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Miles Mastrobuoni tries to determine opening day roster spot

MESA, Ariz. — As Miles Mastrobuoni chased a fly ball toward the left field wall at Sloan Park, he wasn’t thinking about Sunday’s Cactus League game as just an exhibition game.

Mastrobuoni, who was in one of the spots on the Chicago Cubs’ bench, tracked the ball perfectly on a strike by Cleveland Guardians catcher Austin Hedges in the third inning and timed his leap to pull it back over the wall. However, Mastrobuoni hit the wall hard and was unable to catch the ball and the ball went into play.

Meanwhile, his head hit the metal fence during a catch attempt, causing a wound, but he remained in the game after being checked. This sequence stunned starter Kyle Hendricks, who later told Mastrobuoni to calm down in the spring.

“I appreciate the effort, but I’ll take it when it’s due,” Hendricks said. “He’s always playing, man. He’s the best. He’s my guy. So I can’t thank him enough for his effort. He’s already having a great spring. He’s fun to watch.”

In the bottom half of the inning, Mastrobuoni took the lead, scoring his first home run of the spring. After his home run with Mastrobuoni in the dugout, Mike Tauchman joked about old wives’ tales of someone getting kicked in the head by a horse and then being able to tell the fortune: “You hit your head and you turned into Ted Williams.”

The best way Mastrobuoni can help the Cubs will come from his versatility. A few days ago he was told to prepare to add off-field work to his on-field position play; He got a taste of that in 2023 when he started five games in right field in April, including Opening Day.

“I was thinking a lot last year, so today I really told myself, just go out there and be athletic,” Mastrobuoni said. “I think I’m a pretty athletic guy and you’ve got to let yourself take that kind of control, right? Like sometimes when we get too distracted and think a little bit too much, we’re like, oh, I need this and that, and it’s like go out and relax play because get tight while you’re thinking about all the other stuff.

“I wish I could retract this, but it’s definitely a good start.”

Chicago Cubs’ Mike Tauchman (left) plays at St. Louis on Friday, July 28, 2023. He was congratulated by teammate Miles Mastrobuoni after catching the wall on a fly ball to end the game in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

It took time for Mastrobuoni to get into a rhythm, bouncing between Triple-A Iowa and the Cubs last season, and consistent playing time was rare while in the major leagues.

“It was tough for me mentally, big time,” Mastrobuoni said. “If you’re getting one hit a day or three hits a week, that’s a really hard thing to do. I didn’t do a very good job of it. And I want to do a better job of it. But I understand this and I don’t find it too difficult. I went a little too hard. So I just trust myself, trust my job, and when the game starts, be athletic, go out there and let it take over.”

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