The Rundown: Schwarber, Olt, McKinney Homer; 5th Starter Battle Begins; Welcome Aboard, Phil Coke

Welcome back, baseball. It’s been too long.

Yes, the Cubs reported to Arizona for Spring Training a couple weeks ago. But there’s only so much excitement you can muster up over drills and batting practice.

Yesterday, we got our first taste of game action in 2015. And it was a whole bunch of fun, as the Cubs brought out the big bats early.

To honor the late, great Ernie Banks, the Cubs played two yesterday. In one half of the split squad, they loaded the bases in the second inning: Jorge Soler singled, Welington Castillo singled and Kris Bryant walked.

That set the stage for this:

I don’t know about you, but I could get used to seeing Soler, Bryant and Schwarber coming up in the same inning. Exciting outfield prospect Billy McKinney (who was acquired along with Addison Russell in the Jeff Samardzija trade last year) also homered.

Mike Olt, who is trying to win the Opening Day third-base job, homered in the other game. He struck out in his second at-bat.

Despite the offensive output, the Cubs ended up losing to the Giants 8-6 and tying the A’s 2-2. The win/loss outcomes weren’t the story, however. It was the strong offensive showing.

And if you weren’t excited enough, Jesse Rogers writes that some people in the Cubs organization are as high on Kyle Schwarber as they are on Kris Bryant. It’ll be interesting to see if Schwarber can continue to dominate minor league pitching like he did last year.

5th starter battle

A few days ago, manager Joe Maddon announced that the first four spots of the starting rotation are set: Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks. Not a huge surprise, although I suppose Hendricks wasn’t a sure thing going into Spring Training. (I thought he earned it after last year, for the record.)

So that leaves a battle for the final spot among Travis Wood, Jacob Turner, Tsuyoshi Wada, Edwin Jackson and possibly even Felix Doubront. Turner and Wood each started yesterday in the split squad match-ups.

They both pitched two scoreless innings. Wood has been rumored to be a trade piece this off-season, but who knows — he could end up winning that last spot in the Cubs rotation.

I’m still rooting for Turner to grab the final spot, as I think he has more upside. Meanwhile, Joe Maddon isn’t giving up on Edwin Jackson, writes Patrick Mooney.

“Just go out there and pitch. Permit your abilities to take over and don’t worry about too many different things. Because he is an exceptional athlete, a great kid,” Maddon said.

Maddon has been very positive about Jackson during Spring Training. I’m not sure I would trust Jackson in the rotation anymore. But if anyone could turn him around, it’s probably Joe Maddon.

Cubs add another lefty option

The Cubs have reportedly signed lefty reliever Phil Coke to a minor-league deal, and he turned down at least one major-league offer to come to Chicago, according to Ken Rosenthal.

A left-handed bullpen arm is one of the question marks of this team. In addition to Coke, the Cubs currently have Zac Rosscup, Joseph Ortiz, Drake Britton, Eric Jokisch, Hunter Cervenka and Francisley Bueno as options. That’s not to mention starter candidates who don’t make the rotation, such as Tsuyoshi Wada, Travis Wood and Felix Dourbront.

With Wesley Wright leaving the team, it would be nice to have a veteran LHP such as Coke in the bullpen. Maddon likes that Coke can be effective not only against lefties. “It’s nice to have that lefty who can also get out the righty. I’ve seen Phil Coke in the past, and he’s been able to get out righties, too,” he told Carrie Muskat.

Coke has spent the past five seasons with the Tigers. Last year he posted a 3.88 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 58 innings pitched.

Other notes

* In a moment that just goes to show why baseball is the greatest, yesterday A’s pitcher Pat Venditte pitched both right-handed and left-handed in the same inning. When he faced Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler, a switch-hitter, Venditte had to declare which arm he’d pitch with. “It was kind of weird,” Fowler told Gordon Wittenmyer. “You get up there and you’re getting your timing and stuff left-handed and then he switches around.”


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