4 takeaways from Cubs' tune-up with Sox

July 21st, 2020

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager David Ross had heard all about the rapport established last season between and catcher . Throughout Spring Training and Summer Camp, Ross finally got to see it play out in person.

"These two guys have a real funny sense of humor towards each other," Ross said recently. "They've got some good banter back and forth that is fun to listen to now that I'm in this locker room with both of them. And then their numbers. It's really easy for me to make that decision."

That decision would be keeping the Darvish-Caratini tandem together for the 2020 season. They were paired up again on Monday night, when the White Sox dealt the Cubs a 5-3 loss in an exhibition game at Guaranteed Rate Field. Following a forgettable first inning, Darvish and Caratini were back in sync for the duration of the starter's final preseason tune-up.

Darvish's next outing is scheduled for Saturday, when the Cubs host the rival Brewers in the second game of the season.

"We have a great relationship," Caratini said recently through a team translator. "It all started because we kept trying to motivate each other. We've gained a friendship and trust as well. We have a really good friendship, helping each other out, always putting the team first."

Here are four takeaways from Monday's game:

1) Tale of two Yu's
Darvish was asking the home-plate umpire for a new baseball in the first inning, when the Cubs and White Sox agreed to end the frame. That decision came after the right-hander piled up 29 pitches to eight batters and had allowed five runs. There were still only two outs.

The inning began with a double by Tim Anderson, which was followed by consecutive singles for Yoán Moncada and José Abreu. The inning continued to spiral on Darvish when Edwin Encarnación worked a walk after nine pitches, shaking his head at the pitcher before jogging to first.

That set things up for Eloy Jiménez, who crushed a first-pitch four-seamer to dead center field for a grand slam that blew things up. From there, Darvish settled down, especially in the innings following the mercy ending to the first. The Cubs' starter retired eight of the final 11 batters he faced into the fifth, ending with three strikeouts, two walks and 67 pitches tallied.

“Mainly it was two-strike pitches just kind of leaking over middle,” Ross said. “He got a little sharper as things kind of progressed. The splitty really came into play a little later on, getting the ball out front. You saw some real depth to the split-finger. He just didn't find that release point early on.”

2) Getting some left-on-left looks
Ahead of Monday night's game, Ross asked Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward if they wanted to face lefty Dallas Keuchel. Both players stayed in the lineup, giving them an opportunity for some left-on-left looks. In a shortened season, Ross does not plan on using strict platooning, meaning Schwarber and Heyward will face southpaws.

"It's just important for them to see those at-bats," Ross said. "I try to think back about when I played. Sometimes a right-on-right, if I played against lefties a lot, a right-on-right would actually lock me in and help, mechanically, my swing. Staying closed a little bit longer, trusting and letting the ball travel."

Schwarber worked the count full in his first at-bat against Keuchel in the second inning and then singled on a two-seamer low in the zone. He grounded out on a 3-1 two-seamer in the fifth. Heyward popped up and struck out in his two plate appearances against Keuchel.

3) Keuchel quiets righties
Facing Keuchel gave Ross a chance to start some of his right-handed lineup complements. Besides the regulars, David Bote (third base), Steven Souza Jr. (left field) and Albert Almora Jr. (center) were in the mix for the Cubs, who had a 94 wRC+ as a team against left-handers last season.

"Those guys are going to be important," Ross said. "I'm trying to find that balance, trying to find that balance of defense, offense, guys that have had some good numbers off lefties in the past. Some guys that were expected to hit lefties in the past haven't either also, so you have to balance that and trust what you see in this shortened season."

Almora (.532 OPS off lefties in '19), Bote (.683 OPS off lefties in '19) and Souza (missed '19 due to injury) went 0-for-5 against Keuchel. Overall, the lefty held the Cubs' righty bats to an 0-for-11 showing in his five innings.

4) Bullpen cogs log work
Veteran setup man Jeremy Jeffress and closer Craig Kimbrel worked the seventh and eighth innings, respectively, for the Cubs. Jeffress walked one and struck out one in a scoreless frame. Kimbrel topped out at 96.2 mph (per Statcast) and sidestepped the potential harm of a walk and single allowed, ending with one strikeout in his scoreless eighth.

“All in all, good,” Ross said of Jeffress and Kimbrel. “I think Craig's still getting on top of the baseball. I think he figured some things out. He's still battling that release point a little bit, for me. But the ball was coming out well. J.J. looked great. I saw some 93's [mph] in there. That was an uptick from his last outing, which was nice to see. Some really good splits -- for a punchout.

“Yeah, those guys are starting to get in that veteran form that we've seen in the past.”