James’ Cactus League Journey: Dodgers vs. Cubs

Hendricks delivers a pitch vs. the Dodgers

Hendricks delivers a pitch vs. the Dodgers

After taking a day off Thursday, I resumed my baseball odyssey around Phoenix by travelling to…..Cubs Park in Mesa. Yes, I’d already been there and seen all the sights on Tuesday, but I looked forward to seeing the team take on a very tough opponent in the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Cubs somehow were able to win the game against a lineup that featured just about all of the Dodgers’ hitting threats and Josh Beckett pitching against the North Siders, and after the 5-4 win, I had some reactions to what I saw on the diamond.

Kyle Hendricks, who the Cubs acquired in 2012 in the Ryan Dempster trade with the Texas Rangers, looked absolutely excellent against the Dodgers on Friday. After an infield single to Dee Gordon to lead off the game, Hendricks largely cruised through the rest of his three innings of work, racking up four strikeouts and allowing only one more baserunner as he pulled the Cubs through some offensive struggles of their own.

More impressive than the way he retired guys like Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez with ease was the way that Hendricks was able to mix up his pitches and keep hitters off balance. He displayed some great off-speed stuff during the game, and he really kept batters from dialing in on anything with great command of his fastball during his outing.

Hendricks may not be the most tantalizing prospect that the Cubs have acquired from the Rangers (CJ Edwards and Mike Olt are both contenders for that spot), but he could end up surprising some people if he makes his way onto the big league roster in 2014.

Luis Valbuena was pretty impressive to me on Tuesday when the Cubs fell to the Rockies, and he continued to look good against the Dodgers. After an easy groundout to Gonzalez in the second inning, Valbuena buckled down and walked in his next at bat to lead off the fifth. He ended up scoring on a groundout by George Kottaras, but it was Valbuena’s two-run homer in the sixth that ultimately gave the Cubs their margin of victory.

Baez mans shortstop in the eighth inning

Baez mans shortstop in the eighth inning

Seeing him work counts and turning on mistakes and driving them out of the park is a great sign for Cubs fans, and even though he is probably the underdog in the battle for the third base job with Olt, Valbuena is still proving that he deserves a shot at some regular playing time.

-Spring training is a time where players work on the fundamentals of the game, and for several players on the Dodgers, Friday’s game was a reminder that they aren’t quite where they need to be in terms of their play.

In the fifth inning, Kottaras hit a ground ball to Gonzalez at first that should have resulted in a double play. When Gonzalez threw the ball to second base, Dee Gordon came across the bag and got ready to throw to first, but Dodgers pitcher Paco Rodriguez failed to cover the bag, and Kottaras was able to reach base safely as Valbuena scored the Cubs’ first run of the game.

The Dodgers ran into more problems in the seventh inning, as two baserunning errors by catcher A.J. Ellis nearly proved costly. With Ellis on first base, Miguel Rojas came to the plate and blasted a ball down the right field line. Rojas went to round the bag at second base, but was forced to stay there because Ellis inexplicably slid into third base and was unable to score despite the ball coming in late to Anthony Rizzo on a throw from Nate Schierholtz.

Ellis made another mistake just a few pitches later, as a Jose Veras offering ended up elduing Kottaras, but Ellis got a terrible break on the ball and was unable to score. He did end up trotting home on a double by Alex Guerrero, but the Dodgers weren’t done mucking things up just yet. Guerrero ended up getting picked off at second base by Veras to end the inning, and the Dodgers remained behind by a score of 5-3 at that point.

The Cubs weren’t immune from their own screw-ups either, with Justin Ruggiano getting picked off at first base to end a scoring threat in the fourth inning, but the Dodgers’ sixth and seventh innings were simply appalling to watch. Don Mattingly was likely pulling out his hair after those miscues.

The sandwich that dazzled my taste buds

The sandwich that dazzled my taste buds

-I’ve been talking a lot about the food at various Cactus League venues so far this spring, but I have an entry from Cubs Park on Friday that was an absolute smash. The Cubs have a nice picnic area beyond the right field lawn section where food trucks can park and sell their wares to hungry baseball fans. Whether you are in the mood for a quesadilla, hamburgers, or even breaded pork tenderloins, there are tastes for every eater in your group.

I ended up eating at a food truck called the Bent Fork, which serves Italian food. Whether you want pasta or paninis, this crew will take care of you, and I ended up choosing a five-cheese grilled cheese sandwich. It came loaded with all sorts of flavors, including ham, salami, prosciutto, tomato, and basil, and it was insanely delicious.

If you’re making your way out to Cubs Park before the end of the spring, I’d strongly advise you resist the temptation for standard ballpark fare at the concession stands (even though the hot dogs and burgers in the stadium are quite tasty) and take a walk on the wild side out at the food trucks.

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