It’s first and third for Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com March 28, 2013 10:33PM
Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger gets the throw wide of the plate as Gregor Blanco scores on a base hit in the ninth inning. The Chicago Cubs lost 7-5 to the San Francisco Giants Sunday September 2, 2012 at Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
MESA, Ariz. — In his third game at third base, catcher Steve Clevenger showed he just might be able to handle the spot if needed.
He finally got a couple of grounders hit his way Wednesday night against Kansas City, including a rocket by catcher Salvador Perez in the sixth.
He started a double play on the more routine grounder in the fourth and smothered Perez’s shot, then made a strong throw for the third out to strand a runner at third.
“That was kind of fun,” said Clevenger, who has earned the final bench spot, pending a possible last-minute waiver claim. “You sit there and wonder when you don’t get any ground balls, ‘Can I really do it?’ Then you get a couple of grounders, and you get comfortable out there.”
He doesn’t need to get too comfortable.
“We’re not going to ask him to set the world on fire or play there every day or anything like that,” manager Dale Sveum said, “but in certain situations, that might come up to get his bat in the lineup or double-switch.”
Sveum was just happy to see Clevenger finally get a chance to field the position and prove he can he used there. Mostly, he’ll be a lefty pinch hitter who also gives the Cubs the luxury of using backup, switch-hitting catcher Dioner Navarro in a bigger role.
And he’s Anthony Rizzo’s backup at first, where he played most of Thursday’s game.
Sveum has been generally optimistic about his club at the end of spring compared to a year ago. But even beyond Matt Garza opening on the disabled list and the questions at third base, it’s not all pointing north for the Cubs as they head east for the opener.
“The concerns are obviously our right-handed hitters,” said Sveum, who doesn’t like what he has seen out of many of them against right-handed pitchers.
“Welington Castillo just hasn’t gotten off to the spring I’d like to have seen him have against right-handed pitching,” Sveum said of his first-year starting catcher. “He’s still hitting left-handers really well. But that’s still a wait-and-see. . . .
“[Starlin] Castro’s fine. [Darwin] Barney is what he is. He’s swinging the bat pretty well right now going into the season after a slow start in the spring. But other than that, everything’s pretty good right now.”
One thing Sveum does like about his pitching staff heading into the season is the quality of Rule 5 draft pick Hector Rondon, a significant upgrade over last year’s Rule 5 guy, Lendy Castillo.
Castillo’s command was so bad at times last year that he once started a brawl in Washington because the Nationals thought he was trying to hit their guys.
“Our Rule 5 guy has been throwing the heck out of the ball, doing a really good job and throwing strikes,” Sveum said. “He’s got command of three pitches. So that’s something to look forward to, to see him [as the season opens].”
Rondon was once an elite, hard-throwing prospect in the Cleveland system before needing Tommy John surgery, then suffering a bone break at the area of the new tendon connection, requiring a second surgery.
He’s healthy and throwing hard again.