Cactus League report: Kyle Hendricks starts the Cubs spring opener today, while Jose Abreu eases back in for the White Sox after testing positive for COVID-19

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Greetings from Arizona.

Chicago Tribune baseball writers LaMond Pope, Meghan Montemurro and Paul Sullivan will be providing morning updates from the Cactus League on Monday through Friday throughout spring training.

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Monday’s games

White Sox (0-1) at Los Angeles Angels (0-0), 2:10 p.m. Alex McRae vs. Alex Cobb.

Cubs (0-0) at San Diego Padres (0-0), 2:10 p.m. Kyle Hendricks vs. Chris Paddack.

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 71 degrees.

Jose Abreu focused on picking up where he left off

Banners greeted Jose Abreu upon his arrival at White Sox camp Saturday: “Our MVP, Our leader.”

Abreu, the 2020 American League MVP, was delayed after testing positive for COVID-19. He didn’t play in Sunday’s game and was limited to pregame batting practice.

Coming off the MVP season, Abreu is focused on doing what he has done throughout career.

“I do what I do because I love this game and I prepare every day to do my best,” he said. “Because I know doing my best and respecting this game and honoring the people around me and the uniform that I’m wearing, that’s the only way that I know how to play this game.”

COVID-19 protocols force reduction of 9-inning games

Expect to see the Cubs play a lot of seven-inning games this spring. Teams can agree to shorten games to five or seven innings through March 13 and from nine innings to seven afterward. ESPN games, including Wednesday’s Cubs-Mariners game, will be the full nine innings.

Cubs manager David Ross prefers seven-inning games for now for health and numbers reasons.

“It all depends on pitching and strategy and what teams are doing with their pitching,” Ross said. “There are some rules where we can roll the inning here early on after 20 pitches if we need to and then still send the starter back out if we don’t want to extend a certain inning. There’s ways around all that with the rules that Major League Baseball put in place to help protect the arms that we have in camp.”

The Joe and Dex Show

Dexter Fowler waived his no-trade clause with the St. Louis Cardinals to rejoin his former Cubs manager Joe Maddon with the Los Angeles Angels.

“He tells me all the time, ‘Just go be Dex,’ and I love that,” Fowler said. “I love that you can just go out and he accepts you in your own skin.”

Maddon said young players “need to be around people like this to truly understand what it takes” to succeed in the majors, and he wants Fowler to mentor young outfield prospect Jo Adell.

“I’m just trying to leave a legacy and have people be able to be open-minded and come talk to me,” Fowler said.

What we’re reading this morning

The White Sox returning to the field Sunday — with fans in the stands — put a spring back in everyone’s step.

Sox prospect Jake Burger was thrilled to be on the field after losing two seasons to injuries and a third to the cancellation of the 2020 minor-league season.

David Bote is looking to stabilize the Cubs lineup at second base, despite his past struggles against lefties.

Kyle Ryan returns from COVID-19 list

Left-hander Kyle Ryan, the lone Cub to land on the COVID-19 list at the onset of camp, was activated Sunday with the hope he still has ample time to be ready for the start of the season. Because Ryan needed to be added to the 40-man roster, right-hander Robert Stock was designated for assignment.

David Ross wants Ryan to listen to his body and build up as needed under the guidance of the training staff. Having Ryan back in the fold helps Ross as the roster evaluation process begins with the Cubs’ Cactus League opener Monday.

“I want guys to progress at their pace and I don’t want to push anybody and give them a thought of they’ve got to be ready by a certain date,” Ross said Sunday. “Like, just get ready to pitch in games.”

Tony La Russa sees Andrew Vaughn as ‘the real deal’

Andrew Vaughn showed patience at the plate Sunday, drawing two walks. The White Sox first baseman, who was the No. 3 pick in the 2019 draft, is competing for the open designated hitter slot and a spot on the roster.

“I don’t have a crystal ball about whether he’s on the squad April 1, but he’s going to get a lot of opportunities to play his way on to this team,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said Sunday. “And today was the kind of start you expected — really good at-bats, nice defensive play. He doesn’t take an inning off. He’s the real deal.”

Around the Cactus League

Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Joc Pederson, Javier Baez and David Bote are the notables David Ross announced for the Cubs’ opening lineup. ... Pitchers will be able to re-enter a game this spring after being taken out. ... The Los Angeles Dodgers will wear black patches on their jerseys for late manager Tommy Lasorda and pitcher Don Sutton. The Los Angeles Times reports the team has a dedicated locker for Lasorda in its Camelback Ranch clubhouse. ... Former Cubs ace Yu Darvish will pitch in a simulated game before his first Cactus League start for the San Diego Padres near the end of next week. After speaking in English with Chicago media the last two seasons, Darvish is using interpreter Shingo Horie in camp. ... Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona will be using crutches at the start of spring training after surgery on his left big toe in January. He’s expected to have to wear a walking boot during the season.

Scouting report

David Ross on new Cubs broadcaster and his former ESPN partner Boog Sciambi, who makes his debut Tuesday: “I texted him and asked him if he was tired of answering questions about me. ... He’s a great guy, a smart guy, a quality human being. He’s fun, but he also knows the game. He knows how to talk analytics, and he knows how to talk music genres. He’s funny, witty, a really good guy. I think the Cubs got a really special guy. As much as I liked Len (Kasper), if there was a replacement, they nailed it.”


“We’ve got to go out and earn it and prove it. I don’t think anyone should believe in it. We haven’t done what we’re capable of doing the last few years. It’s up to us to go out and prove it every day and every year. Just because you do one thing one year doesn’t mean you’re entitled to anything the next year.” — Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

This day in Cubs/White Sox history

March 1, 1986: White Sox manager Tony La Russa reveals his plan to use 38-year-old Carlton Fisk strictly in left field to extend his career, with Joel Skinner, Scott Bradley and Marc Hill as his catchers.

“As of right now, Carlton is our emergency catcher,” La Russa told the Tribune’s Ed Sherman. “I can’t go back and forth with Carlton, moving him from catcher to left field. Then he’d have a right to be upset. I’m not going to be tempted to bring Carlton in to catch full time because I have complete confidence that our catching is going to be taken care of.”

Fisk wound up catching 71 games in 1986, playing 31 in left and 22 as the designated hitter. He caught 658 games from 1986 through his final year in 1993, hitting 109 more home runs.

Looking ahead

White Sox vs. Texas Rangers, 2:05 p.m. Tuesday at Camelback Ranch

Cubs vs. Kansas City Royals, 2:05 p.m. Tuesday at Sloan Park

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