Rockies Outlast Cubs in Cactus League Slugfest

Drew Smyly throws the first pitch of the Cubs–Rockies Cactus League game on February 29, 2024.
(Photo by Evan Thompson/Sport Relay)

Rockies 10, Cubs 9

MESA, Ariz. (Feb. 29) — The Colorado Rockies edged the Chicago Cubs, 10–9, in Cactus League play Thursday afternoon at Sloan Park. Rockies shortstop Ezequiel Tovar batted 3-for-3 from the leadoff spot, a triple shy of the cycle with two runs scored and a run batted in. “Big day. Three hits, homer. On time. That’s the thing that stood out for me. Hit every pitch — hit an off-speed pitch, hit a fastball. He was on time,” said Rockies manager Bud Black.

The Rockies took the lead in the top of the second off Cubs starter Drew Smyly. Designated hitter Michael Toglia dumped a single near the line in shallow right and advanced to second on an infield single to third by center fielder Brenton Doyle. Three batters later, third baseman Julio Carreras smashed a two-out drive to the berm in left-center, giving the Rockies a 3–0 lead on the round-tripper.

The top of the third saw the Rockies extend their lead. Tovar led off with a deep liner to the berm in center, making the score 4–0. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases for Doyle. In came Chris Clarke to relieve Smyly. He got Doyle to ground into a 6–4–3 double play, notching two big outs despite the Rockies scoring their fifth run. A strikeout by right fielder Bradley Zimmer ended the frame.

The Cubs slashed the deficit to 5–2 in the bottom of the third off Peter Lambert, who relieved Rockies starter Dakota Hudson in the second. A single by shortstop Dansby Swanson and walk by third baseman Christopher Morel, both with one out, set the table for second baseman Nico Hoerner. The runners each advanced one base on a wild pitch and scored when Hoerner ultimately singled.

More Slugging, More Scoring

A leadoff single by Matt Mervis and two-out double by Owen Caissie made the score 5–3 in the bottom of the fourth. The Rockies responded in the top of the fifth. Tovar doubled to deep center and scored on a single to left-center by left fielder Nolan Jones. First baseman Elehuris Montero brought Jones home when he clubbed a homer to left-center, making the score 8–3.

Morel led off the fifth with a single and later scored from third on a single to left by catcher Jorge Alfaro, giving the Cubs their fourth run. In the top of the seventh, a Grant Lavigne single and Michael Toglia walk brought up Warming Bernabel with an RBI opportunity. He cashed in with a single to center, scoring Lavigne for a 9–4 lead. A leadoff homer by Joe Hudson in the bottom of the seventh, combined with a Jefferson Rojas double and Jonathan Long single, trimmed the Rockies lead to 9–6. It became a 9–8 game in the bottom of the eighth thanks to a double to right-center by Caissie and homer to left-center by David Bote.

The Rockies padded their lead in the top of the ninth. Lavigne led off with a single, and pinch-runner Zac Veen stole second. With one out, Bernabel singled Veen home. The Cubs came within a run in the bottom of the ninth on a one-out single by Pete Crow-Armstrong, a stolen base, a two-out infield single to third by Caissie, and a wild pitch by Chance Adams. Bote ripped a low liner toward third that had “game-tying single” written all over it, but a diving stab by Bernabel saved the day for the Rockies and sealed the victory.

What Went Right for the Rockies

Top-of-the-order Production

The top five spots in the order — Ezequiel Tovar, Nolan Jones, Elehuris Montero, Michael Toglia, and Brenton Doyle — batted a combined 10-for-14 with a walk, a double, two home runs, four RBI, and seven runs scored. Jones’s two hits both went to the opposite field, with the second one hit particularly hard. “That second one was a bullet,” manager Bud Black said. “Full count pitch. That was a good swing.”

Bench Production

Grant Lavigne, who relieved Montero at first base in the sixth, batted 2-for-2 with a run scored. Additionally, his pinch-runner — Veen — scored an insurance run in the ninth.

What Went Wrong for the Rockies

Late-inning Relief

Rockies relievers gave up five runs over the last three innings to turn what could have been a comfortable win into a nailbiter. Jalen Beeks and Matt Koch gave up two runs apiece, and Chance Adams gave up the fifth run. Each of the three tossed an inning of relief.

Inopportune Double Plays

The Rockies grounded into two double plays, one that could have been costly. One came in the first with Tovar on second and one out with Tovar at the plate. The other came off the bat of Doyle with the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the third. A run still scored on the play, yes, but the base situation ended up being runner on third and two outs.


“This is a totally different kind of heat. It’s a little bit drier. So I feel like I’m trying to keep my hands moist out there versus looking for a towel everywhere I can get. But it’s pretty interesting. It’s a great place to play. There are people that show up to all the games, and that’s a lot of fun.” — Rockies starter Dakota Hudson on pitching in the Cactus League vs. the Grapefruit League

“From the guys on the team, I’ve heard it’s a little bit like an entry-level, getting-you-used-to-how-you’re-supposed-to-pitch at Coors (Field). That’s getting used to the ball flying a little bit and how your stuff’s gonna break. So I’m excited to get to take a few weeks and a few outings to adjust to that and then get into Coors once I’m primed and ready.” — Hudson on the adjustments he has to make pitching in Arizona

“I liked the movement to his pitches. The fastball had some movement. Breaking ball had spin. Threw some change-ups. Probably not as sharp as he would have liked to be in his first outing. But overall, I liked the movement to his pitches.” — Black on Hudson

Looking Ahead

Both the Rockies and Cubs play again on Friday. The Rockies return to Salt River Fields, their spring home, on Friday for a matinee with the Seattle Mariners. Lefty Kyle Freeland will start for the Rockies, facing Mariners righty Bryan Woo. First pitch will be at 1:10 pm Mountain Time. A few miles southward, the Cubs will host the cross-town rival Chicago White Sox at Sloan Field. Cubs lefty Justin Steele will square off with White Sox righty Michael Kopech. First pitch will be at 1:05 pm Mountain Time.

Main Photo Credits:

MESA, Ariz. (Feb 29) — Drew Smyly of the Chicago Cubs throws the first pitch of the game to Ezequiel Tovar of the Colorado Rockies at Sloan Park in Cactus League play. (Photo by Evan Thompson/Sport Relay)

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Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan is the owner and sole contributor of Thompson Talks, a website discussing the Big Four North American Pro Sports as well as soccer. He also is a credentialed member of the Colorado Rockies press corps. His first and biggest love is baseball.

Evan lives in Gilbert, Arizona and loves history, especially of sports. He is the treasurer for the Hemond Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and also is a USSF and AIA soccer referee. He released his first book, Volume I of A Complete History of the Major League Baseball Playoffs, in October of 2021.

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