Cactus League report: Why Lucas Giolito likes the cool weather in Arizona this spring, and the backbone of the Cubs bullpen

The long ball carried the Cubs’ offense on Wednesday.

Cody Bellinger, Edwin Ríos and Christopher Morel homered in a 4-2 win against the Oakland A’s. Ríos’ two-run home run and Morel’s solo home run were each his fourth of the spring, leading the Cubs. In a bullpen game, nine pitchers combined to strike out eight A’s and walk three.

Meanwhile, lefty Drew Smyly pitched in a minor league game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Sloan Park. He threw 80 pitches in five scoreless innings, limiting them to two hits with seven strikeouts and three walks.

The Sox went 0-for-2 in split-squad action, falling 2-0 to the Texas Rangers in Peoria, Arizona, and 4-3 to the Kansas City Royals at Camelback Ranch.

Mike Clevinger allowed one run on three hits with three strikeouts and one walk in five innings against the Rangers.

“It was good to finally go out there and stretch out a little bit and get the lineup rolling again and be able to work with (catcher) Seby (Zavala) back there,” Clevinger said.

Davis Martin allowed four runs on five hits with four strikeouts and one walk in 4⅓ innings against the Royals.

Chicago Tribune Baseball Writers Pope LaMond, Meghan Montemurro and Paul Sullivan will provide updates from the Cubs and White Sox during spring training.

Michael Fulmer and Brad Boxberger add solid foundation to Cubs bullpen

As the Cubs trim the roster in the coming days, setting up the bullpen will be a big part of the front office and coaching staff’s discussions.

There will be no discussion of the opening-day status of veteran relievers Michael Fulmer and Brad Boxberger, prompting manager David Ross to comment: “That’s one less name I have to make a decision on.”

Fulmer and Boxberger are expected to serve as the backbone of the bullpen, each pitching a scoreless inning Wednesday against the A’s, allowing Ross to determine how best to utilize the other six relievers at his disposal.

At least once the Cubs figure out who they want to break camp with.

“We have a lot of good arms in camp,” Ross said Wednesday. “Guys that are shooting the ball well, guys that are in the 40s, guys that are out of the 40s, and those are really tough decisions. We don’t take that lightly. But at the end of the day, some really good pitchers aren’t going to be on the team.”

Fulmer, entering his third season as a reliever, is still in a mode of asking questions about the role and figuring out what works best for him. The mix of relievers in camp has impressed Fulmer.

“Just the versatility, everyone can do any situation,” Fulmer told the Tribune. “Everyone is going to lift each other up. If a guy doesn’t do the job one day, he’ll come back and do it the next day.

“That’s really important for the bullpens I’ve been with so far. The more people who can throw leverage innings, who can close out games, who can be the bridge guy, who can deal as a multi-inning long man, that will bring everyone together.”

Right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. is coming off a three-strikeout inning Tuesday as he tries to close out camp hard as a non-roster contender for the bullpen. Leiter, who struck out seven, walked one and gave up a run in five innings, remains in the mix, Ross said.

“He looks exactly like he was pitching late last year, which is what he did really well for us,” Ross said. “The things on the list, unfortunately you wait until the last day. I would love to give you the answers that everyone wants, but you have to let things flow. The subject of the list is complicated.

The cold helps Lucas Giolito’s preparation

It was 63 degrees at the start of Tuesday’s Sox game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Starting pitcher Lucas Giolito saw a benefit pitching in cool, wet conditions.

“Usually spring training in Arizona is shining with sun (and) it’s 80 degrees, but that hasn’t been the case this spring,” Giolito said Tuesday. “So it’s better preparation when we’re back in Chicago and Detroit and all those places in April. So, yeah, I liked it.”

The right-hander allowed two runs and one hit with six strikeouts and two walks in 4⅓ innings in a 6-5 win at Phoenix.

“I’m very sure where I am,” Giolito said. “I like how the pitches are shaping up. I like how the releases are working. I like the sequences. Working very well with… (catchers Yasmani Grandal), Seby and (Sebastián) Rivero.

“I liked how I pitched to all three guys. Good relationship with everyone. The shot clock stuff has been good. I like the rhythm of that. Nice body of work so far. One more (early spring) and then the (regular) season.”

In particular, Giolito likes where his off-speed pitches are.

“Change up, curveball, slider,” he said. “I like the swings I’m taking, keeping guys off balance, especially with the slider, using it left-handed and right-handed. It’s been a really good release for me, just developing that.

“Being able to make adjustments. During every start I feel like I’ve had to make quick adjustments and I’ve been able to, to get out of some situations and move on. So it’s been (a) very productive (spring).”

Roenis Elías on the complicated relationship between Team Cuba and the Cubans in the Miami area

Left-hander Roenis Elías returned to Cubs camp Tuesday grateful for his World Baseball Classic experience with Team Cuba.

He started Cuba’s loss in the semifinals against Team USA, which he described as his biggest moment of the tournament. But playing in Miami that game on Sunday meant division for the Cubans in South Florida, a difficult situation for those who escaped oppression in Cuba.

The Cuban roster featured a mix of players who defected and are now in the majors and those who still live on the island.

The WBC marked the first time Cuban-born major leaguers were allowed to participate, coinciding with Elías’ first experience playing for Cuba in an international tournament. Cuba previously had not allowed defecting players to be part of its roster.

“There were a lot of Cuban fans and half were cheering us on and the other half were protesting against us,” Elías said Wednesday through an interpreter. “There was some ugliness with some of the fans throwing things at our families in the stands, but we’re here to play baseball. We are not here to politicize anything. So I got to the point of separating politics from baseball here.”

Yoán Moncada receives recognition from the WBC

Red Sox third baseman Yoán Moncada was named to the WBC Team of the Tournament after leading Team Cuba to the semifinals.

Moncada slashed .435/.519/.739 with four doubles, one home run and five RBIs in six games.

“(He had a) very good tournament,” Sox manager Pedro Grifol said Wednesday. “And he did some stuff that was really cool for me to see too. He drew walks, hit for some power.

“He just played baseball the way baseball should be played. We will continue with that.”

Moncada is expected to return to Sox camp on Thursday.

“He’s got the talent and he’s working very hard this year,” Red Sox center fielder and Team Cuba teammate Luis Robert Jr. said through an interpreter. “That’s why you’re seeing the results that he had in the tournament and hopefully they carry over into the season.”

Until next time

  • White Sox vs. Giants, 3:05 pm, NBC Sports Chicago+, WMVP-AM 1000
  • pups vs. Diamondbacks, 3:05 p.m., Marquee

What we are reading this morning


“He came into a very good place, just trying to prove himself as a baseball player, but he asked to do something new and work in the offseason. He has moved well. …He gets better every day. He has looked great on some inbound balls, some challenging balls on his back hand. He has looked very good there, very comfortable and quite consistent ”. — Ross on how Nick Madrigal has looked at third base since early spring until now


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