How P.J. Higgins has made the most of his limited opportunities with Cubs
MILWAUKEE — When P.J. Higgins’ season ended in June last year to a season-ending forearm surgery, he learned a valuable lesson.
He had been with the big-league team less than a month, but only played 9 games with team.
“I was playing probably once every 5 days,” Higgins said. “So, when I was rehabbing, I kinda took that mentality of like I have an idea [what the role is], just gotta mentally prepare myself, do what I need to do in the cage and just kind of prepare myself that way versus playing every day.”
That’s allowed him to thrive this season in a limited playing role, like he did Wednesday at American Family Field.
With one out in the 9th and Patrick Wisdom at second base, Higgins delivered a go-ahead, opposite field double off Josh Hader to spark a 2-1 comeback win for the Cubs. They took two of three from the Brewers and it’s the team’s fourth straight series win.
“I was just looking for something up in the zone that I could handle,” Higgins said. “I didn’t quite barrel it, but you know a knock’s a knock. I’ll take that.”
Higgins was called up on May 22 and served as the backup catcher when Yan Gomes landed on the IL a few days later. When Gomes was activated on June 10, the Cubs kept Higgins, Gomes and Willson Contreras on their active roster. With Contreras serving as the Cubs’ main catcher and Gomes as the backup, Higgins has become not only a backup catcher, but a player that has shown he can play third and first base, too.
But Higgins has succeeded in a role where he might go a few days without seeing the field.
“I think you find your routine,” David Ross said before Wednesday’s game. “You find your strengths and how to prepare and stay ready for that role. It is a difficult role, and it is one that is probably a little easier for veteran guys to fall into than young guys.
“But I think early on you saw a real ability to handle a pitching staff, call a good game, work to have a quality at-bat, have contact.”
It’s a role that can be more challenging mentally than physically, but Higgins learned how to handle it in 2021. During his rehab, he mentally prepared as if he would be playing every few days, allowing himself to know that, he could be ready in a pinch.
PJ Higgins has done nothing but hit this season. In 158 plate appearances between Triple-A and the majors, he is slashing:— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) July 6, 2022
.363/.443/.548 (.991 OPS) with 4 HR, 28 RBI https://t.co/E9UETV0yka
And when he is on the field, he makes sure to make the most of it. He’s hitting .299 in 27 games and has an OPS of .895.
“That’s my role and I accept it and I’m all about it,” Higgins said. “It’s just kinda make sure I’m mentally prepared and make sure I’m fully focused when I get into the box.”
Defensively behind the plate, he’s shown to be a quality catcher that can execute a game plan and work with the various arms and personalities of a pitching staff.
“He’s caught me before, so it’s easy to trust a guy as soon as he’s putting down those numbers behind the plate,” Wednesday’s starter, Adrian Sampson said. “A lot of guys in the clubhouse trust the guy and he’s been doing his thing.”
And Ross understands what it takes to flourish in that job.
“I can relate to him a lot,” Ross said. “I think yes, we relate and it is somebody that I look forward to talking to on a daily. He’s got a good way about him.”