The Rundown: Darvish Strong, Baez Ready to Break Out, Morrow Conflicted Facing Old Team

Heavens to Murgatroid, these Cactus Cubbies can play some ball! In case you missed yesterday’s game against the Dodgers, here’s a video recap of the first inning:

Highlights included a Javier Baez two-run double and a two-run homer by Albert Almora Jr. I know the games don’t count, but this team seems to have a renewed purpose this spring.

If you don’t have a subscription to The Athletic — I highly recommend you get one by clicking here — you missed a great interview by Jon Greenberg with Cubs GM Jed Hoyer. In part one of the Q&A, Hoyer talked about focus and clean games, something that made the 2016 team so special. Greenberg will post part two later today.

“I think that goes back to the focus,” Hoyer said. “I think in 2016 you come out and go 25-6 to start the year. We had one lull in the middle of the season. Otherwise you look at that whole season and take away that 20-game stretch, we played clean baseball the whole year. Our defense was amazing that year. It felt like our pitching and defense was the backbone of the team every night.”

It appears the Cubs are seeking that type of commitment to focus this year. It definitely helps that the roster is completely set already, the rotation is set, and each player knows his role for the upcoming season.

Cubs News & Notes

Brendan Miller has been taking a look at the Cubs rotation lately. Brendan is a legit professor when it comes to breaking down pitchers and if you love mechanics and analytics as it pertains to the Cubs staff, make sure you take the time to read his breakdowns,

Speaking of pitching, Yu Darvish looked really good yesterday. Darvish threw two innings in his Cubs debut, giving up a run on two walks and four strikeouts, which included striking out the side in the first inning while showing some command of his repertoire. On display were a combination of his fastball, slider, curve, and change-up. Though he was a little erratic in the 1st inning, giving up a run on a wild pitch after walking two Dodgers, the new Cubs ace hit 95 mph on his fastball and missed some bats.

“Because I lost some weight in the offseason, I was worried about my velocity, but it was right up there,” Darvish said through his interpreter after his spring debut. “I’m glad it’s 95 mph.”

Javy Baez is looking to break out this year. The 25-year-old is elite defensively and has already played six positions in his young career. He seems to be improving at the plate and he should be the team’s regular second baseman in 2018. Plate discipline is all that is standing between Baez and true greatness.

New closer Brandon Morrow felt a little conflicted facing his former team for the first time. That will definitely have to change before the 2018 playoffs.

How About That!

Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Santiago Espinal and Esteban Quiroz homered as the Red Sox rolled past the Rays 9-1 at Port Charlotte, Florida. Jake Bauers went deep for Tampa.

Tyler Saladino hit the tie-breaking homer in the seventh inning and the White Sox went on to defeat the Brewers 6-4 at Glendale, Arizona. Travis Shaw hit two solo blasts for Milwaukee.

The Indians fell 7-6 to the Reds despite another home run by Jason Kipnis. The Indians second baseman has six taters through six spring training games.

The Royals signed former Cubs OF Jon Jay to a one-year contract yesterday.

The Arizona Diamondbacks announced yesterday that they are bringing back the bullpen cart. The last bullpen cart in MLB was a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with a relief pitcher side car used by the Brewers in 1995. Get that thing washed and waxed.

Twins President Dave St. Peter confirmed the club is already studying bringing similar cars to Target Field. “It is something we have discussed and will continue to review,” he said. “The ballpark will require some modifications in order to allow easier cart ingress/egress.”

Tim Lincecum will wear number 44 for the Rangers this season in honor of his brother Sean, who passed away last month.

I’m speechless.

Hot Takes & Syrup

  • Pardon my hot take: Cardinals fans have to be excited about watching Marcell Ozuna play for two years before he leaves the mediocre franchise via free agency. Ozuna said one thing he likes about St. Louis is playing in front of a big crowd. Imagine how excited he’ll be when the Dodgers sign him in 2020.
  • Pardon this obvious hot take: The Nationals plan to utilize more shifts and strategic defensive positioning this season under new manager Davey Martinez in order to make batters more uncomfortable at the plate. Martinez, of course, came over from the Cubs, who made headlines last August for using a four-man outfield against Joey Votto in one of the more extreme examples of shifting in recent memory.
  • Pardon this obligatory hot take: Oft-injured Indians starting pitcher Danny Salazar will start the season on the DL. When healthy, Salazar posted 12.7 K/9 last season, but the dude just can’t not stay un-hurt.
  • Pardon this hilarious hot take: Watching Craig Kimbrel enter a Red Sox game to “Welcome to the Jungle” by might not have the same intimidating effect as if he’s riding shotgun in a bullpen cart that’s nothing more than a motorized contraption with a big baseball cap and fielder’s gloves behind the headlights. Thank you, Rob Manfred, for pace-of-play objectives.

Wednesday Walk-Up Song

Welcome to the Jungle by Guns N’ Roses. Naturally.

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