 0 H., 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K, 0/1 GO/AO, 12 pitches (9 strikes) 
4. Chad Hockin: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K, 2/1 GO/AO, 28 pitches (20 strikes)
5. Luis Silva: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 PO, 1/1 GO/AO, 22 pitches (13 strikes)

CUBS "B" TEAM ERRORS: NONE 

CUBS "B" TEAM CATCHERS  DEFENSE
Jonathan Soto: 0-2 CS 

ATTENDANCE: 11 

WEATHER: Partly cloudy with temperatures in the 80's 

Arizona 
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"Just because it isn't official doesn't mean it didn't happen" 

Comments

Great news on Hultzen.  Pulling for him.  And not just because of the Cubs connection.

how much movement does hultzen get on his slider?  can he throw it for a strike, or does it fool batters getting swings for strikes?

CRUNCH: Hultzen's slider is good and it's at least around the strike zone (or starts in the strike zone if not actually ending up in the strike zone) which helps get swings & misses, but it's more effective than it otherwise might be because of his high FB velo.

For example, Chad Hockin's SL is comparable to Hultzen's, but Hockin's FB velo is 90 so neither of his pitches are unhittable. 

Hultzen works very fast and because his FB velo is so high his SL overwhelms the young hitters down here. It's like watching Josh Hader when he's on fire or Andrew Miller circa 2015-16. 

The only reasons I can see Hultzen remaining in Mesa for a while longer are his lengthy history of shoulder problems (which hopefully have been assuaged by the lowering of his arm slot), and because he has yet to throw more than one inning in any outing, or two days in a row. 

But even if all that were to remain the case going forward through the balance iof the 2019 season, and presuming he remains healthy, at the very least Hultzen would have significant value when MLB active rosters expand in September as a power lefty-reliever, even if he can't throw more than one inning per outing and/or two days in a row.  

And there is always the possibility that he will eventually (I mean sometime soon) be able to throw two days in a row and/or throw more than one inning per outing. Otherwise it's hard to carry a guy in an eight-man MLB bullpen who can't do at least one or the other. 

A closer or even a lefty specialist will often need to pitch (even if it's just to face one batter) two or even three days in a row, otherwise his value is limited. And if it's in a Hader or a Miller type role, he would need to be able to pitch at least parts of two innings if necessary. So far that has not been attempted.

And also keep in mind that Hultzen is on the Iowa 60-day IL. It wasn't clear that he would even be able to pitch this season after getting shut-down in Minor League Camp. So far he has only pitched in three EXST games, and it took him the better part of two months and the re-working of his arm-slot and release point in the Cubs UAPC Pitching Lab just to get to this point. It's still a long-shot that he will make it to Wrigley Field in 2019, although it's becoming less of a long-shot with every outing. 

One other thing to keep in mind about Hultzen is that he is out of minor league options, so he is not a candidate to ride the Chicago - Des Moines shuttle if he were to be added to the Cubs MLB 25-man active roster (and MLB 40-man roster) at some point this season prior to September 1st. And if he were to be added to the 40 prior to 9/1 and the Cubs were able to get him through waivers, Hultzen has the right to elect free-agency if he's outrighted to the minors because he has been outrighted previously in his career. 

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