Cubs Spring Training Notebook: Injury updates and pitching musings
MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs are starting this spring off on a streak, but it’s a bit of an ominous one.
For the third straight day to kick off Cactus League play, the Cubs had to scratch a player in the starting lineup before first pitch.
With the team divided for split squad action at Sloan Park and also in Scottsdale, Patrick Wisdom was scratched from the road game with left groin tightness. He was replaced in the lineup by minor leaguer Jake Slaughter.
The Cubs are not overly concerned about Wisdom’s status and are simply being cautious this early in Spring Training. But it represents a trend, as Seiya Suzuki was scratched in the opener Saturday and starting pitcher Justin Steele was scratched Sunday.
As for Suzuki, the Cubs are still in a wait-and-see mode with their starting right fielder. He got imaging on his oblique injury Sunday but the Cubs are waiting for their doctors to take a look at the results before making a determination on next steps.
The hope is that Suzuki and the team will know more by late Monday or early Tuesday. The Cubs don’t yet know if it will impact Suzuki’s status for Opening Day a month away, but it will likely delay or cancel his time with Team Japan for the World Baseball Classic.
“Obviously when you have something like that pop up, you’re concerned and want to find out,” David Ross said. “I think it’s really important to him to represent his country in the WBC. I know that’s an important thing to him.
“We’re gonna have conversations soon about what the imaging tells us and try to make some decisions after we talk to him and what’s best for everybody.”
The Cubs are optimistic on Steele’s status the day after he was shut down with general arm fatigue.
“I don’t know if we’re too cautious but we try to be as cautious as possible and take care of guys,” Ross said. “He was further along than probably anybody we had coming to camp. Maybe [Marcus Stroman’s] a little bit in the same way.
“[Steele] has thrown a lot of bullpens. He’s been here all offseason. It didn’t make any sense to push even the slightest thing. I think he’s in a good place.”
Split squad summary
With the Cubs’ forces divided Monday, Jameson Taillon got the ball at Sloan Park against the Guardians. He gave up a couple runs in the 2nd inning but had a pair of quality strikeouts in the 1st:
Jameson Taillon strikes out two in his first IP as a Cub! pic.twitter.com/MARA2gX5bh— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) February 27, 2023
The first whiff came against Steven Kwan, who was the second-hardest player to strike out in baseball last season (9.4% K rate).
“I know he doesn’t swing and miss much — I faced him last year,” Taillon said. “Obviously, it’s Spring Training, so it doesn’t really matter but it’s good feedback. Second inning, the same thing. Even the bad — the bad is good feedback and you just take it and learn from it.”
Taillon has been working on a new pitch this spring — a sweeping slider. He only threw 1 sweeper in Monday’s outing by design as he works to ease his way in but he will look to incorporate the pitch in game action later this spring.
“The bullpen is helpful too and the lab and throwing it in catch-play and all that,” Taillon said. “But definitely in game, when your adrenaline is up, kinda changes your delivery a little bit. Speeds you up. So just making sure that the same movement profiles that I’m getting in the bullpen with no adrenaline or whatever is carrying over to a heightened atmosphere like that in a stadium. It’s definitely important. We’ll work it in there next time.”
Offensively, the Cubs got RBI hits from Ian Happ, prospect Yonathan Perlaza and utility player Miles Mastrobuoni against Cleveland. Mike Tauchman — who is in the mix for a reserve outfield spot on the Opening Day roster — had 3 hits, including a double to kick off the 3rd-inning rally.
Over in Scottsdale, prospect Caleb Kilian took the mound against the Diamondbacks. He threw 2 scoreless innings with a pair of strikeouts.
Caleb Kilian retired all six batters he faced today 🔥 pic.twitter.com/DkqltAPljv— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) February 27, 2023
In Steele’s place Sunday, Javier Assad got the spot start and pitched well with 2 perfect innings against the Dodgers.
Ross came away impressed.
“That was as good as I’ve seen Javy and as good as he’s pitched last year for us,” Ross said. “Up to 95 [mph] in the 1st, knows how to work the ball in and out.
“… Really good start to his Spring Training outings. He’s in a really good place. He threw the ball really well and you could tell he put in a lot of work in the offseason.”
The 25-year-old right-hander pitched well in his first taste of MLB action last season for the Cubs. Assad went 2-2 with a 3.11 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in 9 games (8 starts) down the stretch.
Over the winter, Assad focused on slimming down a bit and strengthening his core while also working to get his mechanics more in sync. That late-season run in the rotation was proof for him that he belongs in the big leagues.
“[It taught me] to just have confidence in myself, confidence in my pitches that I had and to carry that in [to this season],” Assad said.
Assad is in the mix for the Cubs’ final rotation spot, competing alongside Adrian Sampson and Hayden Wesneski.
The Cubs are back to solo gamedays for a while (the next split squad is on March 17).
Tuesday, the Cubs head to Maryvale to play the Brewers with Drew Smyly on the hill. First pitch is slated for 2:10 p.m. CT on Marquee Sports Network.