A Cubs blog chock full: Off-day musings in Pitt
PITTSBURGH _ The one thing great thing about any baseball game is that you can dissect it infinite number of ways. In football, they do it 16 times a year. In baseball, we do it 162. No doubt Cubs fans will go well into Tuesday afternoon talking about Monday’s 3-1 victory over the Pirates and the ninth-inning machinations involving closer Carlos Marmol. So maybe it’s a good thing that today is an off-day in the schedule. It also gives me a chance to enjoy one of my favorite towns – Pittsburgh is an underrated gem – and we can catch up on a few leftovers from Monday and look ahead.
Once the season gets going full swing, we’ll bring back our minor-league roundup to the blog. Our friends, the Kane County Cougars, open Thursday in their first season as the Cubs’ Class A Midwest League affiliate. We’ll have some roster notes about the Cougars below in today’s blog.
Coming down for coffee after a morning workout, I ran into Cubs radio voice Pat Hughes, and we agreed that Monday’s game was won in the first inning. Anthony Rizzo hit a 2-run homer on the first pitch he saw. In the bottom of the inning, Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija got out of trouble after giving up a walk to Starling Marte and watching as backup second baseman Brent Lillibridge made an error.
Samardzija got out of that jam and went on to toss 8 innings of shutout ball. During that first inning, I kept thinking back to a few opening-day starts made by former ace Carlos Zambrano. In 2010, Zambrano was staked to a 3-0 lead in Atlanta by a Marlon Byrd homer. Zambrano turned around and gave up 6 runs in the bottom of the first inning before being lifted in the second after being charged with 8 runs.
I couldn’t help but wonder how Zambrano would have reacted to Monday’s first inning, both with the walk and with Lillibridge’s error. It might not have been a pretty.
Anyway, Samardzija went on to give up 2 hits while walking one and striking out nine over eight innings. According to the Cubs and research historian Ed Hartig, of the 100 Cubs Opening Days since 1914, the only Cubs pitcher to have at least an 8-inning outing while allowing 2 or fewer hits on Opening Day was Lon Warneke on April 17, 1934. Warneke tossed a 9-inning complete game 1-hit, shutout.
Only four other times did a Cubs opening-day starter have an outing of at least 8 innings while allowing no runs:
Warneke, April 12, 1933: 9 IP
Warneke, April 17, 1934: 9 IP
Hank Wyse, April 19, 1944: 9 IP
Bill Bonham April 9, 1974: 9 IP
Carlos Zambrano (6.2 innings, 2008), Jim Brosnan (6 innings, 1958) and Jim Bullinger (6 innings, 1995) are the only others with shutout outings of at least 6 innings on Opening Day.
Other nuggets from Opening Day 2013:
--The Cubs outhit the Pirates 6-3. Of the Cubs’ 6 hits, 3 were for extra bases: Rizzo’s homer and a pair of doubles by catcher Welington Castillo, who seemed to have a good rapport going with Samardzija from behind the plate.
--Rizzo’s homer came after he did not hit one in the Cactus League. He got some kidding from his teammates calling him “Campana,” after light-hitting outfielder Tony Campana, who was traded to the Diamondbacks.
--Right fielder Nate Schierholtz, who will share time with Scott Hairston, was 1-for-2 with a run scored. He singled, walked, was hit by a pitch and reached on error.
We mentioned the Kane County Cougars. They’ve released their opening-day roster. Among the names you’ll find are:
--Pitchers Pierce Johnson, Jeff Antigua, Jose Arias and Lendy Castillo, who saw big-league time with the Cubs last year after being a Rule 5 pick.
--Infielders Dan Vogelbach, Rock Shoulders, Gioskar Amaya and Jeimer Candelario. Vogelbach is a big kid who hit 17 homers last year between Mesa (Rookie) and Boise (A). Candelario is considered one of the organization’s top prospects, and “Rock Shoulders” might be the best name in baseball. I expect Albert Almora to head to Kane County after his hand heals and a possible rehab in Mesa.