Cubs spring notebook: Outfield alignment, Strop debut and the ‘sexy’ pitching staff
MESA, Ariz. — Several times throughout camp, David Ross has thrown out lineups that could be seen as foreshadowing for the regular season.
He’s cautioned not to read too much into the batting orders, but Ross confirmed Saturday’s outfield alignment is something we could see in the regular season.
With Jason Heyward serving as the DH, Jake Marisnick started in center field and pushed Ian Happ to left field and Joc Pederson to right field.
That is one of the options on the table during the regular season if Heyward receives a day off and with Marisnick’s defensive prowess, Ross acknowledged he could utilize the veteran late in game as a defensive upgrade.
“With the National League rules back in place and no DH, we’re heavy left-handed in the outfield,” Ross said. “With the potential of a heavy right-handed bench, it just makes sense to move those guys around. Joc’s played a ton of right, Happer’s played a lot of left and Jake can really go get it in center field.”
Saturday marked only the fourth game for Marisnick in Cactus League action as he was slowed earlier this month by a minor calf issue.
As it often seems to happen in this sport, the ball immediately found Marisnick in Saturday’s game as the Rockies’ first hitter sent a routine fly ball to center. A few pitches later, Marisnick battled the Arizona sun to corral the final out of the inning.
The Cubs signed the 29-year-old over the winter to provide veteran depth and add a right-handed bat in the outfield mix but they were particularly intrigued by Marisnick’s defense in center field.
Over his career, he’s been credited with 51 Defensive Runs Saved and so far, his range and glovework have been as advertised.
“It’s one of those sneaky [runs] — it doesn’t look like he’s moving very fast but he’s just covering a ton of ground and runs the ball down with ease,” Ross said. “Same on the bases. It’s just a long stride, it’s an easy run — that’s how it looks to the eyes and he flags a lot of stuff down.”
One part of the reason for Saturday’s lineup was the pitcher on the mound for the Rockies — left-hander Austin Gomber. Some of the Cubs starters wanted more looks against southpaws this spring, Ross said.
Happ has been vocal in the past about seeing lefties and Pederson made it a point this winter to find a team that would allow him to play every day instead of in a platoon role. Heyward also wanted to get more looks against a lefty and with the DH spot only available for another 10 days, Ross gave him that opportunity instead of having pitcher Trevor Williams hit.
The trio delivered in their at-bats, as Happ greeted Gomber with a ringing double to left field in the 1st inning. It will go down as an 0-for-1 in the scorebook, but Pederson’s groundball was a productive out for the Cubs as it moved Happ to third and led to the first run of the game.
Heyward doubled off Gomber his second time up and scored on Marisnick’s 2-run homer.
Williams has not yet thrown a regular season pitch in a Cubs uniform, but he’s already emerging as a go-to quote.
After coming out of Saturday’s game, Williams met with the media in Arizona and provided his take on a Cubs pitching staff that may be short on velocity but is rich in pitchability.
“Everyone is special and unique in their own way. There’s no bad lemons in our group,” said Williams before pausing to laugh for a second. “I think everyone is really elite at one specific thing. Spin rate is sexy, velo is sexy, but I think guys are sexy in their own way with how they attack the strike zone with a certain pitch.
“A front door sinker that Kyle Hendricks throws is objectively sexy. So is a Craig Kimbrel 4-seam up in the zone. That’s objectively sexy too. I think everyone’s unique in their own way and how we mesh and how we gel and how you get different looks from so many different guys. It’s gonna be fun from Rossy’s point of view where he can gameplan his pitchers accordingly.”
Williams needed only 55 pitches to get through 5 innings Saturday afternoon and had to throw another 15 in the bullpen to work up to his goal for the day.
He will have at least one more outing to continue to build his workload and may have a tune-up start before the regular season, too.
Pedro Strop made his first Cactus League appearance Saturday and picked up the save.
He walked a batter, gave up an infield hit and surrendered a run on a wild pitch but he also hit 95 mph on the radar gun a couple times and routinely sat at 93 mph.
Strop is back with the team and competing for a spot in the Opening Day bullpen. His signing wasn’t official until a week or so into camp and he also missed a couple days due to COVID protocols earlier this month.
In building up to Saturday’s outing, the Cubs said Strop was hitting 94 mph with his fastball in a pair of live bullpens.
“I just look forward to him getting out there and competing in a game and getting that crooked hat out there in real competition,” Ross said Saturday morning.
Cubs reliever Rowan Wick continues to progress well after a troublesome intercostal injury that has lingered since mid-September.
“RoWick’s in a really good spot,” Ross said. “Itching to do more, trying to navigate a good plan for him. I believe he got off the bump for maybe 10 [pitches] the other day.
“He’s feeling really good, but as good as he’s feeling — which is always great news — we also now, with all the time off, are trying to build him back up in the right capacity.”
The Cubs will be without one of their top relievers to begin the 2021 regular season but if Wick continues to progress, he could be a boost to the bullpen sometime this spring.