The American flag waved in the breeze over an intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at Wrigley Field. It wasn’t the production the venue had come to expect on Fourth of July.
“This is one of those days that screams America’s pastime,” Cubs manager David Ross said.
Without fans in the stands, the whirl of the press box ceiling fans filled the silence between pitches. But any kind of baseball on the holiday was a victory during the coronavirus pandemic. It was just the second day of Cubs Summer Camp, and already the team had advanced to game simulations. Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks each took the mound, Darvish for two innings and Hendricks for three, with half the Cubs donning white jerseys and the other half blue.
"There's no substitute for live looks," Ross said.
The fact that Darvish and Hendricks were ready to throw multiple innings bodes well for the Cubs. From examining the results of a shortened 1995 Spring Training, some in baseball are concerned that this season’s schedule could put pitchers at higher risk for lower-body soft-tissue injuries.
“Overall as a group, we did an unbelievable job talking to individual guys of staying on routine, staying on programs,” Hendricks said of the pitching staff. “A lot of guys threw a lot throughout the quarantine. I feel really good where I’m at as far as schedule-wise. I think I can say the same for most guys around here.”
Hendricks stayed in Arizona after Spring Training shut down, which even gave him opportunities to throw to live batters before reporting to Summer Camp.
During the hiatus, hitters also faced restricitons when looking for batting practice. Ross said everyone on the team at least had a tee and a net to hit into, but several found opportunities to stand in against live pitching in Arizona, including Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora and Ian Happ.
“I think more than we were expecting, as players,” Jason Heyward said. “And I don’t say that in a way of not wanting to work, but just given the situation, we all want to be careful. I’m just happy guys found a way to do that.”
Heyward said during the break he only had one day of live batting practice before returning to Chicago a little over a month ago. But he settled in quickly on Saturday, hitting a hard ground ball into center field for the first hit of the game.
Technically, the two-and-a-half inning scrimmage ended in a scoreless tie. But it had some quirks.
“The pitch counts will be limited per inning,” Ross said before the game, “so we may clear the bases if we need to.”
They did. Hendricks loaded the bases in the top of the second inning. But he was saved by the pitch count as Anthony Rizzo stepped up to the plate.
“I put up a zero, so that’s what I’m going to take from it,” Hendricks said, laughing. “I wasn’t wanting to get off the field there, no. I’m sure (Rizzo) wasn’t either.”
Light-hearted boos sounded from the first-base dugout as the Blue team jogged in to grab their gloves.
“I think everybody had fun out there” Hendricks said.