From a rec league to Wrigley Field, Matt Swarmer impressed Cubs in MLB debut
P.J. Higgins came into Monday’s doubleheader with only 14 MLB games under his belt and just 9 starts at catcher in “The Show.”
But Higgins had a certain experience that mattered most to rookie pitcher Matt Swarmer — a rapport.
“I’ve caught him for his whole career,” Higgins said. “I’m familiar with him, everything that he does on the mound.”
That’s what made Swarmer’s big league debut that much easier.
Swarmer took a look at the Cubs lineup, saw Higgins’ name penciled in behind the plate and felt a little more at ease. After all, someone’s first game in the majors can be daunting.
It was a bit for Swarmer.
He looked around Wrigley Field and was struck by the big-league environment.
“It was awesome,” Swarmer said after his 6-inning debut in the Cubs’ 7-6 loss to the Brewers. “I had to soak it all in.”
Higgins made sure to go up to Swarmer before the start. He had been through his ow major league debut and knew the importance a quick pep talk could do to calm nerves.
“Listen, dude, we’ve been doing this for a while,” Higgins told Swarmer. “This is your big league debut, you’re gonna be nervous.
“Just trust me back there. I got you. Just do what you do and don’t worry about anything else.”
That was all Swarmer needed to hear.
His first game in the big leagues was a quality start — he allowed just 1 earned run over 6 innings, striking out 6 Brewers and giving the Cubs a chance to win a ball game. Just as important, he gave the team length, something they needed a day after an extra innings game and as they kick off a 9-game-in-7-days stretch.
“I think he was in pretty good control,” David Ross said. “Low heartbeat for a first big league start. Very impressed.
“It never felt like he sped up, which happens to a lot of guys. Just continued to control what he could control, and I think that definitely stands out from a guy making his first start, first time in the big leagues.”
Swarmer had known for a few days this moment was possible.
On Saturday, he was told by pitching coach Ron Villone he was being scratched from his scheduled start that day.
“Then he said, ‘there’s a chance you might be throwing Monday and he said you know what that means,’” Swarmer said with a smile. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll be in the big league game.’
“My heart just sank.”
His parents and uncle made it out to Wrigley Field for his debut and saw him keep the Cubs in the ball game. Swarmer retired the first 7 hitters he faced. He then allowed his only earned run, a solo shot to Jace Peterson.
He settled in after that and continued to attack hitters. And it capped a memorable journey for the righty who pitched his college ball at Division-II Kutztown in Pennsylvania and spent the 2020 pandemic playing in a men’s league with “guys that almost didn’t have no hair at the time.”
“I always had my mindset, but I just wanted to be a big leaguer one day,” Swarmer said. “Coming from a guy that went to Division-II it’s possible for anybody. You just gotta work hard and good things will happen.”