Cubs spring notebook: Joc jacks, Strop speaks and high socks
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In the first 10 days of Cactus League action, there was a fierce battle between Joc Pederson and Rafael Ortega as to which Cubs outfielder was having a more impressive spring.
Ortega has a walk-off grand slam to his name, but Pederson took a commanding lead in the competition Thursday afternoon in the Cubs’ 8-6 win over the Rockies at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
Pederson mashed a pair of homers in his first 2 at-bats, tucking a ball just inside the left-field foul pole in the 1st inning and then smacking one to right-center in the 3rd:
Joc makes it look easy.— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) March 11, 2021
His 4th 💣 of the spring! pic.twitter.com/LHVh4NJWCL
Joc simply won't stop hitting home runs. pic.twitter.com/8sTxMo6KUB— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) March 11, 2021
In his 3rd trip to the plate, Pederson smoked a single to right field. He’s now hitting .529 with a 1.471 slugging percentage and 5 homers in 7 spring training games (17 at-bats).
It has to be the high socks, right?
Pederson’s teammate, Kris Bryant, also rocked the high-socks look and doubled in the 1st inning to plate the Cubs’ first 2 runs of the game.
Speaking of the Cubs’ lineup, it was an intriguing mix to begin the day and they didn’t disappoint on the field.
Here’s how they started the game:
1. Ian Happ – CF
2. Willson Contreras – C
3. Anthony Rizzo – 1B
4. Kris Bryant – 3B
5. Joc Pederson – LF
6. Javy Báez – SS
7. Cameron Maybin – RF
8. David Bote – DH
9. Nico Hoerner – 2B
With the exception of Maybin in right field (instead of Jason Heyward) and the presence of the DH, this could very easily be the 2021 Opening Day batting order for this club.
David Ross cautioned not to read too much into a lineup for an exhibition game with the start of the regular season still three weeks away, but he did concede it was interesting to see how the batting order lined up Thursday.
“I feel like I could draw names out of a hat with this group and there’s going to be a pretty balanced lineup,” he said. “It is fun to put a lot of those star players in the lineup and see when you start stacking it and how deep it gets is exciting. But at the end of the day, they’re names on a card and they’ve got good baseball cards, but they have to go out and have good at-bats and produce. Everything they’ve done up to this point as far as spring training is getting ready to have a good season.
“We keep making a lot of the lineup. I think it has to do with the guys in the lineup. If those guys are hitting, you could put them in any order you want to and be really successful.”
The lineup Thursday ignited the team early, thanks to Pederson’s pop and Bryant’s 2-run double and Báez also added a 2-run blast.
Overall, they worked good at-bats up and down the order and even some of the outs were hit hard. The Cubs forced Rockies starter Dereck Rodriguez to throw at least 20 pitches in each his 3 innings (67 total).
They also did the little things right, as Maybin advanced to third base on a hit by Bote in the second inning and when the throw went to third, Bote scampered into second base. Then Hoerner battled with 2 strikes and put a ball in play to drive home a run with an RBI groundout.
Kyle Hendricks made his second start of Cactus League action Thursday. He also started the Cubs’ spring opener on March 1 and threw a live bullpen to his teammates in between.
After a dominant opening frame, Hendricks was hit in the upper right arm by a comebacker to begin the 2nd inning. Before the runner even made it to first base with an infield hit, Hendricks was already giving the thumbs-up signal to the Cubs dugout and promptly struck out the next batter.
He said after the game he felt no ill effects from the comebacker and was overall happy with his outing as he pitched into the 4th inning. He was charged with 7 hits and 4 runs, but he also acknowledged he was working on a couple of specific pitches facing live hitters.
“It felt good to just get the pitch count up, honestly,” Hendricks said. “Felt really strong, even at the end there. Had plenty left, so that was a good sign. Overall, made a lot of good pitches. I think after the 1st, just missed with a couple, a couple ran back middle and they just put good swings on it.”
Pedro Strop rejoined Cubs camp earlier this week after being sidelined for a couple of days due to breaching COVID-19 protocols. In speaking to the media for the first time since his return, Strop’s message was clear:
“I did apologize to the boys, my teammates, coaches,” Strop said. “[I said] ‘I’m sorry to expose you guys to that terrible virus and I promise that it’s not going to happen again. I was really upset that that happened. I always want to do things right.
“I made that mistake and I felt bad. I think it’s time to move on and think about baseball again and just try to not make the same mistake ever again.”
The veteran reliever is a non-roster invitee to spring training and is competing for a job in the Opening Day bullpen, but he expressed more regret about how he impacted his team than his own personal status.
“I was more upset of like, ‘OK, I gotta go through some tests and see if I’m good,'” he said. “I was really scared [because] those guys are doing their team right and I just basically got here and exposed myself to something that can affect my teammates, my team, my organization. I was more upset because of that.”
Even with the hiccup that kept him out of action for a few days this week, Strop believes he can still be ready to go by Opening Day.