Ultimately the final score in spring training games matter as much as pitcher wins and losses - they don’t. What matters are the details in between. Spring training games are much like spring itself; we are watching for the silver lining of sunshine surrounding the gloom, promising the warmth of sun in the near future. This can be many things. Seasoned pitchers trying out new pitches to deepen their repertoire, returning players that were hot last season remaining hot, players returning from injury showing that being in “the best shape of their lives” can translate into meaningful production, and young guys new to this level of competition showing us, even if just in flashes, that they just might belong.
Much like the slowly blooming green of spring, taking its time to wake from the winter cold, results don’t even need to be immediate, they just have to be there. Robbie Ray made his second appearance of spring training, and seemed to have a slow waking up of his stuff in this game. He quickly managed to get Nico Hoerner to fly out to center, but when Dansby Swanson came up to bat he was unable to find the zone at all or trick him into swinging, giving up a four pitch walk. An Ian Happ fly out brought it to two outs, and then Cody Bellinger sent one to center field that in a rare moment Julio misplayed on a hop that allowed Bellinger to reach second with Swanson on third. This must have been an alarm clock to Ray though because he was wide awake now, and proceeded to mow down Mancini to end the inning. He carried that momentum into the second, striking out the side of Edwin Ríos, Yan Gomes, and Nelson Velázquez. In the third inning he struck out his fifth(!) batter in a row, and finished off his night with a third clean inning after getting Hoerner and Swanson to ground and fly out, respectively. Spring training be damned, he faced some legitimate major leaguers and quickly fell into peak form.
Following Ray’s three innings, Matt Brash came out to start the fourth. All five earned runs the Cubs put up today were charged to him, but we’re going to take more of a silver lining approach. Before he got into trouble, he was just a little bit of luck shy of getting out of the inning clean, although he did also struggle a bit with his command. The first batter he faced was Ian Happ, who floated a blooper into the outfield for a single. With Bellinger up, Happ stole second base, and when Bellinger managed a bloop that managed to just stay fair in left field, there were runners on first and third. Next Mancini started the at bat 3-0, but Brash was able to work it back full. Then this happened.
It's just spring training but that doesn't make a blown call like this any less frustrating for a pitcher. pic.twitter.com/rym6OItn6K— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) March 1, 2023
Even the Cubs broadcast remarked on how the pitch that was good enough to fool Mancini into locking up also fooled the ump into thinking it was ball four. With the bases loaded Brash bounced back and got Edwin Ríos to strike out swinging, but that was the only out he managed to put on the board. Gomes hit one just over the head of Kelenic in left to hop off the wall for a two-run double, Velázquez walked to load them back up, and Morel hit a single to score one runner, bringing it to 3-0 and chasing Brash out of the game. 2022 draft pick Stefan Raeth came into the game to try and clean things up. Mixed results there as he immediately gave up a single to Hoerner scoring one, but Kelenic managing to get the easy force out at third after Velázquez dove back to second instead of advancing on the play. Raeth then walked Swanson and served up a hit by pitch on Ian Happ, scoring Morel, but still not having given up any earned runs of his own because of the loaded bases inherited from Brash. One Cody Bellinger fly-out later caught by Julio and the inning was finally over.
After that the rest of Mariners pitching locked it down, only allowing one walk and two hits the rest of the game. Matt Festa pitched a clean inning with a strikeout, Clarke gave up a double off the wall but otherwise got out of his inning with playable contact, and Bukauskus managed a ground-out from the one batter he faced. Emerson Hancock made his Spring Training debut, and pitched an impressive 1.2 innings. He came in the bottom of the sixth, and after getting ahead of Cubs number two prospect Kevin Alcántara 0-2, he fielded a weak grounder to throw him out at first. He then got Yonathan Perlaza out on an easy grounder, before giving up a lone hit to David Bote. He almost battled back against Zach McKinstry after starting 3-0, working it back full, but ultimately gave up the walk, before getting Miles Mastrobuoni (a made up name if I’ve ever heard on) to fly out to end the inning. Coming back into the game in the seventh he continued winning against Cubs top prospects, this time getting Pete Crow-Armstrong to fly out to Robert Perez Jr. He then ended his night with an impressive high heat strikeout of Jared Young.
I started with the pitching, which certainly had some worthy highlights, to bury the lede a little bit. For even though the Mariners scored less runs, the best parts of the night, in my opinion, came from the hitting. They scored less, but outhit the Cubs 13 to 7. In particular, Julio Rodríguez and Jarred Kelenic, batting first and second in the lineup, put on a show in the top of the fifth that Mariners fans have been waiting to see for a few years now, and hopefully portends many more good things to come this season.
Both home runs came against a pitcher Seattle fans are well acquainted with in Roenis Elías, who had held it down scoreless since coming in during the third inning, and had started the fifth with two quick outs. Julio would not and could not be denied though, his home run coming being scooped off the end of his bat, but the raw power he has muscling it over the wall anyways. Jared Kelenic thought “hey, that looks fun” and proceeded to solidly swat one to very close to the same place Julio had. Spring Training or not, it doesn’t get sweeter than that. The other run of the night came not from a former top prospect, but the Mariners current one, in Harry Ford. (Not to be confused with Mike Ford, which the Cubs broadcast did when Mike was up earlier in the inning, only to then later remark that Seattle has a “garage full of Fords”). After he worked the count full, he proceeded to hit an RBI double out of the reach of the diving glove of Mastrobuoni (still not convinced that’s a real name).
Eugenio Suárez also managed to hit a double in the fifth, his only hit in three at bats, and AJ Pollock went two-for-three with a double in the second. Mason McCoy racked up another single for his fourth hit of spring in eight at bats, and Robert Perez Jr. also put up a single to keep .500 pace bringing him three-for-six so far. Cooper Hummel, Kean Wong, and Jonatan Clase all had a single apiece for their first hits of the spring season.
Jonatan Clase has his first hit of the spring. pic.twitter.com/sDQ1OijuD9— Gravel (@Gravel_sense) March 1, 2023
All-in-all, there was a lot to like about today’s game. The pitching only suffered from one truly bad inning, and there was even some bad luck at play there. The hitting came across the full spectrum of players, from veterans to graduated prospects to young guys still coming up. Perhaps one of the best highlights being that Kelenic, who is expected to potentially platoon with Pollock, hit his homerun against same-handed pitching, and continues to look much improved in his plate approach. Yes, it was a loss, but only technically in a way where the points literally don’t matter. Today was an absolute win for fans looking for reasons to be excited about the upcoming season.