The good: Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija declared himself nearly ready for Opening Day with 5⅓ innings of two-run ball. He left trailing just 1-0 after giving up six hits and two walks while striking out eight. He made a mechanical adjustment over the previous five days that helped his outing.
"The ball was down. That was a little problem [last start]," he said afterward. "So, yeah, it felt really good."
One thing Samardzija has been cognizant of is his pitch count. He’s vowed to be more efficient, but nearing the 90-pitch mark in the fifth inning wouldn’t qualify.
"We’re measuring it," Samardzija said. "I want to keep my eye on it. For me to improve and get better, that has to be the No. 1 thing that needs to happen. I threw a lot of pitches but struck a lot of guys out. That can jolt up your pitch count. But if that’s what raises your pitch count, you can live with it."
It’s the scuffling through full counts over and over that Samardzija wants to avoid. He didn’t scuffle, but in striking out eight, he still threw a lot of pitches.
The bad: The Cubs offense was anemic once again, managing four hits on the day. And this was close to the starting lineup, with the notable exceptions of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Their team batting average of .232 this spring ranks 29th of 30 teams, and their on-base percentage is only .298 -- dead last. As the starters get the majority of the playing time in the final week of spring training, it wouldn’t hurt to see those numbers rise and a few players get locked in before April.
Olt at third: Mike Olt made his spring debut at third base after dealing with shoulder problems, but he didn’t have to make any throws over to first -- other than warm-up tosses.
"I threw a lot," Olt said. "I’m just trying to get back and get that throwing motion back. It felt great to be out there. A little rusty. I was just trying to see where my arm was at, so I put a little more on it and was definitely happy with that."
Olt will be the designated hitter in Friday’s game against the White Sox, then hopes to be back at third base this weekend. He’s still on the bubble in terms of making the 25-man roster when camp breaks next week. He went 1-for-3 at the plate Thursday and is hitting .265 this spring.
Arrieta progressing: Pitcher Jake Arrieta is scheduled to throw a two-inning simulated game Friday, hoping to toss 30-35 pitches as he recovers from a "stiff shoulder." He’s on an every-fifth-day routine, just as he would be during the season. If all goes well, his next step would be a minor league or Cactus League game next week.
The quote: "They look stupid." -- Samardzija, on protective helmets for pitchers.