Catcher, second baseman each drive in run; righty's strong spring continues
By Greg Johns and Carrie Muskat
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Young Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker hurled six more scoreless innings Wednesday, and catcher Mike Zunino hit his fourth home run of the spring as Seattle defeated the Cubs, 3-2, in a night game at Peoria Stadium.
Travis Wood, battling for the fifth spot in the Cubs' rotation, allowed three runs and five hits over five innings. The lefty was happy with his outing.
"I was able to locate pretty decently and keep them off balance," Wood said.
The 22-year-old Walker has not allowed a run in 18 innings of Cactus League work, with just six hits, four walks and 19 strikeouts.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Making his case:Walker was dominant in his fifth start of the spring as he strengthened his bid for Seattle's fifth-starting spot with his best outing yet. The 22-year-old struck out the side in the fourth -- blowing down the top of the Cubs' order -- capped by a 97-mph fastball to finish off Miguel Montero. Walker allowed just two hits and one walk with six strikeouts in six innings.
"I felt good. My fastball was there. My fastball location felt really good today. Everything was smooth," said Walker.
Welcome back:Starlin Castro, who had been sidelined with tightness in his right groin, was tested in his first at-bat for the Cubs. Castro hit a chopper to shortstop Brad Miller to open the second but beat the throw for an infield single. This was Castro's first game since last Thursday.
A birthday blast: Zunino celebrated his 24th birthday with an opposite-field homer leading off the fifth inning. Zunino has been focusing on driving the ball more to right and center field this spring, and he took a first-pitch slider from Wood and drove it over the right-center-field fence for his team-leading fourth long ball of the spring. Zunino tied for third among all Major League catchers last season with 22 home runs. Robinson Cano added an RBI double later in the inning to give Seattle a 3-0 lead.
Now batting: Wednesday was the second game this spring that Cubs manager Joe Maddon inserted the pitcher into the No. 8 spot in the lineup. Wood led Cubs pitchers with a .240 average and three home runs last year. He grounded out in the third but drew a walk in the sixth. Maddon has asked the baseball-operations people to crunch some numbers on the pros and cons of having a pitcher hit eighth.
"Wherever I'm at in the order is fine, ninth, eighth," Wood said. "Whenever my spot comes up, I'm ready."
"Even a goat would tell you this reaches an absolute new low for Wrigley rumors. All is proceeding well and we look forward to Opening Night at Wrigley Field." -- Cubs spokesman Julian Green on rumors that Major League Baseball asked the team to talk to the White Sox about playing games there because of renovation work at Wrigley.
"Unbelievable. I told him, if you can stay at that effort level, that's all you need. Sometimes guys get in the habit of throwing easy like that and getting outs and they want to do more. If he can stay at that level and just continue to give us that quality of start, he's going to have a good season. He's throwing the ball really well." -- Zunino on Walker.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Walker likely has two starts remaining this spring, with a chance to set a Mariners Spring Training record for lowest Cactus League ERA. Matt Young holds Seattle's record (with a minimum of 20 innings pitched) at 0.44, with one earned run in 20 2/3 innings in 1993. Young went on to be an American League All-Star that season.
Felix Hernandez makes his third Cactus League start on Thursday as split-squad Seattle hosts the Royals in a 1:05 p.m. PT game in Peoria, live on MLB.TV. The Mariners' ace is looking to bounce back from a rough outing against the Cubs, when he gave up six hits and six runs in 2 2/3 innings. Left-hander Roenis Elias starts against the Brewers at Maryvale in the other half of a split-squad day (Follow on Gameday), also at 1:05 p.m.