Spring Training Notebooks

Cubs Spring Training Notebook: Navigating a couple early injuries, Madrigal following Rolen’s advice and PCA’s other passion

3 months agoTony Andracki and Andy Martinez

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Two games into the Cactus League slate, the Cubs have had to scratch a starter in each contest.

In Saturday’s spring opener, right fielder Seiya Suzuki was initially in the lineup but removed due to left oblique tightness and replaced by prospect Brennen Davis.

On Sunday, starting pitcher Justin Steele was scratched with general arm fatigue and Javier Assad got the ball instead against the Dodgers.

The issue just popped up Saturday for Steele and the Cubs wanted to play it safe. They fully expect him to take his next turn in the spring rotation.

“Threw a bullpen two days ago, a little touch-and-feel,” David Ross said. “Just probably erring on the side of caution. He’s thrown a lot so far. Plan a bullpen in between here and he’ll make his next start.”

Assad threw 2 perfect innings in Sunday’s outing, striking out Los Angeles’ 3-4 hitters (Chris Taylor, Max Muncy). He’s competing for the Cubs’ fifth starter spot to begin the season.

“It’s early in spring, sure, but there’s things you can see that are just gonna continue to translate over,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “Whether it’s the fastball playing up in the strike zone, the slider being good down, the action on the slider being good — those things translate for sure.”

Meanwhile, the plan was for Suzuki to get some imaging on his side Sunday and the Cubs will know more after those tests. They’ll formulate a plan from there.

Suzuki was supposed to play for Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic next month but his status is now in doubt with the oblique issue.

“It’s a wait-and-see,” Ross said. “I don’t want to make any comments with WBC or anything like that. We’ll see what happens and what information we get back. Talk to the doctor, talk to the trainers, make some decisions as soon as possible.”

Madrigal’s hot corner debut

With the signing of Dansby Swanson this winter, the Cubs have decided to give Nick Madrigal some time at third base as Nico Hoerner figures to be the everyday second baseman.

Madrigal made his game-action debut at the hot corner Sunday and the first two balls in play came his way:

Since his first year in college at Oregon State, Madrigal has only played in the middle of the infield and thus far in his big-league career, his only starts have come at second base.

So with the shift to a different position and a unique angle of the ball off the bat, he set about trying to make adjustments.

Somebody sent him a video of Scott Rolen talking on MLB Network recently about how at third base, a player doesn’t have time to track the ball from the pitcher’s hand to the plate. Since third basemen are so close to the batter, to get good jumps on the ball, the best plan is to wait for a pitcher to start his delivery then look to the front of home plate for the ball to arrive.

“That’s something that’s helped me a ton because you don’t really think of those things being new to the position,” Madrigal said. “It sounds like it’s something small but initially right when I did that, it feels way more comfortable. I would say that’s the biggest thing is getting my vision on the batter rather than tracking it like I do at second base.”

At the plate, he also singled home a run:

Madrigal is competing against a crowded field of potential reserve players and third base options this spring. Between Madrigal, Patrick Wisdom, Christopher Morel, Zach McKinstry, Edwin Rios and Miles Mastrobuoni, the Cubs won’t have room to carry all of those players on the Opening Day roster.

PCA’s other love

Growing up, Cubs prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong had a passion for two sports: baseball, in which he makes a living now, and another global game — soccer.

Crow-Armstrong grew up playing the “beautiful game,” playing recreational and club soccer until about the age of 12, when he pursued America’s pastime full-time. But, while he may have stopped playing, the love for soccer never went away. He follows Chelsea FC of the English Premier League and keeps his fandom in supporting “the Blues.”

“I got the Premier League app on my phone; I watch any games on ESPN when I can,” Crow-Armstrong said. “I got my notification on when Chelsea are playing or the other good teams are playing, just in case I have a chance to watch.”

The love of the game started through a childhood friend, Alec, whose family was from London and the United Kingdom and supported Chelsea. He grew up watching some of the club’s greatest players during their golden era.

“[Didier] Drogba, Michael Essien was cool, Frank Lampard,” Crow-Armstrong said of his favorite players.

The atmosphere is what’s kept him hooked to the game. The last game he attended was a U.S. men’s national team contest where they played Colombia in Glendale, Ariz., in the Copa America in 2016. He hopes to one day travel to London and see Chelsea at their legendary home of Stamford Bridge.

“The fans are unbelievable,” Crow-Armstrong said. “I think the atmospheres at soccer games are pretty cool. They’re probably the closest thing to a playoff baseball game that kind of exits.”

Speaking of Crow-Armstrong, he continues to impress defensively. Sunday, he threw a runner out at second base trying to tag up on a fly ball:

Next up

The Cubs will split their squad Monday to play the Guardians at home and Diamondbacks on the road. Jameson Taillon will start against Cleveland at Sloan Park, with the game airing on Marquee Sports Network at 2 p.m. Chicago time.

The Cubs have not announced projected pitchers for any other spring games but they will play the Brewers on the road Tuesday and then kick off March with back-to-back home games against the Mariners and A’s Wednesday and Thursday.

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