On Saturday the Cubs had another afternoon of split squad action. The Rangers played the role of host in Las Vegas and also deployed a split squad. With St. Patrick’s Day weekend festivities in full swing back in Chicago, it was fitting that former Fighting Irish wide out Jeff Samardzija took the mound for the Cubs. For The Shark and the Cubs, they did not need luck to pull out a victory, possibly saving good fortunate for those truly Irish or for the casinos later.
The main highlight was seeing a solid outing from Samardzija. He allowed only three hits over five innings and kept the Rangers offense off the scoreboard. The rest of the pitching staff pretty much followed his lead, with lefty James Russell being responsible for the lone run given up to the home team. While the Texas line up was not the one that would be trotted out come Opening Day, it was refreshing to see the Cubs staff allow just one walk compared to the 10 strikeouts they recorded as a unit.
Luis Valbuena got a look at short stop in this game, as he will be the versatile backup infielder when not starting at third base this season. He also went 1 for 3 from the lead off spot in the line up while scoring once. Starlin Castro participated as the DH, allowing the Cubs All Star to get his at bats in while giving the hamstring a bit of a break by not having to play defense. Castro responded with a double and a RBI. Scott Hairston hit the only homer of the game, his second of the Spring.
An interesting development was seeing Steve Clevenger move from first base to third defensively during the game. The Cubs third string catcher had been getting reps at first to expand his versatility to the team, and with the ongoing injury concerns to third baseman Ian Stewart and the organization’s lack of depth at the hot corner, a split squad Cactus League game was the chance to run this experiment. Clevenger will certainly not make the 2013 roster as a catcher barring an injury to one of the two catchers in front of him, and with Anthony Rizzo firmly in place at first, Clevenger would be a back up at best there as well. It will be interesting to see if Clevenger gets some reps at third in the minors.
The Cubs won the game 5-1 to improve to 9-12.
The team offense that stayed back in Mesa one upped their mates in Vegas by putting up eight runs on the Royals, six being earned off of starter Bruce Chen. The Cubs jumped out to the lead in the first, sparked by a David DeJesus lead off homer. They would score four in the frame before adding single tallies from the third through sixth innings on their way to the 8-3 win. Brent Lillibridge may be a fall back option at third, and he made his case by going 2 for 3 with a run. Christian Villanueva also got some time at the hot corner and got a base knock, but he will not be considered as an option come Opening Day.
Javier Baez continues to flash his power stroke, as he had his second game in which he hit a pair of home runs. These were of the solo variety. Alfonso Soriano made sure Baez did not steal the show with a jack of his own, collecting two RBI and two runs on the day.
Meanwhile on the mound, Hisanori Takahashi is trying to earn a bump up from his minor league deal to being on the roster in April. The veteran lefty started the game and went four innings, with a respectable box score line of one run allowed on five hits. The Cubs could certainly use a second lefty in the pen next to Russell, and selecting Takahashi to be that man would allow Chris Rusin to continue his development as a starting pitcher in the minors.
Late inning relievers Kyuji Fujikawa and Carlos Marmol had another day of opposing results. The potential closer in waiting allowed a run in one inning of work while Marmol tossed a perfect frame.
The Cubs completed the sweep of their splid squad match ups and finished the day with a 10-12 record.
Topics: Alfonso Soriano, Brent Lillibridge, Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs, Christian Villanueva, David Dejesus, Hisanori Takahashi, Javier Baez, Jeff Samardzija, Kyuji Fujikawa, Luis Valbuena, Scott Hairston, Starlin Castro, Steve Clevenger