Vazquez impressive as Cubs top Rangers for fifth straight win
Photo courtesy: Chicago Cubs

Vazquez impressive as Cubs top Rangers for fifth straight win

by - Senior Writer -

MESA - We are getting to the stretch run of spring training, where there is less than a week to go until the regular season. With that comes more traditional baseball as the regular players will start to play most of the game.

Despite that, a surprise hero came through with a massive game as Luis Vazquez got the call at second base fresh out of minor League camp. Not only did Vazquez have a pair of hits, but a pair of RBI hits, including a two-run shot. At the time, what looked to be an add-on homer proved to be the game-winner as the Cubs held on for the 5-3 victory.

After David Ross announced that Marcus Stroman would get the opening day start against the Brewers next week, the right-hander took the mound for the final time this spring, hoping for a strong outing. What was expected to be a tuneup of sorts, Stroman was dialed in and was in command most of the day.

The right-hander gave the Cubs 5 2/3 strong innings, allowing one unearned run on five hits. Stroman walked one and struck out five as he looks ready to go for next week.

Stroman was backed by some early run support and a ton of run support, as all five of the Cubs runs came in the first four innings off Andrew Haney.

That started immediately in the bottom of the first, with Dansby Swanson leading things off with a single. After Haney retired the next two hitters, Swanson used his legs to steal second base while Trey Mancini was hit by a pitch to extend the inning. That proved beneficial, with Eric Hosmer going the opposite way for the single as Swanson narrowly beat the throw home for the 1-0 lead.

The lone run off of Stroman came immediately in the second inning as he was bitten by some tough luck. With one down in the inning, Josh Smith picked up a single, but the costly error by Nick Madrigal at third left the door open as Texas had a pair of runners in scoring position. Stroman did his best to pitch out of the jam, but he still allowed a runner to score on the Sandy Leon grounder to pull Texas back to even 1-1.

Coming off a solid day on Thursday, Miles Mastrobuoni was at it again as he picked up a sharply hit single in the second. A few pitches later saw Vazquez connect for his first of two RBI hits as the long opposite-field double put the Cubs in front for good 2-1. Putting runners on base early was the theme for the Cubs all day, with Mancini leading off the bottom of the third with a double and advancing to third on a Homser grounder. Yan Gomes made sure to capitalize on the scoring chance as his sacrifice fly to left extended the Cubs lead to 3-1.

Despite dominating most of the game, Stroman ran into significant trouble in the fourth inning as Josh Jung and Brad Miller led the inning off with a pair of singles. Following a fielder's choice, Robbie Grossman added another single as Texas had the bases loaded with one out. This is where the momentum shifted back to the Cubs as Leon lined out to Vazquez at second who quickly flipped the ball to Swanson for an inning-ending double play.

Talk about a fun inning for Vazquez. After coming up with that catch to end the inning, Vazquez teed off on a heater and cranked way up onto the brim in left field to put the Cubs in front 5-1.

That followed another single from Mastrobuoni, as the Cubs had a lead they would never give back.

Chicago kept the pressure on in the fifth, with Hosmer and Gomes picking up one-out singles only to come away empty. The same thing can be said about the sixth inning, with Swanson and Ian Happ working walks against Jonathan Hernandez, who managed to wiggle his way out of trouble again to prevent further damage.

After finishing the sixth inning with a strikeout in relief of Stroman, Javier Assad was back on the mound to pitch the seventh fresh off his WBC run. Assad was once viewed as a possible No. 5 starter candidate, but after watching his performance out of the pen in the WBC, he may have a new role this season.

Assad has been nothing short of impressive all spring, as his fastball velocity has been sitting around 96 MPH while his breaking stuff has been lethal. Assad did himself little favors in the seventh, with Grossman leading things off with a double before Leon took a walk. Throw in the Bubba Thompson single, and Texas had the bases loaded with no outs and a golden opportunity to cash in.

Assad bounced back to retire the next two hitters, but the Ezequiel Duran fielder's choice allowed for a run to score. Unlike the regular season when a pitcher is removed, you can reenter the game as Ross chose to go with Cam Sanders to close out the seventh. Another impressive reliever this spring, Sanders was greeted with an RBI single by Cameron Cauley to pull Texas within 5-3 before getting Clint Frazier to line out to end the threat.

That was the only work Sanders received in the game, as Assad was back out to pitch the eighth and needed to work around a pair of singles to keep the Cubs in front. Given how the last two innings have gone, the Cubs felt they needed more offense to feel completely comfortable with the lead.

They put themselves in a great position, with Christian Donahue and Bradlee Beesley picking up singles sandwiched around the Christian Franklin walk to load the bases. Needing, at worst, a fly ball to drive in a run, Nelson Maldonado made solid contact, but hit it right back to the pitcher Dane Dunning who finished things off for the inning-ending double play.

Squandering a scoring chance like that late in the game could have been costly, but Assad worked around a leadoff single in the ninth to finish the job and earn the save. Assad capped off his day with 2 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits to go with four punchouts. Hosmer and Vazquez led the way offensively as they combined for four hits and four of the five RBIs to move the Cubs to 15-10-1 this spring. Chicago will play the second game of their split-squad later tonight when they take on Cleveland at Goodyear.

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