Spring Training Notebooks

Spring Training Notebook: Imanaga’s debut, injury updates and a new addition on the roster

2 months agoTony Andracki

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Shota Imanaga’s first action in an MLB game technically wasn’t even a pitch.

The new Cubs starter kicked off his first Cactus League outing with a pitch clock violation, leading to an automatic ball in the count.

Imanaga brushed it aside quickly, getting Dodgers shortstop Miguel Rojas to fly out and then striking out potential future Hall of Famer Freddie Freeman:

Dodgers slugger Max Muncy collected the first hit off Imanaga with a leadoff single in the 2nd inning. An infield hit followed that before a no-doubt home run from L.A. centerfielder Andy Pages.

Imanaga pitched 1 batter into the 3rd inning, striking out 5 Dodgers and allowing those 3 runs.

Overall, Imanaga felt like it was a valuable lesson in terms of seeing how his stuff plays against MLB hitters and adjusting to the rules in the American game.

“I would like to understand the pitch clock a little bit better,” he said through translator Edwin Stanberry. “Today was a good learning experience that they called the violation. I want to start using it to my own advantage so it was a great learning experience today.”

Manager Craig Counsell is not focused on results in exhibition games, especially this early in spring.

“I’m really just interested in going out there and enjoying himself, getting 2 innings, walking off the mound and being good and then moving on to the next time,” Counsell said before the game. “That’s what this would be for, really, today. He’s got enough going on. This doesn’t have to be a big evaluation day.”

Imanaga doesn’t know when he is pitching next and if he will work on a regular 5-day rotation. In Japan, the schedule is different so starters are typically on a 6-day rotation. 

That adjustment will be a main focus for Imanaga between Saturday and his next outing.

“I want to work on recovering,” he said. “In Japan, there’s a little bit more break in between as opposed to here. So just working on that, figuring out how I recover and working on keep building strength and keep building conditioning.”

Injury updates

Ian Happ is sidelined with a mild left hamstring strain suffered during Thursday’s game.

He will be out of games for the indefinite future but the Cubs are “optimistic” he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

“It’s Spring Training — I think that leads us to be conservative,” Counsell said. “Probably regardless of the injury, it leads you to be conservative. The most important thing is that we get Ian enough at-bats before Opening Day to be in a good spot offensively. And we’ll be in a good spot to do that.”

Counsell said Happ would need to get some more game action under his belt this spring and the Cubs have nearly four weeks before Opening Day to make that happen.

Patrick Wisdom has also been sidelined by a right quad injury. He is slated to return to action in Tuesday night’s game against the Royals.


New arrival

The Cubs made their minor league signing of Garrett Cooper official Saturday.

The 33-year-old first baseman brings a wealth of experience to the table. He has spent 7 years in the majors with 481 games under his belt.

Cooper joins a crowded first base picture and provides another right-handed power bat to the Cubs. He hit 17 homers and drove in 61 runs in 123 games for the Marlins and Padres last season.

The Cubs have already said rookie Michael Busch will see a lot of time at first base this year and as a left-handed hitter, he will play mostly against right-handed pitchers. Wisdom could start at first against left-handers and the Cubs also have Cody Bellinger available to play first when he’s not roaming center field.

Dom Smith was another minor-league signing brought into camp as part of the first base mix and prospect Matt Mervis is still around as well, though both Smith and Mervis are left-handed.

The Cubs could also deploy some combination of those bats in the DH spot as well if one of the minor-league signings makes the MLB roster.

“Garrett’s addition is depth here,” Counsell said. “Another option and somebody who has a successful track record. We’re crowded in that place right now. But like, one thing happening and then a lot makes sense, right?

“And so I think there’s some protection for us. We’ll give Garrett an opportunity to show us what he can do.”

Cooper and Smith are projected to play in Monday’s game against the Padres.

Next up

The Cubs host the Guardians at Sloan Park Sunday afternoon with Kyle Hendricks on the mound. Catch all the action on Marquee Sports Network beginning at 2 p.m.

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