Suzuki set for debut; Ortega eyes OF spot

March 23rd, 2022

MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki is inching toward his Cactus League debut.

“I'll let you guys know as soon as I finalize everything, but he should be getting ready soon,” Cubs manager David Ross said on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Ross announced that Suzuki is scheduled to make his Cubs debut on Friday, when the North Siders host the Rockies at Sloan Park. The manager said the slugger will get the nod in right field for his first game of the spring.

Suzuki, who finalized a five-year, $85 million deal last week, has been hitting live batting practice for the last few days while he preps for Spring Training action. The right fielder will not play in a Minor League game as part of his preparation in large part because as Ross said, “He’s a big leaguer and we don’t want to send him down there to get extra at-bats unless he wants to.”

There’s also this: The Cubs also have a surplus of pitchers who need to throw against hitters, so there’s no real need to have Suzuki play in a Minor League game.

“He looks great. I think he looks really good,” Ross said. “I think the main thing is you don't have access to live pitching and real reps when you hit in the cage.”

Ortega in the mix
Suzuki’s arrival in right field means Rafael Ortega, who performed well in center last season, will be competing for playing time against Jason Heyward, who has shifted from right field to center. Clint Frazier and Michael Hermosillo are also competing for playing time in the outfield.

“We'll make those decisions as things get towards the end,” Ross said. “If guys are healthy, we'll see how our roster shakes out and what best flexibility it gives us.”

Ortega finished 0-for-3 in Tuesday's 5-5 tie against the Mariners at Peoria Sports Complex. The left-handed hitter had a .900 OPS against righties in 2021 and hopes to repeat his success at the plate this season.

“I know Suzuki can impact my playing time some, but that doesn’t impact my mentality or how hard I’m going to work,” Ortega said in Spanish. “I don’t worry about who comes or who stays, I’m just focused on doing my job and helping the team.”

Hendricks focused on getting ready
Kyle Hendricks had two goals entering Tuesday’s matchup against the Mariners. Paying attention to his pitching line was not one of them.

“Goal No. 1 was to execute each pitch and focus on that. And outside of that, focusing on pitching down in the zone,” he said. “Today with [catcher Yan Gomes], we really wanted to establish the fastball down and then go from there and try to read swings. I felt did a really good job with angle today and I was missing just down in the zone, which I'd rather have right now because it wasn't there last year.”

Hendricks threw 42 pitches and was charged with two runs on five hits in two innings. He faced 11 batters and struck out one. He later threw eight more pitches in the bullpen and said he hopes to pitch at least four innings in his next outing.

The right-hander and Marcus Stroman are candidates for the Opening Day start.

Brault reports
Left-hander Steven Brault, who signed a Minor League contract that includes a non-roster invite to MLB camp, reported to camp Tuesday.

His MLB contract was changed to a Minor League pact (with an opt-out in July) due to an injury setback (triceps) and he’s not expected to throw for a few weeks.

“I worked my butt off like crazy and felt really good all offseason, and then a day before my physical, I start feeling something,” Brault said. “Still, I didn't think it was anything that would take any time and it was some inflammation or something. Obviously, the MRIs came back differently in the physical. So now it's going be a little while, but I'm still glad to have been able to sign here.”

If Brault, 29, reaches the Majors this season for the Cubs, his deal would include a $1.5 million base salary plus another possible $400,000 via incentives. The lefty had a 5.86 ERA in seven outings for the Pirates in 2021.

“This is kind of the destination team that I talked about when I first got DFA’d and figuring out where I was going to go for this season,” he said. “I always thought that the Cubs were pretty cool and playing at Wrigley is pretty amazing. I thought it would be a good fit as well.”

Happ avoids arbitration
The Cubs and Ian Happ reached a $6.85 million deal for the 2022 season, a source told, thus avoiding an arbitration hearing. Chicago was unable to reach an agreement with Willson Contreras, however, as the catcher sought $10.25 million, while the club countered with $9 million, a source told's Mark Feinsand.