Had a chance to see farm boss Oneri Fleita on the field today, so we’ll have a big “Farm and Fleita” report plus lots of other stuff from the Cubs-Bucs anagram series. Here’s a quick nugget from our farm report. Oneri says he removes the radar guns from the park when Hayden Simpson, last year’s No. 1 pick, pitches. We’ll get to that.
Today’s lineup for the Cubs against the Pirates, both of whom have 22-26 records:
Let’s do some housekeeping: Big Z says he has a knot in his trapezius and that he’ll be fine for his next start. He had an X-ray yesterday. He says the condition isn’t helped by the way he sleeps or watches TV. This guy is multi-media. A few years back, it was the computer causing the forearm problems. Anyway, he seemed pretty cheerful this morning, even asking me if I was surprised that he went 3-for-3 yesterday. Can’t say that I was.
Class AA Tennessee’s game was rained out yesterday. That means catcher Geovany Soto may not come back here until Sunday as he tries to get a couple minor-league games in at Tennessee.
Pitcher Rodrigo Lopez arrived today, and manager Mike Quade said he’d be available in the bullpen today, as would Casey Coleman. We’ll see what happens from here. I’ve got to believe it’s a big start for Doug Davis, given that Lopez had a good run as a starter for the Braves in Triple-A. The Cubs officially optioned Justin Berg to Iowa. To make room for Lopez on the 40-man, they designated Iowa pitcher Robert Coello for assignment.
Q says he’ll take it easy on both Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson today. Q sounded like he works in the NHL when he talked of Reed’s “bottom half.”
“I don’t want to put (Johnson) or Baker in a situation where I’m asking too much from them right now and I lose them,” Q said. “I’m anxious to see how they are tomorrow especially because they both have very good numbers against Maholm, and we’d love to have them in the lineup. Tomorrow will be very telling in both their cases.”
FARM AND FLEITA MINOR-LEAGUE ROUNDUP
Oneri Fleita said center fielder Brett Jackson will rejoin Class AA Tennessee next Monday as he finishes his rehab from a hand injury. Jackson injured his lefty pinkie finger sliding into a bag. He’s still in Arizona rehabbing.
“Just a little soreness that he had to get over,” Oneri said of Jackson’s seemingly long recovery. “We want to make sure he’s healthy so he doesn’t do anything different in his swing, pick up any bad habits. He’s ready to roll.”
Hayden Simpson picked up the victory yesterday in Game 2 of a doubleheader as Class A Peoria beat Wisconsin 4-1. Simpson went 5 innings, giving up 2 hits and 1 unearned run. He walked one and struck out seven. It was Simpson’s first professional win.
“I won 35 games in college, but this one is a little different,” Simpson told the Peoria Journal Star. “With it being the first professional win, there’s a little bit of satisfaction that comes with it; it means a lot.”
I asked Oneri what the radar-gun readings were on Simpson.
“I took the guns out of the ballpark,” he answered. "I can care less. For him, I took them out. For him and a couple of other guys, I’ve taken the guns out, because I don’t care. I want to know you’re throwing strikes, you’re getting guys out and you’re creating groundballs when you pitch. After that, I haven’t seen a gun get anybody out.”
Oneri says he does that for a “select group of pitchers” who might be overly concerned with their velocity.
Simpson, as you know, missed the end of last year because of mononucleosis. That put him behind right away, with the aftereffects accruing.
“I never had a guy miss an off-season like he did,” Oneri said. “It’s hard to say, ‘Time out, I need a month to get myself in shape when the season starts.’ He had good outing last night. He threw 5 innings. We’re going to see that throughout the year. I said that from Day 1. We just had lunch a few weeks ago, him and I. I reminded him, ‘This is how the season’s going to be.’ At the end of year, we have a couple of goals we want to reach: A. You’re healthy. B. You’ve learned a little bit about yourself and your routine for the next season and what it takes in the off-season so you can have a strong season from start to finish. He didn’t get a chance to go to instructional league. He didn’t get a chance to go to Boise and get a taste of what this is all about. So if we can accomplish those two goals, and the last goal, which is most important, you still love the game, I think we’re off to a good start.”
Class AAA Iowa lost 6-3 to Las Vegas. J.R. Mathes worked 5 innings, giving up 8 hits and 5 runs. Catcher Steve Clevenger (.447) reached base three times, going 2-for-3 with a walk.
Oneri said Tyler Colvin is a “realist” and understands his situation after being sent down. He said he wants to keep baseball fun for Colvin and that the I-Cubs will play him in the outfield and at first base.
Class AA Tennessee was rained out. Oneri said he’ll keep outfielder Jae-Hoon Ha there after his promotion from Daytona even after Brett Jackson comes back.
“The kids’ up there playing excellent defense,” Oneri said of Ha. “He’s got to have 13-14 assists. He’s got a strong, accurate arm. He’s another guy who makes you smile when he plays because he runs every ball out. He’s a joy to be around. His teammates love him. He’s certainly been one of our bigger surprises of the season to put up the numbers he’s put up at 20 years old in the Florida State League and now in the Southern League.”
On pitcher Trey McNutt, Oneri said he should be ready to keep rolling after a blister problem on his finger showed him.
“McNutt’s stuff is back,” Oneri said. “We finally got the blister thing behind us. He’s back pitching in the mid-90s with a good breaking ball. He should be able to start going deeper into games with his pitch count built up. His stuff is right where we saw it last year.”
On Josh Vitters, Oneri said: “Another guy at times who has gotten himself out (on pitches) out of the strike zone. He gets himself out. But the series I saw at Chattanooga, he made them throw him strikes. He hit the ball to right field. When he does that, he’s a tough out.”
Class A Daytona won its ninth straight, beating Bradenton 6-4 to improve to 36-12. Dae-Eun Rhee worked 5 innings, giving up 5 hits and 2 runs. He walked one and struck out 10. First baseman Justin Bour, this year’s surprise position player so far, hit his 13th homer. Bour hit 12 all of last year with Peoria.
“I tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey, kid, let’s see plate discipline and hit home runs, and he’s done that,’” Oneri said, adding that he was kidding. “Last year, I think he led our organization in on-base percentage. We just didn’t see the power numbers. He’s a great big kid. He came into camp and got himself into great shape. He’s running better. Obviously, you can see it in his fielding. He hits to all fields. Now, we’re starting to see the power that you had hoped for. He’s been a great surprise this season.”
For the time being, the Cubs will keep Bour at Daytona.