The Cubs kicked off their weekend by taking on Japan and the White Sox in split squad action on Friday.
The team that went to pay the Sox a visit did not have much to write home about. In sort, the Cubs were embarrassed at Glendale, getting torn apart 15-3 at the hands of their cross town rivals. Scott Feldman alone was tagged for almost half of the runs, giving up seven over 3 2/3 innings of work. He left two runners on for Hector Rondon, and the Cubs Rule 5 pick allowed his first two runs of the Spring after a walk and a grand slam to Dayan Viciedo.
Jim Hendry’s return on the Matt Garza trade a couple of years ago continues to diminish to say the least. Lefty Zach Rosscup was the final piece to that deal and he promptly walked the bases loaded after coming in to pitch the sixth. He would leave without recording an out, and his fellow pen mates allowed all three of those runners to come home. The Cubs pitching staff issued eight walks on the day, which is the main reason why the Sox were able to score 15 runs on 15 hits.
Meanwhile, Sox starter Gavin Floyd kept the Cubs offense in check through five plus frames. The Cubs only managed three runs in the game and two of those came in the ninth, with the game long past out of reach.
In these types of games, you have to force yourself to find a silver lining. The one thing that popped out to me was Starlin Castro’s progress after returning from a hamstring injury. Castro tallied a stolen base in the game, a positive sign that he is not concerned about re-injuring his leg. Whether it is back to 100% still remains to be seen, as a good toss by the catcher would have thrown Castro out. The Cubs shortstop also set his feet and had a nice strong throw from deep in the hole in the fifth to record an assist on a groundball out. The All Star infielder went 1 for 3 at the plate with a run.
Castro’s mates back in Mesa put up more of a fight against Japan, with the exhibition a warm up for the Asian team as they prepare for the semi final stage of the World Baseball Classic. Too bad for some of the Cubs players that the stats from this game would not go towards their Cactus League totals.
The Cubs jumped out to an early lead in the first, collecting three runs. There was a Josh Vitters sighting, as he singled in the third run. Unfortunately starter Travis Wood would not be able to hold the lead, allowing a two run homer in the second and a three run shot in the third, putting team Japan ahead 5-3. The long balls are a bit concerning when Wood will be calling Wrigley Field home this season.
Thankfully, Wood’s teammates were able to pick him up. The comeback effort started with his bullpen pals shutting down Japan’s offense the rest of the way. The highlight of the relief corps effort was a perfect frame by Rafael Dolis.
Andrew posted yesterday about the tasteless joke team Japan displayed in warm ups, but the Cubs got the last laugh during the game. Hot prospect Javier Baez got the Cubs within one run with a solo job in the seventh, and the home team played some Japanese like small ball to tie the game in the eighth. Dave Sappelt led off with a single and was bunted over to second by Rubi Silva. First base prospect Daniel Vogelbach drove Sappelt in with a single of his own.
The the punch line and last laugh came in the bottom of the ninth. The drama of a last at bat was heightened just a little bit with the managers of both squads agreeing that there would be no extra innings in this exhibition match. Christian Villanueva further set the stage for Baez by leading off the frame with a double. As Baez left the on deck circle, he told Welington Castillo that the catcher would be getting a chance to bat in the final frame. Baez then promptly launched the first pitch he saw for a walk off two run homer. Cubs 7, Japan 5.