Cactus League report: Drew Smyly is working with a new catcher — and the White Sox plan to be ‘opportunistic’ on the bases
A Cactus League road game Tuesday came hours after Seiya Suzuki’s disappointment of his oblique strain and outlook at what comes next for the Chicago Cubs right fielder.
Opening day might not be in play because of Suzuki’s moderate left oblique strain, making the rest of the spring important for the organization to figure out its options if he can’t go at the beginning of the season. Nelson Velasquez, who should be in that mix, hit a two-run homer in a 6-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. Brennen Davis connected for an RBI double while Matt Mervis doubled and walked. Outfield prospect Kevin Alcántara had a two-hit game.
The Sox used the long ball and some small ball in a 4-1 victory against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields. Seby Zavala hit a two-run homer in the sixth. Billy Hamilton doubled to right, stole third and scored on Sebastián Rivero’s safety squeeze in the eighth.
Chicago Tribune baseball writers LaMond Pope, Meghan Montemurro and Paul Sullivan will be providing Cubs and White Sox updates throughout spring training.
Drew Smyly is learning to work with new catcher Tucker Barnhart
Smyly considers himself an easy pitcher to catch.
He throws a three-pitch mix — curveball, sinker and cutter — and sticks to his strengths. It’s a stark contrast to Marcus Stroman, who can incorporate five pitches in a start. Both can offer different challenges for new Cubs catcher Tucker Barnhart.
“That’s got to be really hard for Tucker to get going and execute (Stroman’s variety),” Smyly said after the veteran caught his spring debut Tuesday. “For me, it’d be a little easier once we start game planning and figure each other out.”
The numbers weren’t pretty from Smyly’s start against the Milwaukee Brewers. He allowed two runs on five hits, including a home run, in two innings. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out two. And in his first experience with the pitch clock he recorded one violation in the second inning when he failed to start delivering a pitch before the timer expired.
But at this point the Cubs aren’t putting together prestart scouting reports on how to attack the opposing lineup. The focus instead centers on making sure a pitcher’s body and arm feel good and working on pitches. Tuesday’s start was the first time Smyly and Barnhart worked together in a game.
“So, I’m probably shaking more than he’s used to,” Smyly said. “You’re just trying to feel it out facing the hitters for the first time. He doesn’t really know how I like to set guys up yet. It’s just working with each other through spring training, trying to get on the same page.”
White Sox plan to be ‘opportunistic’ on the bases
Yoán Moncada went from first to third on an Eloy Jiménez single for the White Sox in the first inning Saturday against the San Diego Padres.
Andrew Vaughn went first to third on a Yasmani Grandal single Monday against the Seattle Mariners.
Sox manager Pedro Grifol liked the aggressive baserunning in Monday’s 10-1 victory.
“I envision our team taking advantage of 90 feet whenever it’s given to us,” Grifol said Tuesday. “Whether it’s on a ball in the dirt, a base hit to the outfield, so sometimes you can’t force these things, but when they present themselves you have to be ready to take it.
“What kind of baserunning team are we going to be? Opportunistic. You give it to us, we’re going to preach taking it.”
As far as running hard to first, Grifol said “that’s expectation.”
“I’ve heard all the philosophies in the last four, five years — you know, save your legs and, I’ve heard them all — but at the same time you have respect the game, your teammates and your organization, and the fans that come out to watch,” Grifol said. “The kids that are in the stands that are learning from the way we play the game.
“To me it’s just give me a good effort.”
Minor adjustments are working for Jake Burger
Slight changes at the plate are working for Burger.
The Sox infielder hit his second homer of the spring Monday, a two-run blast to deep center in the sixth inning against the Mariners at Camelback Ranch.
Burger noticed some of the benefits even before the first Cactus League game this spring.
“I made some minor adjustments with some swing-and-miss and chase, keeping my head a little stiller,” Burger told the Tribune last week. “I feel like that’s paid off from what I’ve seen so far.”
Burger is competing for a roster spot, getting work at first base in the first three games.
“The bat plays at any level,” Grifol said Sunday. “I know from the other side he was a tough game plan. I want to see it every day, the way he goes about his business. He’s playing third, he’s playing first. This guy is a tough out.”
Burger slashed .250/.302/.458 with eight homers and 26 RBIs in 51 games last season. He had a .253 average with five homers and 16 RBIs in 39 games at Triple-A Charlotte.
“Last year showed me that I do belong there,” Burger said. “Just kind of build off that. I feel really good at the plate right now.”
This spring, Burger said, is about “compete and intensity, first and foremost. Just show up every day. I’m grateful to be here. Use that gratitude and also use my focus and energy to put my best foot forward.”
- Cubs vs. Mariners, 2:05 p.m.
- White Sox vs. Guardians, 2:05 p.m.
What we’re reading this morning
- A disappointed Seiya Suzuki is keeping a big-picture focus for the Cubs after an oblique strain diagnosis: ‘I don’t want to rush anything’
- Elvis Andrus is adjusting to 2nd base for the White Sox after playing his entire career at shortstop: ‘I’ll get used to it’
“There’s a level of respect to the game for people who pay to watch the game. I’m not asking them ground ball to the pitcher to give me 100% down the line, but you know what, give me a good effort. Give me good effort till the play ends. And if it happens to end before you get to first base, OK, well then you can shut down a little bit. Just give me good effort. Give us, our organization, our culture, the effort that we’re looking for.” — Sox manager Pedro Grifol on running hard down the line