Spring Training Notebooks

Cubs Spring Training Notebook: Home runs, crisp defense, a starter is named and another funny Suzuki moment

1 year agoAndy Martinez

MESA, Ariz. — Thursday morning at Sloan Park, Cody Bellinger crushed a home run to the left-center field lawn off lefty Drew Smyly and immediately ran to celebrate with hitting coach Dustin Kelly.

The blast wasn’t one to grow overly excited about — it’s a live BP in Spring Training, after all — but it’s also one that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Since he signed with the Cubs in December, Bellinger (who went to high school in nearby Chandler, Ariz.) has been at the Cubs facilities working on rediscovering his swing — the one that made him one of the most feared hitters in baseball just a few seasons ago.

“Yeah, I think it’s huge,” Kelly said. “It’s early in the spring, so everybody has their cage swings and then once you start to work out in the field, you kinda start to transition into, ‘OK, what does it feel like? How do I see the baseball and the timing?’ But when you get good results like that, especially left on left, it makes everybody feel real good.”

Live batting practices aren’t the most ideal conditions for hitters, which made the Bellinger home run much more noteworthy.

“Live BPs were never my favorite,” manager David Ross said.

Bellinger and Kelly immediately hit it off — Kelly said that the pair “have spoken the same language since day 1.” They wanted to simplify his swing and not necessarily overanalyze it. For Kelly, that meant it started with athleticism.

“I think it’s more of a relaxed look in the box,” Kelly said. “He’s always been kind of a tall, upright stance. But there’s a little bit of flexibility in there as he starts to make his move towards the pitcher and gets into his heel strike.”

To improve his athleticism, the 27-year-old Bellinger has worked to improve his flexibility in the weight room and training room, focusing on his feet and legs and his core.

“Then he’s able to take it from the cage and put it in the batter’s box,” Kelly said. “So we’ll continue to look for him to be loose and athletic.”

And the hope is as time goes on, he’ll continue to improve in that aspect and days like Thursday will become more common during live batting practices and leading into the regular season.

“Confidence is big for all of these guys,” Kelly said. “Live BPs is one of the toughest settings for any hitter to get into, especially this early in the spring. Any barrel that happens in a live BP is just extra confidence and he felt good. He felt good in the cage this morning. Felt good in BP. so to see that happen against a live pitcher is just another good thing that happens.”

Defense on display

Before the hitters took over at Sloan Park, the Cubs defense — something they’re priding themselves on this year — was on full display.

The Cubs took infield-outfield drills Thursday with bench coach Andy Green spraying fungos across the diamond for the team as they fine-tuned their defensive mechanics.

“Infield-outfields one of those things, I know it’s so old school and whenever we get to do it, I just love to see when things go smoothly and crisp,” Ross said.

For the most part, that’s exactly what was on display defensively. As Green hit balls into gaps in the outfield and across the infield, Ross could be heard excitedly cheering on his team as they made each play.

“That stuff excites me cause I just like getting back in that baseball feel,” Ross said. “And to watch those athletes perform is invigorating for me.”

Stroman gets nod for spring opener

Ross announced Thursday that Marcus Stroman would be the team’s starter for Saturday’s Cactus League opener against the Giants at Sloan Park.

Stroman pitched to a 3.50 ERA in 25 starts for the Cubs in 2022, but really emerged as the team’s ace after he battled back from a bout with COVID-19 and a shoulder issue. Over his last 16 starts, he pitched to a 2.56 ERA.

Ross also said that Adrian Sampson, one of the names in consideration for the final spot in the team’s rotation, would piggyback off Stroman on Saturday.

Moment of the Day

During batting practice at Sloan Park, Dansby Swanson was taking some swings when some of the outfielders, including Seiya Suzuki, were running back in across the infield dirt.

Suzuki was running in from right field towards the third base side dugout when Swanson hit a grounder to the shortstop hole. Suzuki lunged backhanded for the ball and scooped it up, as slick as Swanson does at the position.

“Hey, we should switch positions,” Swanson chirped at Suzuki.

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