Maddon makes debut with Cubs in spring tie with A's
MESA, Ariz. (AP) Joe Maddon gushed about the ballpark and the fans. He praised starter Travis Wood and said he liked the performance by his team.
Surrounded by his family under a beautiful blue sky, the new manager of the Chicago Cubs sounded quite pleased with his first game of spring training.
''Just a really, really nice, wonderful first day,'' he said after a 2-2 tie against Barry Zito and the Oakland Athletics.
Travis Wood pitched two perfect innings for a split-squad of Cubs, and Mike Olt hit a two-run homer in the second inning.
Maddon opted out of his contract with Tampa Bay over the winter and then agreed to take over the Cubs, who begin the year with big expectations after an active offseason.
''I thought we played well,'' he said. ''Oakland pitches well always.''
Zito pitched two innings in his first spring game for the A's after taking last year off. The left-hander allowed two hits, struck out two and walked none.
Zito retired his first five batters, including strikeouts of Starlin Castro and Miguel Montero. But he hit Chris Coghlan in the second and then yielded the long drive to left by Olt.
''That changeup, got to tip my hat to that guy. He squared it up pretty good,'' Zito said. ''That's still a pitch right now that the consistency is not there yet, but I saw some good things.''
Zito hasn't appeared in a regular-season game since Sept. 29, 2013, with San Francisco. He agreed to a minor league deal with Oakland in February and gets a $1 million, one-year contract if he makes the 40-man roster.
''It doesn't feel like a year and half,'' said Zito, who spent his first seven seasons with the A's. ''You just kind of go right back to where you were.''
Wood is trying to win the No. 5 slot in Chicago's rotation after he struggled last season. The left-hander made the NL All-Star team in 2013, and then slipped to an 8-13 record and a 5.03 ERA last year.
He struck out Coco Crisp leading off the game and also fanned Mark Canha for his final out.
''I learned a lot last year (about) when you fail, picking yourself back up and getting back after it,'' Wood said. ''That's what we took into the offseason and hopefully we keep moving forward.''
The Cubs agreed to a minor league deal with Phil Coke, adding the veteran reliever to the competition for a lefty specialist in their bullpen. A person with direct knowledge of the situation said Coke is planning to join the Cubs' major league camp on Friday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had not announced the deal.
Coke made 62 appearances for Detroit last season and finished with a 5-2 record and a 3.88 ERA.
Pat Venditte used his left and right arm to pitch a perfect third inning for Oakland. With switch-hitter Dexter Fowler up first for Chicago, Venditte indicated he would pitch left-handed so Fowler batted from the right side, and then bounced to second. After Anthony Rizzo flied out, Venditte switched his special glove to his other hand and retired Castro on a fly ball to right.
There was a pregame video tribute and moment of silence for Hall of Fame slugger Ernie Banks, who played for the Cubs for 19 years and died in January at age 83. Banks' No. 14 was mowed into the grass in center field, and the Cubs wore hats with his number and a patch on their uniforms.
Athletics: Zito, who turns 37 in May, said he threw about 10 changeups. ''It's definitely the most feel pitch that you throw,'' he said. ''I mean more than anything, that's why you see guys just throwing it as much as possible.''
Cubs: Wood said he is used to fighting for a spot in the rotation. ''Every year but last year that's been the role I've had to come into, so I've been there, I know how to handle it and it really just makes you want to work harder,'' he said.
Athletics: RHP Kendall Graveman starts against Arizona. Graveman, an eighth-round draft pick in 2013 who was acquired in the November trade that sent Josh Donaldson to Toronto, is trying to win a spot in Oakland's rotation. He will be followed by RHP Matt Buschmann, RHP R.J. Alvarez, RHP Fernando Rodriguez, LHP Jim Fuller, RHP Brock Huntzinger and LHP Eury De La Rosa.
Cubs: LHP Jon Lester makes his spring debut against Cincinnati. Lester went 16-11 with a career-low 2.46 ERA in 32 starts with Boston and Oakland last season, and then signed a $155 million, six-year contract with Chicago over the winter.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap