Cubs Spring Training Notebook: Spider-Man, Mario Brothers and Hall of Famers
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Cubs fans weren’t the only ones who had a lot of fun with the team’s spring no-hitter on Friday night.
New catcher Tucker Barnhart saw an opportunity for some laughs and didn’t pass it up.
It’s a normal occurrence in big-league clubhouses for players to buy teammates nice bottles of champagne for major feats. And watches seem to be a good go-to gift for switching uniform numbers or whatever else.
So after a no-hitter in an exhibition game, Barnhart bought children’s watches and bottles of sparkling grape juice. He got Spider-Man watches for Yan Gomes and Luis Torrens — who combined to catch the no-hitter — and Mario Brothers watches for Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and bullpen coach Chris Young. All four received a bottle of sparkling grape juice.
“I like to have fun,” a smiling Barnhart said.
When you have the @Cubs first spring training combined no-hitter, you celebrate… Tucker Barnhart did perfectly. @WatchMarquee pic.twitter.com/ntbF5Ak4EZ— Elise Menaker (@EliseMenaker) March 5, 2023
The two-time Gold Glover has wasted no time in fitting in with his new team. David Ross said Barnhart has hit the ground running as fast as any player he’s ever managed.
During the no-hitter Friday, Cubs starter Justin Steele joined the Marquee Sports Network broadcast and sang Barnhart’s praises.
“Tucker’s come right in and he’s done an awesome job of developing the relationships with all the pitchers,” Steele said. “Not just the pitchers, just everybody on the team in general. Getting people together, going to dinners and stuff.
“It means a lot. That goes a long ways, especially through 162 and playoffs. It’s a long season.”
Hall of Famers in camp
The legendary Billy Williams made an appearance in Cubs camp Sunday, joining the likes of Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson and Rick Sutcliffe as icons popping in and out this spring.
After he retired as a player, Ross spent three years working as a special assistant in the Cubs front office and routinely sat next to Williams to watch games.
“Billy’s the best one to watch [with],” Ross said. “He’s watched so many baseball games. He sees the game in just a pure form if you watch it next to him. And doesn’t get caught up in too many of the terminologies that we use now. It’s just nice to sit and watch a baseball game with a Hall of Famer, the way they watch the game.”
Ross will have Williams address the entire Cubs team before stretch on Monday.
“I just think it’s very valuable when you have guys like him and Fergie and Ryno and Hawk and all these guys, Sut coming in,” Ross said. “Those guys are so valuable to hear how they look at the game and what they’ve seen. Billy’s worn a lot of hats, too, so picking his brain is always something I try to do.”
Smyly making some tweaks
Drew Smyly started for the Cubs Sunday and while he wished he had better results (6 hits, 3 runs, 2 homers allowed in 2 innings), he was encouraged by his progress as he makes some minor tweaks in his delivery.
Smyly has been working with Hottovy over the last few days to keep his arm a little closer to his body when he delivers a pitch. He was optimistic about the results in game action.
“I could tell instantly my fastball had way more carry,” Smyly said. “I got quite a few swings-and-misses on it today. The cutter was way more consistent and sharp and angled. That’s where I wanted it.”
Smyly felt like he got into some bad habits early in spring and didn’t like the way his cutter was moving. So he approached Hottovy about making adjustments and took it into a game.
The veteran southpaw should have 3 or 4 more starts this spring to get his mechanics locked in.
“It’s kinda weird pitching in spring because there’s no real gameplan,” Smyly said. “There’s no strategy. … You’re just up there working on stuff. I don’t really look too much into the results right now. You just want to keep moving forward with how your body’s moving.”
The pitching has been on point lately for the Cubs lately but on the offensive side, David Bote has been on fire to kick off Cactus League play.
Bote is now 8-for-13 this spring with 4 extra-base hits (2 doubles, a triple and a homer) and 5 RBI in 7 games. He started at second base Sunday against the Rockies and drove in the Cubs’ first run with a double off the wall in left-center.
David Bote is 8-12 with 5 RBI over 7 games in Spring Training. pic.twitter.com/jdRys38Glb— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) March 5, 2023
The next time up, Bote walked and promptly stole second base.
“I told somebody the other day, if there’s an MVP so far in camp, it’s gotta be David,” Ross said before Sunday’s game. “He’s driving in runs, it’s slug within there. Even his batting practice has been very, very impressive.
“It’s still early but the work he put in and the changes he wanted to make in the offseason seem to be paying off really well.”
The Cubs designated Bote for assignment in November, removing him from the 40-man roster. He’s still owed more than $10 million on the contract extension he signed in April 2019.
The Cubs have a very crowded infield picture as it is with Christopher Morel, Nick Madrigal, Patrick Wisdom, Zach McKinstry, Edwin Ríos and Miles Mastrobuoni already on the 40-man roster competing for the third base job or backup middle infield spots.
Bote turns 30 in April and has missed significant time in recent years with a recurring left shoulder injury that required surgery following the 2021 campaign.
He has posted a .216/.287/.359 slash line (.646 OPS) in 138 games since the start of the 2021 season.
Trey Mancini had a solid day at the plate Sunday with a single the first time up and then a homer in the 4th inning.
Not only was it Mancini’s first blast of the spring, but it was one of the hardest-hit balls of his entire career:
Trey Mancini's HR had a 115.1 mph exit velocity— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) March 5, 2023
He has just 1 career regular-season batted ball hit at least that hard:
a 115.5 mph HR on 4/12/17 https://t.co/pm2G9Vyc4x
Mancini was initially signed to be a regular option at DH and first base for the Cubs and also possibly factor into the corner outfield mix. With Seiya Suzuki injured, Mancini has been playing right field more often in spring as of late.
The Cubs travel back to Peoria, Ariz., Monday to take on the Mariners at the scene of Friday’s no-hitter. Hayden Wesneski takes the hill with first pitch scheduled for 2:10 p.m. on Marquee Sports Network.