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Cubs’ Javier Assad was stellar in MLB debut — thanks to an assist from Christopher Morel

4 months agoAndy Martinez

A major league mound can be a very lonely place for a rookie making his debut.

But regardless of the isolation and the difficulties that came Javier Assad’s way, he knew he could always look over to his right, see Christopher Morel at third base and feel at ease a bit.

“He was yelling at me, keeping me going, giving me motivation,” the 25-year-old Mexican rookie said through team translator Will Nadal. “I think that’s really important, and he really played a part in making me feel welcome today.”

 

That comfortable environment showed for Assad, who pitched 4+ shutout innings, striking out 3 and setting the tone for the Cubs in their 2-0 win over the Cardinals in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader. He’s the the 7th pitcher in Cubs history to go at least 4 scoreless innings in his major league debut and the first since Ryan O’Malley in 2006.

“He looked super calm out there,” manager David Ross said. “Coming right at ’em, right out of the shoot. Really nice debut for him. That’s a really good lineup over there. Nice job navigating through that.”

It could have been a starstruck moment for Assad. Growing up in Tijuana, he watched some of the greats that were in the lineup against him, like Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina.

Then, he one-upped even his wildest imaginations, striking out the future Hall-of-Famer Pujols for his first career big-league punchout.

“I’m gonna put in a box and I’m gonna save it,” Assad said with a smile from ear-to-ear. “I’m gonna have it really well-kept, hidden, safe.”

On Monday, the typical off day for the minor leagues, Assad was in St. Paul, Minn., with his wife, Melissa, getting ready to head out to breakfast. Then his phone started lighting up with notifications. That’s when he found out he was getting the call to The Show. The pair rushed to Chicago and arrived Monday night. From there, it was simply a waiting game.

“I was just anxious to get out there and just perform,” Assad said. “The fan base when I was out there warming up, throwing, they were loud. They were into it. I was just excited to be out there and try to pitch.”

It was a debut seven years in the making. Assad signed with the Cubs as a minor league free agent in 2015 and played six seasons in the minors. For a while, it didn’t look like a trip to the majors was surefire. Last season at Double-A Tennessee he pitched to a 5.32 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP.

So, this offseason, he dedicated himself to the weight room, adding muscle and pitching in high-leverage situations for the Naranjeros de Hermosillo of the Mexican Winter League.

The results spoke for themselves this season. He lowered his ERA nearly 3 full runs (2.51) at Tennessee and earned a call up to Triple-A Iowa. There, he posted a 2.95 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP in 8 games, earning his call-up to the majors.

“I was around great players, great coaches [in the Mexican Winter League], so I was able to get that experience,” Assad said. “So, I’d say that, combined with how I came in strength wise is really what’s helped me get results this year.”

That prepared him for Tuesday. No matter what star stepped into the box for the Cardinals, he was ready and he proved that.

“I know that it’s a good lineup, but we’re here for a reason. I felt that we were equal to compete,” Assad said. “It’s something that’s really exciting. It’s something that I can’t put into words the emotions, it’s something I’ve been working hard for, seven years in this organization and the hard work is paying off.”

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