Cubs Spring Training Notebook: Defensive wizardry on display, Dansby Swanson’s first home run and golf fun
MESA, Ariz. — All offseason and throughout Spring Training the talk from the Cubs has been how the team would be predicated on pitching and defense.
Sunday afternoon at Sloan Park, Cubs fans were treated to a preview of that mantra.
The Cubs’ defense made stellar play after stellar play, highlighted by a quartet of slick snags from their new Gold Glove shortstop Dansby Swanson. The first one came on the first pitch of the game, a diving stop to his left that he fielded on a slide, turned and fired for the out.
The next came in the 6th, when he slid to his right to stop a ball and threw out Tyler Gentry. In the 7th, he made a running stop in the hole and then saved a run and a single by stopping a ball up the middle and flipping it to Nico Hoerner for an out.
“Unbelievable,” starter Justin Steele said of Swanson. “That’s what he does. He’s an unbelievable defender. You love pitching when a guy like that’s at shortstop and you got Nico right across from him.”
Hoerner, a Gold Glove finalist at second base in 2020 and no slouch defensively himself, also made a nice diving play in the 4th. Eric Hosmer, another former Gold Glover, contributed a diving play of his own at first base to end the 7th.
Patrick Wisdom at third base made a nice pick in the 1st inning and even Steele himself got in on the action in the 1st, stopping a chopper above his head and flipping it to Hosmer for the out.
“I think defense is gonna be a huge part of our identity this year,” Swanson said. “I always say you gotta make outs, outs. We did that today.
“The quicker we can get to 27 outs, the more success we’re gonna have. It’s a huge part of our team.”
And Steele on the mound set that tone. He tossed 6 shutout innings, allowing just 4 hits and a walk with 6 strikeouts. He’s in line to pitch the second game of the season against Milwaukee at Wrigley Field.
“It felt really good,” Steele said. “It feels good to get the last start of spring under my belt, get some good momentum going into the season and just keep going throughout the season.”
Swanson hits first home run
Swanson wasn’t just showing off his glove Sunday afternoon.
The righty hit his first home run of the spring, a 2-run blast in the 3rd inning to center.
“It felt great, obviously,” Swanson said. “Anytime you can start to feel like you’re getting right on track for the start of the season is a big deal. I’m just excited. I felt like I contributed a little bit today.”
Swanson had been struggling this spring at the plate, hitting .081 entering Sunday’s game, but David Ross believed the approach was there. The shortstop has 8 walks this spring and has had many long at-bats where he’s been fouling off pitches straight back.
“I said to him the other day — it’s like how many pitches have you fouled straight back on really good swings? To me that’s all timing,” Ross said on Friday. “I think we all are gonna go through that. Players are all gonna go through that throughout the season.”
His first two at-bats were almost a microcosm of his spring. In the 1st inning, he struck out looking, but had three balls that he fouled off. In the 3rd inning, Swanson connected on the home run.
“I think at times for me, I can very much overthink it,” Swanson said. “It’s just something we’ve kinda worked on and talked about more and more in the cage each day I do my work is just going up there and hitting and not just to be out there just to be out there.”
All spring, before the Cubs began stretching and their workouts for the day, home clubhouse and equipment manager Danny Mueller would go somewhere on the half field or agility field at Sloan Park and place a make-shift golf pin for a closest-to-the-pin contest.
Different Cubs players and coaches would partake — and the competition wrapped up Sunday morning inside of Sloan Park. Bench coach Andy Green and reliever Brandon Hughes were the finalists. The pair teed off from the berm in left field and the pin was in left center field.
Hughes beat Green for the title — and a nice dinner, courtesy of his teammates.
“It’s all spring, just something that’s fun and there’s a lot of trash talking that goes around in the clubhouse and just a little small distraction or something different during the spring,” Ross said. “Just keeps it fun.”
Who finished in last?
“I don’t wanna…,” Ross said before pausing himself and taking a moment to collect his thoughts. “I’ll say me, how about that? I’ll throw myself under the bus on that one.”
The Cubs play their penultimate game of the spring against the White Sox on Monday afternoon at Sloan Park. Jameson Taillon will take the bump and first pitch is set for 3:05 p.m.