Fourth at Wrigley? Yu duels Hendricks

July 5th, 2020

CHICAGO -- arrived to Saturday's workout at Wrigley Field wearing a blue shirt with "Freedom" across his chest to go with his signature American flag shorts. Baseball and the Fourth of July have gone hand in hand for generations, but the celebration looked much different this year.

Rather than hosting the Tampa Bay Rays at a packed Friendly Confines, the Cubs were holding their first intrasquad game of Summer Camp in an empty ballpark. The COVID-19 crisis altered the holiday across the country, but Cubs manager David Ross clung to the silver linings as he tries to ready his players for the upcoming 60-game slate.

Kyle Schwarber warms up at Summer Camp in patriotic Fourth of July gear.

"It's definitely strange," Ross said on Saturday afternoon. "You wake up and this is kind of one of those days that just screams America's pastime. It's different. It's a unique day, but I'm trying not to look at it like that. I'm trying to look at the positives. We're going to have our first scrimmage of the day. It's going to be a lot of fun.

"It's a beautiful, nice, hot day here in Chicago. Fourth of July."

And talk about a Fourth of July matchup: vs. .

Following Saturday's normal practice, the Cubs' intrasquad game consisted of two-and-a-half innings. Hendricks worked three shutout frames while wearing the home whites. Darvish turned in two zeros while wearing the blue road top and gray pants. The two teams practiced social distancing in both dugouts and got a taste of what things will look like in the 2020 campaign.

"It was just fun to get back out there, to be honest with you," Hendricks said. "Obviously, we do it for the fans. And that's such a huge part of the game, having them there, and the cheers, the roars, all that. But at the end of the day, at least we get to play baseball."

Javier Báez split the left-center gap with a double off Darvish that skipped to the wall in the first inning. In the other half of that frame, Hendricks struck out Kris Bryant, induced a groundout from Anthony Rizzo and later escaped a two-out jam with runners on the corners. In his second inning, Darvish faced an extra batter after a strikeout and caught stealing cut his pitch count short.

The highlight of the controlled game arrived in the second, when Bryant sent a pitch from Hendricks over the head of Báez and into shallow left for a single. That loaded the bases with one out for Rizzo, but the Cubs ended the inning due to Hendricks' work load. Team Blue unleashed a chorus of boos from the first-base dugout. There would be no grand slam this time.

"I put up a zero," Hendricks said with a laugh. "So that's what I'm going to take from it. I wasn't wanting to get off the field there, no. I'm sure he wasn't, either."

Within the lines, even in an intrasquad setting, it is easier for the players to feel a sense of normalcy in uncertain times. Ross said he hopes coming to the ballpark continues to be a comfort for the team as they build toward Opening Day on July 23 or 24.

"This is the safe haven that we're trying to create," Ross said. "That's why we want to follow the protocols off the field, so when we do come in here, we all feel like we can be a part of one another."

Worth noting

• Ross suited up for the Braves as a catcher from 2009-12, and was teammates with first baseman Freddie Freeman for the last three years in that stretch. On Saturday, Braves manager Brian Snitker announced that Freeman was among four Atlanta players who tested positive for COVID-19. Ross sent Freeman a note upon hearing the news.

"Yeah, I actually talk to Snit pretty frequently," Ross said. "I bounce some ideas off him. He's somebody that I can reach out to in this job. And, yeah, I definitely am still in contact with Freddie at times. I wouldn't say we talk daily, but maybe a couple times a year when something pops up in my mind. I saw his name on there and shot him a text."

• Ross provided more details on Saturday on the daily COVID-19 protocols for players and staff. He noted that they check in on an app each morning, answering questions and logging their temperature twice at home in order to gain clearance to head to the ballpark. Their temperature is then checked again twice at Wrigley Field.

• The front of the Cubs' rotation will not be aligned according to matchups at the start of the season, per Ross. The manager said the pitchers who are best positioned to log the most innings by the season opener will be at the top of the rotation. That will be assessed over the next three weeks.

• For the 2020 season, a runner will be placed at second base at the beginning of half innings in extra innings. The runner can be the player who made the last out the previous inning or a pinch-runner. Ross did not delve into his in-game philosophy for such occasions, but he said he has been discussing it with the Cubs' analytics team and Minor League coaches to devise strategies.