MESA, Ariz. (AP) Sunday was just the kind of day starting pitchers want to see as spring training begins to wind down.
The Padres’ James Shields pitched five hitless innings, while the Cubs’ Jason Hammel struck out nine in San Diego’s 6-1 Cactus League victory.
The Padres broke open a 1-1 tie in the eighth on Tommy Medica’s pinch two-run homer off Cubs relief pitcher Francisley Bueno. San Diego scored three more times in the ninth, some thanks to Brett Wallace’s bases-loaded, two RBI single.
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Abraham Almonte had a pair of hits and scored twice for the Padres. The Cubs’ only run came in the sixth inning, when Arismendy Alcantara hit a home run on the first pitch from reliever Jose Valverde.
But the day belonged to Shields and Hammel, former teammates on the Tampa Bay Rays under new Cubs manager Joe Maddon.
Shields lowered his spring ERA to 2.25 with another solid outing for his new team. He walked two and struck out six in five innings, and said he’s right where he needs to be.
”I threw more curveballs today,” Shields said. ”I’m just working on stuff and finding the release point.”
Shields had planned to go back out for another inning, but called it a day after talking to Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley.
”Overall I feel great. Health is the most important thing,” said Shields, who has two more starts before the regular season begins.
As for Hammel, he’s back with the Cubs and in a better situation. A year ago, he wasn’t sure if he was going to start or relieve or which team he’d end up on to finish the season. He eventually settled into the Chicago rotation, but was dealt to Oakland in early July.
Now, Hammel is a starter and developing a rapport with his catcher, Miguel Montero.
”The slider and the curveball are taking shape, and I have a better feel for the changeup than last year at this time,” Hammel said. ”But I’m most happy with the fastball command.”
Five of Hammel’s nine strikeouts were called third strikes. He gave up three hits.
”I was throwing everything for strikes and kept them off balance,” he said. ”The mistakes were balls I tried to throw too hard instead of executing the pitch.”
PITCHERS HIT EIGHTH
Maddon had Hammel bat eighth, the first time this spring the Cubs did so. Alcantara batted ninth.
Maddon indicated it’s something he’ll consider in his first season in the National League after running the AL’s Tampa Bay Rays for nine years.
”There’s a couple different potential scenarios. I may look at it during the regular season,” Maddon said. ”Primarily, when the pitcher bats eighth you get to pinch hit for him sooner. It just depends on how deep into the game you think your (starter) may go.
Former Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa began using the strategy with Mark McGwire, reasoning that the slugger had more RBI opportunities with a regular hitter in the No. 9 spot.
The downside, Maddon said, is the seventh hole.
”Whoever is hitting in front of the pitcher is going to be at a disadvantage,” Maddon said. ”If there’s a guy who’s pretty good at getting on base, it would be more advantageous to hit him ninth. I see us as trending toward more of an American League-type lineup.”
Maddon said he’ll look at all the information possible, including input from the Cubs’ analytics department.
In his only trip to the plate Sunday, Hammel came up with two on and two out in the second. He swung at the first pitch and lined hard to Yangervis Solarte at third base.
Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro (groin) should be back Tuesday, Maddon said.
The Padres optioned pitchers Robbie Erlin and Leonel Campos to their Triple-A affiliate in El Paso. After the game, manager Bud Black said another pitcher, Casey Kelly, was also sent down.
Cubs: Monday is the first off day of the spring for the Cubs. They’ll play two on Tuesday – a B game at home against Arizona with Kyle Hendricks starting, and against Oakland in the Cubs’ former Mesa home, HoHoKam Park. Edwin Jackson will start against the Athletics.
Padres: RHP Tyson Ross goes to the mound in Peoria against the Chicago White Sox and lefty Jose Quintana.