Changing sides: Jeremy Jeffress, Hernán Pérez join other half of Cubs-Brewers rivalry
Eight hundred seventy three.
That’s how many games Jeremy Jeffress and Hernán Pérez have combined to play for the Milwaukee Brewers. That includes three separate stints for Jeffress (including the last two-and-a-half seasons), while Pérez has served as the Brewers’ top utility guy for the last five years.
Now they’re both with the Cubs, joining the other side of the NL Central rivalry.
Back in December, Pérez signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs and received an invite to spring training. Theo Epstein’s front office inked Jeffress to a big-league contract last month and he has not allowed a run yet in a pair of Cactus League innings, including in Monday’s ballgame.
So far, their time with the Cubs has been exactly as advertised.
“Exciting, enthusiastic, these guys are ready to play,” Jeffress said. “This is what I expected, I guess. I played against these guys for a long time and I always wanted to know what it was like in the clubhouse. Everything I expected is true – these guys are ready to play, they’re passionate about the Cubbie blue, ready to get out there and play the game.”
Over the past three years, the Cubs and Brewers have identical 271-216 records, with Chicago topping the division in 2017 and Milwaukee claiming the NL Central crown a year later after winning a one-game playoff at Wrigley Field. They’ve faced each other 58 times in those three seasons, with the Cubs winning 30 games.
All those head-to-head matchups and all that scoreboard-watching has bred an awful lot of familiarity, which has helped make the transition easier for Pérez in spring training.
“From the second I got here, they’ve treated me like a family, like I’ve been with them for five or six years,” Pérez said. “I wasn’t, but they treated me like that.”
The 28-year-old Pérez always enjoyed his interactions with Cubs players from the opposing dugout and respected the level of play and energy from the Brewers’ top rival. He hopes to help add to that equation.
“The energy I bring here every day is important for a team,” Pérez said. “That’s something I always do. I love the game, I love to play hard. If I bring that energy, you can give that energy to other teammates, which is important in this game.”
Pérez has played every position on the diamond except catcher (yes, he even has 7.1 innings pitched) and provides valuable versatility to this Cubs team. He’s also a right-handed hitter and has more than 353 innings under his belt at shortstop, so he could serve as a backup for Javy Báez or a platoon option for first-year manager David Ross. If he doesn’t make the big-league club, Pérez will be one call away in Triple-A Iowa should the Cubs need his flexibility at any point in 2020.
Jeffress’ role seems a bit more concrete, as he’s the only other option beyond closer Craig Kimbrel with a long track record of success in an MLB bullpen. The 32-year-old right-hander was released by the Brewers in September after he was slowed by shoulder and hip injuries and never really able to regain his rhythm, posting a 5.02 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 52 innings.
He was one of the Brewers’ most important pitchers during their run to the NLCS in 2018, sporting a sparkling 8-1 record, 1.29 ERA and 0.99 WHIP to go along with 15 saves and 18 holds.
Jeffress spent the offseason doing a bit more strength training than usual on his shoulder and showed up to camp feeling great, focusing more on what he can bring to this Cubs bullpen than his physical health.
“Just experience. I think one of my biggest things I like to do is pay attention to detail,” he said. “It’s key in the game when you’re playing. You gotta be prepared for whatever comes to play. You never know what position you might be in, so just pay attention to detail and be prepared.”
Jeffress has proved that while finding his voice as something of a leader for the Cubs’ more inexperienced relievers. Last week, he stood in a hoodie alongside the Cubs coaching staff watching Rowan Wick’s bullpen and chipping in with his own advice and suggestions.
It’s all part of what Jeffress believes is an important part of a winning culture, which he’s seen from pitching against this Cubs team over the last few seasons.
“Everybody plays together, everybody has each other’s back, everybody’s coming out with the mentality of winning the game,” Jeffress said. “That’s key – everybody getting on that same page [and if that happens,] you’ll have more success.”
Jeffress also brings an element of fun to the clubhouse, as a known advocate of singing and dancing. He plans to bring that out of his teammates, too.
“Most definitely,” Jeffress said in between dance moves while in the middle of the Cubs clubhouse. “They’ll get it. They’ll catch on. I believe in them.”