Leonardo Ochoa singled three times, walked, scored two runs, and drove-in another, leading the AZL Giants to an 8-5 victory over the AZL Cubs in Arizona League Opening Night action at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park in Mesa this evening.
Eduardo Gonzalez and Dustin Geiger provided much of the AZL Cubs offense, with E. Gonzalez ripping three singles, and Dustin Geiger stroking a triple off the right-centerfield fence to lead off the bottom of the second and a ground-rule double that bounced over the left-centerfield fence with one out in the 4th. Geiger also flied out to the warning track in CF in the 7th. The 19-year old Geiger hit 244/312/358 with just one HR but with a team-leading nine doubles for the AZL Cubs last year after signing out of HS, but he started to show some improved HR power in the latter stages of Extended Spring Training last month, hitting a walk-off three-run HR in one game, and a grand slam in another.
20-year old 6'4 Dominican RHP Starling Peralta got the start for the AZL Cubs and gave up three runs in the top of the 1st inning after allowing three straight hits (a triple and two singles) to open the game, but then settled-down and retired seven of the next nine men he faced (including five strikeouts). He gave up another run in the top of the 4th after allowing a lead-off walk and two consecutive singles with no outs, but overall he pitched better than his final line might indicate, striking out seven in just four innings of work (58 pitches - 44 strikes, 3/0 GO/FO).
Knuckleballer Joe Zeller was supposed to "piggyback" with Peralta and throw multiple innings, but he lasted only 1.2 IP, allowing four runs on three hits and a walk. Only one of the runs was earned, however, thanks to a couple of passed balls (catcher Johan DeJesus had all kinds of trouble trying to snatch Zeller's knuckler) and a key two-out throwing error by first-baseman Brian Inoa (overthrew Zeller covering 1st base) that opened the floodgates and eventually led to three runs scoring.
The pitching highlight for the AZL Cubs was probably Cubs 2011 18th round draft pick James Pugliese (Mercer CC), who was making his pro debut. And the 18 year old 6'3 Pugliese had an eye-popping intro to pro ball, too, throwing two innings (30 pitches - 20 strikes), and allowing no runs, hits, or walks, while striking out four. Pugliese throws with a max effort over-the-top overhand style similar to Diamondbacks rookie RHP Josh Collmenter, pumping his two-seam fastball up into the 92-93 MPH range, with an OK breaking ball (breaks straight down) to complement it.
3B Garrett Buechele (SF 2011 14th round draft pick - U. of Oklahoma and the son of ex-Cub 3B Steve Buechele) made his pro debut for the AZL Giants, getting two hits, including a double.
The AZL Cubs are playing their AZL home games at HoHoKam Park through July 24th with a 7 PM local start time, and then will play the balance of their home games beginning on July 26th at Fitch Park with an 11 AM start time.
Although they are playing the first half of their home games at HoHoKam Park, the team is actually based at Fitch Park, and takes pre-game BP and fielding practice at Fitch. The boys are then driven by shuttle vans up Center Street to HoHoKam Park for the game. Last year, the team played all of their AZL home games at HoHoKam Park, and was actually physically based there, too, with meals catered by Boston Market. It seemed to work well, and the players enjoyed the big league locker room environment and playing all of their home games at a major league Spring Training stadium, and it's a bit puzzling as to why it was changed this year.
The Cubs have signed catcher Rafael Lopez (Florida State), and Lopez was in uniform tonight with the AZL Cubs, although he did not play in the game. The 23-year old Lopez was a 5th year college senior, and with the Seminoles having been eliminated by Texas A&M in their Super Regional last Monday, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Lopez would sign a pro contract, and soon (which he did). The Cubs have now signed 12 of their 50 picks from this month's Rule 4 Draft, and Lopez (their 16th round selection) is the highest one they have signed so far.
LHP Hunter Ackerman (Cubs 2010 4th round draft pick) is scheduled to start for the AZL Cubs Tuesday night versus the AZL Athletics at the Papago Park Sports Complex in Phoenix. Ackerman has struggled with his control throughout his short pro career, and was (somewhat surprisingly) left behind in Mesa when the Boise Hawks left for the Pacific Northwest last Tuesday.