The Chicago Cubs opened up their new Spring Training facility, Cubs Park, against the Arizona Diamondbacks to kick off their 2014 season. This was game No. 1 for the Cubs this year, and also the first for new head-man Rick Renteria. It was a split squad game that saw the largest crowd ever in Cactus League history, along with split results from the Cubs’ lineup.
Two hitters who eyes are focused on this year were in the lineup at the plate Thursday – Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Castro is looking for a rebound year in 2014 after coming off his worse season at the big league level. Last year, Castro may have gotten into the habit of being too conservative at the plate, and needs to get back to the mentality of just seeing the ball and hitting the ball this year. In the opener, he went 2-2 with a single and a solid opposite-field double. It could have easily been a triple if it were not for the first “Man-Down!” incident of the season that saw Castro stumble rounding second. All in all, Castro’s first two at-bats of the spring were encouraging.
For Rizzo, he did go 0-2 in the game, but possibly lost in the shuffle is that the Cubs recently added Eric Hinske to the staff as first base coach. Hinske, who played in the league up until last year, is a former left-handed slugger who had an excellent approach at the plate during his career. As the season goes on, he will definitely act as a second hitting coach for the team’s two main left-handed cogs in the lineup in Rizzo and Nate Schierholtz. Hinske is capable of providing guidance at the plate for the Cubs’ cornerstone at first base.
On the down side, the Cubs saw their three biggest bullpen arms struggle in their first appearances of the season. In the offseason, Chicago added Wesley Wright and Jose Veras to help a bullpen that has struggled out of the gates the last two seasons. The two newcomers accounted for allowing all five runs in the game on a combined four hits, including a home run, and one walk in two innings pitched. While he did not allow a run, Pedro Strop, the likely 8th-inning guy, struggled as well with command in his one inning of work. But that is what the spring is for.
While it was just game one of the spring, the Cubs will certainly be looking for better results from the two new guys joining the bullpen this season. Even in a loss, Cubs Park is shaping up to be a huge success for the franchise, and in the first game for the Cubs, there were things for the team to build upon for the rest of the spring. It also may not hurt to sneak in an extra base-running practice just in case. “Man-Down!”
Nick Schaeflein is a Chicago Cubs writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ptchr2424 or add him to your network on Google.