The Midway Point

Spring Training Game Fourteen – Cubs 5 Diamondbacks 6
WP – Mike Schultz (1-0) LP – Rocky Cherry (0-1, BS 1)

Wade Miller took the hill on Tuesday afternoon and was greeted by Eric Byrnes taking his first pitch of the game over the right field wall. Miller settled down and allowed just 2 runs over 4 innings on 5 hits. His two walks in the 4th cost him and the Cubs another run but Miller did strike out 5, threw around 75 pitches on the afternoon and topped out at 90 MPH on his fastball….consistently throwing in the high 80′s.

The Cubs offense was missing most of their regulars with the exception of Matt Murton, Michael Barrett and Ryan Theriot. The Cubs managed just one hit and a walk off of non-roster invitee Micah Owings in the first 3 innings but scored 2 runs on 3 hits against former Cub Juan Cruz. The Cubs tied the game in the 8th but Rocky Cherry could not retire a batter in the 9th….his first stumble of the spring. Lou Piniella all but announced on Tuesday Alfonso Soriano will be the Cubs opening day centerfielder. According to a report by Ken Rosenthal the Cubs will announce the decision by the 3rd week of March….

“….Another seven or eight games. But truthfully, I can almost come to that conclusion now.”

The other roster battle that will be worth following throughout the remainder of spring training will be the competition for the 5th spot in the rotation. Wade Miller made another strong case on Tuesday.

While Miller’s performance was not overwhelming, he was still effective on the mound. Miller did throw a lot of pitches in just 4 innings and while the 2 walks are not ideal….this is a staff that will give up their fair share of free passes. The two walks Miller allowed did lead to the Diamondbacks 2nd run of the game. Miller, however, recorded 4 groundouts to just 2 fly outs and the Cubs starters have done a good job this spring with keeping the ball down.

After the Byrnes home run, Miller retired Stephen Drew on a ground out to 1st. Orlando Hudson singled to right and stole 2nd base. Miller then preceded to strikeout both Conor Jackson and Chad Tracy swinging to end the inning. In the 2nd, Chris Young singled to center and Miller picked him off of 1st base. He retired Chris Snyder on a ground out to Ronny Cedeno to end the inning….Miller faced the minimum. In the 3rd, Miller struck out both Orlando Hudson and Stephen Drew swinging but the leadoff walk to Conor Jackson in the 4th cost him a run. With 1 out, Miller walked Carlos Quentin to put runners on 1st and 2nd. He struck out the next batter but Chris Snyder singled to left center to plate Jackson.

Neal Cotts took the mound in the 5th and allowed a leadoff double to Eric Byrnes. Byrnes advanced to 3rd on a wild pitch and scored on a single to left by Orlando Hudson. In the 6th Cotts gave up a solo home run to Carlos Quentin. Cotts continued his spring struggles. In 2 innings of work he allowed 2 runs on 3 hits, struck out 2 and did not walk a batter. Ryan Dempster pitched the 7th and gave up a run on 2 hits. Scott Hariston (brother of Jerry Hairston, Jr.) doubled to left and scored on a single by Stephen Drew. A day after Dempster had his best outing of the spring he could not repeat his performance. Scott Eyre would have had a perfect inning if not for the error by Tomas Perez. Eyre pitched well and recorded 2 groundouts and struck out Brian Barden.

Rocky Cherry gave up his first run of the spring and was unable to record an out in the 9th. Cherry faced 3 batters but the leadoff walk to Robby Hammock was the difference in the game. Cherry gave up a single to Alberto Callaspo and the game winner came off the bat of Scott Hairston….a double to center. The walk to Hammock was just the third on the spring in 5 1/3 innings for Cherry.

The Cubs did not score until the 4th inning. Matt Murton doubled to leadoff the inning and scored when Orlando Hudson booted a ball off the bat of Michael Barrett. The Cubs loaded the bases but were unable to score again in the inning….both Perez and Miller struck out. In the 5th, Felix Pie walked to start the inning and stole 2nd ahead of Theriot’s single to right. Murton hit a sacrifice fly to center to plate Pie. Theriot stole 2nd but was stranded when Barrett lined out to end the inning.

Micah Hoffpauir led off the 7th with a double, advanced to 3rd on an infield single by Felix Pie and scored on a ground out by Theriot. The Cubs did tie the game in the 8th after a leadoff single by Buck Coats; Ronny Cedeno tripled and scored on a single by Felix Pie.

Pie was 2-4 with a walk, a RBI and a run scored on the day out of the leadoff spot. With the all-but-official announcement by Piniella, Pie will start the season at Iowa.

While Buck Coats continued to impress (2-5 with a run scored) he might not make the team out of Mesa. Ken Rosenthal mentioned the Cubs are looking for another utility infielder to give Piniella another option off the bench that would allow either Ryan Theriot or Mark DeRosa to be the right-handed platoon partner for Jacque Jones in right.

The Cubs have only 15 games left in Arizona before heading to Las Vegas and Cashman Field to complete the exhibition schedule. There are just a few roster spots left….who will step up and win those jobs?

Box Score from MLB.com

The Cubs have their only off day of the spring on Wednesday. Rich Hill is scheduled to throw an intrasquad game at Fitch Park while most of his teammates enjoy a day off. The Cactus League schedule starts up again on Thursday when the Cubs host the Mariners at HoHoKam. Lou Piniella announced Cliff Floyd will start the game as the Cubs DH. Ted Lilly is scheduled to start the game against Cha Seung Baek.

Injury Updates….

Derrek Lee did “tweak” his groin on the awkward slide into 2nd base on Monday. Lee was removed from the game for precautionary reasons and according to a report on Cubs.com, Lee “should be fine.” Henry Blanco did have a bruised knee after he took a foul ball off the knee on Monday before he left the game.