Top prospect shows off arm in outfield, turns double play
By Alden Gonzalez and Carrie Muskat
MESA, Ariz. -- Albert Pujols belted a three-run homer and an RBI double and C.J. Cron added a two-run triple to back Jered Weaver and lift the Angels to a 8-4 victory on Thursday over the Cubs. Weaver, expected to be the Angels' Opening Day starter, struck out eight over 5 1/3 innings.
Mike Olt belted a two-run homer in the fourth and pinch-hitter Travis Wood smacked a solo shot in the fifth for the Cubs, who rank second in the Majors with 32 home runs this spring.
Good signs in the third: The Angels plated four runs in the third inning, but it's how they scored them that really mattered. The left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce, fighting for starts against same-side pitchers, ripped a double to deep center field off lefty Eric Jokisch. Johnny Giavotella, seemingly a leading candidate for the starting second base job, hit an RBI single up the middle. Pujols, shifted on more than any right-handed hitter last year, hit an RBI ground-rule double down the right-field line. And Cron, looking like the everyday designated hitter, followed with a triple to right field.
Weaver hangs in there: The Angels' ace seemingly had a hard time commanding his fastball, but kept the game manageable, giving up four (three earned) on six hits in 5 1/3 innings. Weaver served up two homers, a two-run shot to Olt in the fourth and a solo homer to Wood in the fifth. But he didn't walk anybody and struck out eight. Over his last three starts, Weaver has walked one and struck out 19.
Mental games:Javier Baez is not a prototypical leadoff hitter. But Cubs manager Joe Maddon put him in the No. 1 spot on Thursday for a reason.
"Part of it is to try to increase his confidence and let him know we support him," said Maddon, who used the same tactic with Evan Longoria in Tampa Bay.
Baez survived a collision at second on a double play in the Angels first, then singled to lead off the bottom of the inning and stole second, moved up on a ground ball and scored on a sacrifice fly. Baez also collected an infield single in the fifth.
Out in left field:Kris Bryant made his first start in the outfield this spring, starting in left for the Cubs. He had zero chances through the first four innings, but did back up at third base on Cron's triple in the third. The Angels had a runner at second and one out in the sixth when Bryant caught Collin Cowgill's fly ball and threw in time to Baez at second for the double play. Bryant didn't fare as well against Weaver as he was called out on strikes twice.
"I asked him to not try to do too much with his arm and just get to the ball quickly, get in it quickly. He's all jacked up about it." -- Maddon on Bryant, who made his debut in left field Thursday
"It's always not to walk guys; it's something I've always taken a lot of pride in. It's been coming along good. I'm not out there trying to strike people out, but it's happened a little bit. … Everything's coming along nice, location's good, offspeed stuff is good when I need it, so I'm happy with where I'm at." -- Weaver, on his strikeout-to-walk rate and his spring in general
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• Pujols' fifth-inning three-run homer -- on a high-and-inside, 96-mph fastball from Jason Motte -- was his fourth this spring, and they've all come over his last six games. The Angels' first baseman is batting .326 in Cactus League play.
• Giavotella finished 3-for-4 with a stolen base on Thursday, giving him nine hits in his last 19 at-bats and putting his Cactus League batting average at .351. He's out of options and a good bet to be the Angels' Opening Day second baseman.
Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun exited early with a bruised right triceps muscle, a product of a first-inning hit by pitch and seemingly a precautionary move. Calhoun took a fastball to the area by Cubs lefty Eric Jokisch while leading off the game, then played a half-inning in the outfield and left Sloan Park, with a trainer by his side, in the middle of the second inning.
Cubs:Jason Hammel makes his fifth spring start for the Cubs on Friday when they face a familiar opponent, Jeff Samardzija and the White Sox. In Hammel's last two starts, he has given up five hits over nine scoreless innings while striking out 12. The game will be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet and can be watched live on MLB.TV. The game can be heard on an exclusive webcast on Cubs.com. First pitch is 3:05 p.m. CT at Sloan Park in Mesa.