GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Not necessarily known for his defensive prowess behind the plate – including the throwing part of it – Kyle Schwarber did a fair impression of David Ross on two plays early in the Cubs’ 9-6 spring victory over the Reds at Goodyear Ballpark on Tuesday.
With one out in the second, he caught Jay Bruce trying to abort a steal attempt, firing to first-baseman Anthony Rizzo, who threw to second baseman Ben Zobrist for the out.
Then in the third, he surprised runner Ray Chang with a back pick to Rizzo for the final out of the inning.
Schwarber shrugged them off as plays of opportunity, admitting, “It was a good day today. Defensively it felt pretty good.”
Pitcher Jason Hammel gave more credit to Schwarber, saying the work he sees Schwarber do each day makes him expect plays like those.
“And I like it,” Hammel said. “I like him being aggressive.
“I felt like at first I didn’t even have to really go out there,” said Hammel, who is expected to be paired with Schwarber for most of his starts this season. “All I had to do was just get it to the plate and let him do whatever he wanted. Makes my job real easy.”
Hammel, the Cubs’ fourth starter, pitched five good innings, allowing only one earned run (and an unearned run compliments of a fly ball butchered by Jorge Soler in left).
Beyond extending his pitch count, Hammel said he wants to fine-tune his changeup in on lefties and away to righties.
“Other than that I feel pretty crisp,” he said. “I feel like everything that I worked on and things that I was focusing on this spring have really started to translate. And the arm felt really good today, too. Feels like it’s in shape.”
Rizzo hit a two-run homer to right-center with one out in the sixth and also walked in the game.
In his last 11 plate appearances, he has the homer, a single, two walks, two sacrifice flies and has been hit by a pitch.
Cubs at Rangers, Surprise, Ariz., 3:05 p.m., CSN, mlb.com audio, Kyle Hendricks vs. Derek Holland.