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‘Hungry’ Codi Heuer carving out a role for himself in the Cubs bullpen of the future

12 months agoTony Andracki

It didn’t take long for Codi Heuer to earn David Ross’ trust.

In his very first outing with the Cubs on July 31, the right-handed reliever came into a bases-loaded, nobody out jam and escaped with only 1 run crossing the plate.

He has continued his success in the month that has followed, including picking up his first win as a Cub Wednesday in Game 1 of the doubleheader at Wrigley Field. He needed only 9 pitches to secure 4 outs against the top of the Rockies lineup.

Heuer now has a 1.35 ERA in his first 11 appearances with the Cubs, boasting a 0.83 WHIP with 2 holds, a save and the win.

Nick Madrigal was seen as the headliner of the trade with the White Sox that brought Heuer to the North Side, but the 25-year-old pitcher can certainly play a big part in the Cubs’ success over the next few years.

Heuer was the White Sox 6th-round draft pick in 2018 and he had a stellar rookie season (1.52 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 5 holds, 1 save) on the South Side in 2020. He sported a 5.12 ERA with the Sox earlier this season before Rick Hahn’s front office included him in the deal for Craig Kimbrel.

Heuer admitted it made the transition easier to be traded and remain in Chicago, though it was still an adjustment to show up to a new ballpark on a new team with a new coaching staff.

But that work with the Cubs’ pitching infrastructure has paid immediate dividends for Heuer. He only has 7 strikeouts in 13.1 innings with the team but he has induced a lot of weak contact and it’s hard to argue with the results.

When the Cubs acquired Heuer, they had some immediate tweaks they wanted the young right-hander to make and he was excited to dive head-first into the transition.

“There was some stuff that I was feeling and then they brought some things up and they were kind of one in the same,” Heuer said. “But they backed it up with some analytical stuff, so we were able to meet in the middle. So far, it’s been good.”

The adjustments are minor — changing the grip on his 4-seam fastball and 2-seam fastball to improve how they play off each other. The idea is mostly centered around maximizing how each version of Heuer’s fastball moves within the strike zone.

It helps that Heuer and Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy had an instant connection — they’re both Wichita State University products.

“As soon as we got him, all my Wichita State people were texting me like, ‘you’re gonna love him, he’s a great kid,'” Hottovy said. “The fun thing about Codi — he obviously had success last year and a really good year with the White Sox. But he’s hungry. He’s hungry because he knows there’s more there.

“He’s not letting a little bit of success take him out of like, ‘no, this is how I’m gonna do things. This is what I had success with.’ He was like, ‘I know I can do better. I know there’s little tweaks and things that I can do to be the best version of myself.’

“His willingness to come right in and know he’s gonna be in high-leverage situations but wants to get better and wants to use his time to really find out some things about himself. That’s fun for us to get to work with.”

Just a few days after joining the Cubs, Heuer talked with Hottovy and the coaching staff about the fastball grip adjustments and it didn’t take long to see how the tweaks might play against live hitters.

“He took it right into the game,” Hottovy said. “That takes the person. That’s not us convincing him to do it. It’s him saying, ‘no, it feels good, I’m gonna do it.’ It’s fun having guys like that that are willing to work through that stuff and take it right into games.”

Heuer also has a lot of confidence in himself and success early in his career has helped validate that he not only belongs in the big leagues but can thrive.

So he was open to making adjustments on the fly and willing to experiment in games.

“For me, it’s just about going out and trusting your stuff,” Heuer said. “The changes that we’re making aren’t super drastic. They’re just a little bit more pitch grip stuff.

“As long as I go out there and do me and trust my stuff, those things will sort themselves out.”

Mechanical adjustments or pitch grip changes can often be difficult for relievers to work through in the middle of a season. Starting pitchers can fine-tune some things in their between-starts bullpens, but relievers have to be available to throw in a game nearly every day. They can’t waste bullets throwing 30-pitch bullpens before a game.

One advantage the Cubs have working in their favor down the stretch is a schedule that features a slew of off-days. That provides an opportunity for relievers like Heuer to continue to make tweaks while remaining fresh for game days.

The Cubs are also experimenting with Heuer’s workload to see what he is capable of out of the bullpen. His 1.1-inning outing Wednesday was the 3rd appearance where he has notched more than 3 outs over the last couple weeks. He also worked 2 innings Aug. 17 and Aug. 13.

“Codi’s done a nice job since he’s been here,” Ross said. “Been a guy that we’ve trusted in the back end. Pitched multiple innings for us. He’s played a lot of different roles for us — he’s closed games, he’s held the lead. I think we’re really happy about having him and how he fits us going forward.”

Heuer worked in a multi-inning capacity with the White Sox at times, so that hasn’t been a big change of pace for him. He’s willing to take the ball whenever the Cubs call his number.

And so far, it’s been a smashing success.

“He’s done an amazing job,” Kyle Hendricks said. “He’s got really good stuff from what I’ve seen already. Attacks the strike zone. He’s got three really good pitches and I think being in this system, he’s just gonna keep getting better and better. His role is gonna get bigger and bigger.

“I’m really excited for him. I know he loves it, too. He wants the ball in those spots. It’s cool to see him come through.”

Heuer understands the position the Cubs are in as a franchise. He is under team control through the 2025 season, so he could be a central part of the bullpen on the next great Cubs team alongside other relievers like Rowan Wick or Manny Rodríguez.

Heuer is already daydreaming about getting big outs in front of a sold-out Wrigley Field.

“I can’t wait to get the ball out here in the 8th or 9th and have a packed house when the game’s on the line and it means a lot,” Heuer said. “That’s what dreams are made of, man. That’s what you work so hard to get to in your career and I can’t wait for the day.”

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