The South Bend Cubs, or Iowa Cubs playing in South Bend, or Alternate Training Site Cubs … whatever you want to call them, lost 3-2 in a seven-inning exhibition game against the White Sox ATS squad on Thursday evening. There were offensive struggles outside of a home run and the starting pitcher yielded plenty of baserunners, which certainly feels a bit on-the-nose right now. But we can get a little more nuanced than that, can’t we?
Here is tonight's @Cubs Triple-A exhibition lineup vs. @WhiteSox at @FourWindsField presented by Industrial Door of Northern Indiana
First pitch at 6pm ET on Facebook Live.
Yes, we DO have an extra hitter!#CubTogether | #Cubs | #SBCubs pic.twitter.com/Uhd9hl5j4b
— South Bend Cubs (@SBCubs) April 15, 2021
This was the lineup the Cubs went with, a bit odd in its 10-hitter, 4-catcher construction. The defensive alignment definitely created some challenges, whether it was misreads by Trent Giambrone (which dropped for a hit) or Cam Maybin (which led to a diving catch) or Miguel Amaya coming off the bag in what would have been a nice play by Nico Hoerner up the middle (Rizzo would never).
But a lackluster defense is life in the minor leagues, and our eyes were certainly more focused on what we might see from the boy-he-got-skinny Cory Abbott.
Really enjoying getting to see Cory Abbott pitch on the Facebook broadcast of the @SBCubs alt site game. Been so long since we've gotten to watch him pitching in a "minor league game." He has longer/funkier arm action than I remember.
— Bleacher Nation Cubs (@BleacherNation) April 15, 2021
Simply put, it wasn’t Abbott at his best, specifically with the fastball. The White Sox consistently got into deep counts on Cory by letting high fastballs go by, which ran his pitch count up in each inning. The Cubs chose to “roll” each of Abbott’s first three innings (meaning they stopped play early) with only two outs logged because he’d hit their pre-determined pitch count limit.
However, it was only the third inning where the White Sox were able to log any damage against Abbott. After a beautiful slider-down strikeout to start the third, minor league vet Matt Reynolds hit an opposite field home run off a middle-middle Abbott fastball. Abbott walked the next batter, and then Blake Rutherford crushed a first-pitch Abbott fastball to right field to finish off a 3-batter, 3-run sequence.
But it’s early, and I choose optimism, so I’ll tell you what I did like: the breaking balls. Abbott’s slider is a well-documented plus pitch, the primary reason for his best-in-a-decade strikeout season in 2019. But I thought the curveball also looked plus on Thursday, showing sharper bite than I remember seeing in the past.
— Rebecca Snyder (@becsnyder) April 16, 2021
Abbott would leave the game in the fourth inning after recording just one out, with runners on the corners. The Cubs brought Michael Rucker in, who got out of the inning by yielding a 6-4-3 double play (and a nice turn by Nico Hoerner, showing a very strong arm, I might add) on his slider/cutter. This is a pitch I was told was a point of emphasis for Rucker in South Bend last season, and it showed plus during his Spring Training stint.
The slutter’s application was perhaps best seen in this sequencing to K LHH Gavin Sheets.
Pitch 1: Slutter inside ball
Pitch 2: FB away foul
Pitch 3: nasty slutter inside SwStr
Pitch 4: Same pitch, overcooked, ball
Pitch 5: FB up, K
It’s providing a new foundation to build on.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) April 16, 2021
I’m going to spend the first few weeks of the minor league season simply trying to highlight what’s different from each player, and how those additions/subtractions might impact their Major League viability. Well, Rucker’s revised slider is an example of that. I wouldn’t be shocked if there are outings where Rucker uses the pitch as his primary, tunneling his fastball and curveball off of that. In all, Rucker would pitch 2.2 scoreless innings.
During which Patrick Wisdom made things close:
— South Bend Cubs (@SBCubs) April 15, 2021
Wisdom, 29, is certainly no longer a prospect, and I’m not going to try and hype up his upside. But I did hear he was the thorn in Cubs pitchers side last year in South Bend, and he showed some nice pop during Spring Training. I do think the power is real and he provides depth as a cheap, part-time player on the corners. There’s value in that.
Rucker would eventually give way to Manny Rodriguez, the hard-throwing righty who you definitely forgot is on the Cubs 40-man roster. Rodriguez allowed two infield singles and one walk, but was able to escape unscathed thanks to two strikeouts. Rodriguez has added a two-seam fastball since we last saw him, which I did see in this outing (which the broadcaster referenced at 95 mph), but it’s mostly his high-spin four-seam/power curve mix.
Ian Miller came into the game and would add a two-out walk and steal in the bottom of the 7th, but Miguel Amaya couldn’t bringing him home, flying out end the contest. The Cubs logged just three hits in this one, which actually came back-to-back-to-back (Maybin single, Wisdom homer, Martini single). Nico Hoerner went 0-for-2 with a lineout, a strikeout, and a walk.