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Cubs pitcher Daniel Palencia delivers big time in major-league debut

11 months agoAndy Martinez

MILWAUKEE — The Cubs have added firepower to their bullpen — and it delivered immediately.

The team selected the contract of hard-throwing reliever Daniel Palencia from Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday, and the righty was thrown into the deep end in his major-league debut.

He can swim. Boy, can he swim.

Palencia pitched shutout frames in the 10th and 11th innings, turning what seemed to be another crushing loss for the Cubs into what could be the biggest win of the season so far.

“I think we’ve talked about the character of the group, and they continue to fight and don’t waver,” manager David Ross said after the game. “Great character win and I’m happy for us and we needed that.”

Palencia has been lauded for his electric fastball that can touch triple digits. But on his first major-league pitch, Palencia caught Willy Adames and the Brewers by surprise. In a 6-6 game with the winning run at second, Palencia threw an 89.4 mph slider that Adames fouled off. Palencia came back with two fastballs — the first at 99 mph and the second at 100.1 mph that resulted in a shallow fly ball out to right field.

Against Owen Miller, Palencia fired off 3-straight fastballs that sat 100, 98.8 and 98.6 mph. On the fourth pitch of the at-bat Palencia went to that slider and gave up a single that seemed to have handed the Cubs a loss. But Ian Happ fielded the ball cleanly and rifled a strike to Miguel Amaya, who nabbed Andruw Monasterio at home plate. Then, Amaya fired off another perfect throw to second baseman Nico Hoerner who tagged Miller out at second to end the inning.

“Game’s over if you don’t make the play,” Happ said. “You’re coming in hot, so you’re trying to get your feet under you, make sure you’re at least catch the ball first before you get rid of it.”

That allowed the Cubs to go ahead in the top of the 11th and Palencia and the defense took over, again. Palencia threw three straight fastballs. The third one resulted in a soft roller back to the mound that Palencia flipped to first baseman Jared Young for the out. On the play, Miller, the extra-innings runner, advanced to third.

Palencia went back to his slider against Brice Turang. He threw the first for a swinging strike and the second that resulted in a fly ball to Happ. Happ made the catch and again made a stellar throw to nab Miller at home and end the game.

“On the second one there, there’s no risk right there,” Happ said. “Guy flies out so there’s nobody else out there. You just gotta let it eat. Two accurate throws which is the most important part. Give yourself a chance.”

It made for a memorable debut for Palencia, who showed he more than belongs at the big-league level and could be a key piece for the Cubs’ bullpen as they look to crawl back in the NL Central race.

“Just trying to enjoy the game,” Palencia said after the game, sporting an ear-to-ear smile throughout his postgame interview. “Enjoy my debut. It was amazing. I don’t have words for anything right now.”

To make room for Palencia on the roster, the team optioned Hayden Wesneski to Triple-A earlier in the day. Brad Boxberger was transferred to the 60-day IL to make room for Palencia on the 40-man roster. Additionally, the Cubs activated Patrick Wisdom from the 10-day IL and placed Nick Madrigal on the 10-day IL with a right hamstring strain. Wisdom pinch hit in the game and went 0-for-2 with a strikeout.

Palencia was acquired in the Andrew Chafin deal from Oakland in 2021 and has had quite a rise to the major-league level this season. He started the season in Double-A Tennessee as a starter and pitched to a 5.87 ERA in 5 starts there. In May, he was placed on the developmental list as the Cubs tried to maximize his strong fastball that can touch 100 mph.

“The velocity, triple-digit velocity with 91-92 mile an hour sliders, got real stuff,” Ross said before the game. “You never know till you get here. But, young man’s done a nice job of transitioning to the bullpen, thrown the ball well, as of late [and] we need the help.”

He was then sent to Iowa after he was moved to the bullpen and has pitched to a 7.90 ERA in 13.2 innings across 13 games. He’s looked more solid of late — he’s had shutout appearances in 5 of his last 6 outings with 11 strikeouts across 5.2 innings.

“Has kind of thrown the ball really well as of late. Had one, I think like two outings ago, had a little bit of a rough one. But he was throwing strikes, in the zone giving up hits,” Ross said. “So it’s not something where we’re worried about walks or anything like that.”

Tuesday, Palencia showed his ability to attack hitters and not nibble around the zone. His addition gives the Cubs a power arm that they’ve really lacked in the bullpen all season — outside of Jeremiah Estrada, none of their relievers touched or sat near triple digits on the radar gun. With the addition of Palencia, it gives Ross another weapon in a bullpen that has struggled to find consistency all season long.

The Cubs’ relief corps looked solid in June — they had a 2.65 ERA and 1.23 ERA in 78 innings in the month, ranking 4th and 11th in baseball, respectively, in that mark. But Monday in Milwaukee, Cubs relievers Julian Merryweather and Mark Leiter Jr. allowed 5 runs in the Cubs’ 8-6 loss to the Brewers. Tuesday, Leiter allowed 2 runs on 2 hits and Alzolay blew his first save of the season, allowing a pair of 9th-inning runs and allowing 4 hits.

Madrigal hurt his hamstring Monday in Milwaukee going after a popup. Wisdom landed on the IL with a right wrist sprain and leads the team in home runs. He was 2-for-10 with a home run in his rehab assignment with Iowa.  

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