The Rundown: Cubs Need to Tighten Up Defensively, Lester Struggles, Bryant Defends Against Criticism, Ross Finally Manages
Jon Lester had a less than remarkable start in yesterday’s Cactus League tilt against the Rockies. The slimmed down lefty threw 31 pitches and was pulled after failing to retire the first three batters of the 2nd inning. He allowed five runs (three earned), three hits (two doubles) and two walks without a strikeout.
In his first game as Cubs manager, David Ross has to go get the ball from Jon Lester.
Lester: 1+ IP, 3 H, 5 R (3 ER), 2 BB, 0 K, 9 BF, 31 pitches. pic.twitter.com/arEiReCSBc
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 25, 2020
The Cubs lost 12-6 but were down 10-0 at one point, and shoddy infield play took the brunt of the criticism following the game. Rightly so. Lester wasn’t on the verge of a spectacular performance by any means, but it’s fair to say that things may have been much different had his infielders provided a little more support.
As usual, Lester took the loss in stride.
“A lot can happen in a month,” Lester said. “When Rossy and (pitching coach) Tommy Hottovy sit us down and tell us what we’re going to do going forward, then we’ll have that answer. I don’t know where my velocity was at, but I feel like I’m in a better place now physically than [I was] last year.”
It was his first outing of the spring, so no need to read too much into anything that happens on the field or anything he said after. High pitch counts have been the norm for Lester the past few years, so it’s imperative that his fielders provide clean innings. Forcing the veteran to earn an extra out or two is usually a recipe for disaster, just like yesterday.
The Cubs committed 118 errors last season, second most in the National League, and were ranked 13th in the NL with minus-13 defensive runs saved. That trend needs reversing, particularly when Lester takes the bump.
Cubs News & Notes
- The Cubs were 2-1 in exhibition play without David Ross at the helm. The rookie skipper, who had been out with the flu until yesterday, is now officially 0-1 in his career as a Cactus League manager.
- The new manager’s absence proved his revamped coaching staff is already capable of maintaining the no-nonsense, business-like workouts that have become an early trademark for Ross and his staff.
- Kris Bryant had -7 defensive runs saved in 2019, tied for third-worst at third base. Still, Bryant thinks claims that he is a poor defender are a little unwarranted.
- Per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, one veteran scout at yesterday’s game said a few teams were still looking at Bryant as a trade possibility one week after KB said he expects to start the season with the Cubs.
- It’s nice to see that Albert Almora Jr. is off to such a hot start, and I know he struggled immensely after accidentally striking a fan with a batted ball last year, but I wonder how much of the center fielder’s stalled development is connected to Davey Martinez leaving the Cubs to manage the Nationals in 2018. Almora peaked in ’17 and was tight with the former bench coach.
- Though his 4-for-4 start is the tiniest of sample sizes, it’s okay to acknowledge the big changes Almora has made in his approach as a hitter.
- Lefty reliever Brad Wieck has been absent from camp for undisclosed reasons.
- The Cubs and Comcast could still reach an agreement that would allow the cable behemoth to carry Marquee by the start of the season.
- David Bote is apparently available for your gender reveal videos.
- If you make it to Mesa this spring, here are a few good dining spots near Sloan Park you may want to try.
Odds & Sods
Yu Darvish mocks gravity…and nothing could be cooler.
MLB Spring Training Notes
The Dodgers may have the deepest roster in the history of the game.
Philadelphia outfielder Bryce Harper is embracing his role as the seasoned, stoic veteran in his second campaign with the Phillies.
Agent Scott Boras will honor the final wish of Kobe Bryant to provide an internship for Lexi Altobelli, daughter of Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, who perished along with Bryant and seven others last month. The late basketball star had texted Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka moments before the fateful helicopter crash, vouching for the young woman’s character and work ethic.
The Red Sox are still waiting on results from Rob Manfred’s investigation surrounding Boston’s alleged use of digital technology to illegally steal signs.
Gerrit Cole said the Astros played “fair and square” the last two seasons. The new Yankees starter was still playing for the Pirates when Houston beat the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series.
Yankees starter Luis Severino needs Tommy John surgery and will be out for the entire season.
If the Yankees feel the need to acquire a starter in trade to replace Severino, they could use outfielder Clint Frazier as a trade chip. Would you take Frazier in a deal straight up for Cubs’ starter José Quintana?
Red Sox prospect Chih-Jung Liu has been quarantined in a Florida hotel room amid concerns he may have contracted COVID-19, aka the coronavirus. A team spokesman said the organization is using “an overabundance of caution” to guard against the virus, per The Boston Globe.
How long will the Cubs continue to carry Daniel Descalso? One would think that signing Jason Kipnis all but guaranteed the team would move on from the free agent bust from last season, and they currently have enough utility infielders in camp to fill an entire lineup. With Nico Hoerner likely targeted for a minor league assignment, do the Cubs really need to carry anybody but Kipnis and Bote, especially since Ian Happ can fill in at the keystone, too?
Descalso has a guaranteed contract and provides veteran leadership, which may force the penny-pinching front office to keep him around. However, that may also cost backup catcher Josh Phegley a roster spot. Who would you rather the North Siders keep?
Who's at second? @nico_hoerner , @TheJK_Kid , @DavidBote13 and Daniel Descalso: pic.twitter.com/fEUcUbELnp
— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) February 19, 2020
They Said It
- “I was just missing (the corners), just off, just down. When you feel that, you back yourself in the corner mentally where I got to be on the plate a little more, and that’s when you give up the hits. That’s neither here nor there. My curve is nothing without my fastball. I’ll continue to work on that, build arm strength. I felt pretty strong. Hopefully I will continue to work on that (arm) angle and get some better results next time.” – Jon Lester
- “You give all these talks to guys, and I’m in there talking about I want everyone in there the first game in the dugout. I’m sitting at home watching 62 dudes in the dugout, guys are hitting home runs, and I’m wondering, ‘How am I not there?’ That was tough.” – David Ross
- “It’s not like I played amazing defense, but it wasn’t bad either. [I have] room to improve for sure. I’ve been working on it, but it’s not like my defense is the worst ever.” – Kris Bryant
Wednesday Walk Up Song
Tighten Up by the Black Keys. Borrowing from the movie Bull Durham: “You see catch the ball, you throw the ball, you hit the ball.” Let’s get it together guys. By the way, this is one of the better music videos produced in recent years.