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Cactus League report: Cubs unveil their ‘energizing’ defense — and a pair of White Sox head out for the WBC

Forget the sunny, warm weather typically associated with spring training.

Another cool, windy day greeted the Cubs on Wednesday at Sloan Park, where they beat the Seattle Mariners 5-3. Ian Happ, Nico Hoerner and Christopher Morel each recorded an RBI in the Cubs’ five-run fourth inning, which saw the scoring get started with Yan Gomes’ two-run double.

The White Sox were able to get in most of their game against the Cleveland Guardians before poor weather arrived, falling 9-6 at Camelback Ranch. The game was called in the top of the ninth because of rain. Zach Remillard hit a three-run homer in the loss.

Chicago Tribune baseball writers LaMond Pope, Meghan Montemurro and Paul Sullivan will be providing Cubs and White Sox updates throughout spring training.

Defense-centered Cubs roster gets 1st look in game action

The Cubs’ offseason focus, beyond adding talent, centered on building the 2023 team around pitching and defense. Players’ track records suggest they will have one of the better defenses in baseball, particularly up the middle.

Their first six games provided the first look at the group’s defensive potential and a chance for shortstop Dansby Swanson and second baseman Nico Hoerner to build a rapport and understand how each operates at his position. Defense was an underappreciated element of the Cubs’ 2016 World Series title team and an area the organization has emphasized.

“I don’t think defense ever gets enough credit really,” manager David Ross said. “I mean, fans are excited about home runs, great pitching is fun. I love athletic plays. I love athletic plays up the middle. I love a sick double play … that’s energizing to me, and I think the fans will see a lot of that this year with the athleticism we have up the middle.”

Reliever Michael Rucker started a nifty double play Wednesday to end the seventh, snagging the ball and firing to second baseman Andy Weber, who completed the play with a throw to first baseman Jared Young. Swanson’s and Hoerner’s starts have been scheduled for the same games to allow for potential double-play chances, though neither had a chance to turn one Wednesday.

“The starting point for the season is we should be pretty darn good defensively, and we’ll go from there,” Ross said. “We’ll be pretty well-rounded when it comes to defensive resumes.”

Aaron Bummer taking ‘smart’ approach to camp

Aaron Bummer went through his normal offseason preparation.

But the Sox reliever “just wasn’t recovering the way that I wanted to,” he said Wednesday.

After meeting with the training staff, Bummer — who missed time last season with a left lat strain — said they “realized with the full camp, let’s be smart and let’s get ahead of these things. Instead of kind of treading water through camp, let’s take a little step back and prepare for March 28 (the end of camp), not Feb. 14 (the start of camp).

“We feel good now and we’re definitely moving in the right direction. Don’t foresee issues coming up.”

Bummer said he’s dealing with “residual stuff from last year.”

“I wouldn’t say that I reinjured or did anything,” he said. “It’s just something when I took the time off in the offseason, I lost a little bit of range of motion that I built up, and kind of cranking through that caused some inflammation in there. So we got the range of motion back and we got the inflammation out and everything should be smooth sailing.”

Bummer is happy with the progress made.

“Since I’ve got here, things feel a lot better than they did,” he said. “That’s all I can ask for right now.”

He’s setting his sights on contributing in the opening series against the Houston Astros, which begins March 30.

“The goal is to be ready for Houston,” Bummer said. “Get ready for Houston and get ready for the rest of the season and go from there.”

Cubs value 1A and 1B options at catcher

For the last six years, the Cubs knew who was getting the bulk of the starts behind the plate.

Willson Contreras’ offseason departure to the St. Louis Cardinals sets up the Cubs for a tandem approach to the position. The organization views Yan Gomes and Tucker Barnhart as co-starters, a situation Ross can relate to from when he was paired with Jarrod Saltalamacchia in Boston for the 2013 season.

“Both those guys have started multiple games in their careers,” Ross said. “They’ve got hardware, winning-type players, so when you feel comfortable no matter who’s behind the plate, the pitching and defense is going to be a priority.”

Ross should be able to find ample playing time for his two veteran catchers, especially because the left-handed-hitting Barnhart and the right-handed Gomes can be matched up against the opposing starter.

“That helps a lot too,” Ross said.

‘Pressure baseball’ awaits Luis Robert Jr. and Yoán Moncada in the WBC

Wednesday marked the final game with the Sox for center fielder Luis Robert Jr. and third baseman Yoán Moncada before they travel to Taiwan to play for Team Cuba in the World Baseball Classic.

Sox manager Pedro Grifol said there are no playing restrictions in place for the two.

“Whatever their goals are for it, that’s what I want (for them),” Grifol said Wednesday.

If past tournaments are any indication, Grifol anticipates a lively atmosphere.

“I don’t know what the atmosphere is going to be in Taiwan, I’m sure it’s going to be electric,” Grifol said. “I know the atmosphere in Miami (one of the other tournament locations) is going to be incredible. The stadium has been sold out the last two years, you can’t get a ticket there. The players are only allowed four tickets. Normally these guys get 10, 12, 20 tickets.

“But it’s pressure baseball. You’re talking about countries playing against countries, there are bragging rights in the clubhouses and bragging rights across the league. It’s an exciting time.”

Today’s games

  • Cubs vs. Athletics, 2:10 p.m., Marquee
  • White Sox at Rockies, 2:10 p.m.

What we’re reading this morning


“I’m pretty sure that’s going to be a surreal experience for me.” — Moncada, through an interpreter, on the WBC


Source: Berkshire mont

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