Javier Assad has proved he can be part of the Cubs’ long-term pitching equation
CINCINNATI — At the beginning of the 2022 season, Javier Assad wasn’t on too many lists as a potential rotation piece.
As this season winds down, he has firmly placed himself in conversations to be a fixture in the Cubs’ pitching plans of the future — and that’s a testament to both his work ethic and the team’s ever-improving pitching infrastructure.
“Wasn’t on the radar very much to start the season,” manager David Ross said. “He knows how to use the corners and he hasn’t shied away from any moments … the reason why he’s had such a successful season is because of his ability to move the baseball the way he wants to and the velocity’s been a little better.”
Assad turned in another stellar outing Tuesday in Cincinnati, going 5.1 innings with 4 strikeouts, 4 hits and a walk. He finishes the 2022 season with a 3.11 ERA in 37.2 innings in the big leagues.
“Javi threw great, I thought,” Ross said. “The breaking stuff wasn’t quite as sharp as it had been for me, but being able to navigate through the lineup and use that fastball into a lot of those righties, I thought he did a really nice job of that.”
On Tuesday, Assad accomplished something no other Cubs rookie pitcher has ever done. It marked his 4th start with at least 4 innings pitched and 0 runs allowed in his first 8 MLB starts.
Since 1906, Kerry Wood and Larry Cheney have turned in 3 such starts out of their first 8 — Assad is the only pitcher with 4 outings.
The Mexican righty began the year at Double-A, pitching to a 2.51 ERA in 14 starts before moving up to Triple-A. In Iowa, he posted a 2.95 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP in 7 starts before he was called up to the majors.
“It was my goal to get here and achieve this,” Assad said. “Finishing here is super good for me and I’m really happy with the season I had. More than anything, I’m thankful to God for giving me health and thanks to God, having health, I could be here and finish here and I’m super happy to have achieved that.”
He was eligible to be taken in this offseason’s Rule 5 Draft, so the Cubs used the opportunity to call him up and get a look in the majors. Assad, 25, took that opportunity and ran with it. He has pitched his way in the team’s plans moving forward and proved he can provide quality innings in the big leagues and serve as depth for the big-league rotation.
On Monday, Ross stressed the need for having that starting depth at all levels of the organization — in the MLB bullpen or waiting in the wings at Triple-A.
“If Marcus Stroman gets hurt in May, you’ve got somebody waiting,” Ross said. “Javier Assad’s coming up and giving you a real outing. Hayden Wesneski is coming up, give you a real outing. Caleb Kilian is giving you a real outing and [any of them] can stay until Marcus is ready to come back and fill that hole. Having those pieces are really important.”
Assad has shown moxie needed to thrive in the big leagues, too, pitching out of jams — like he did Tuesday night. After a leadoff strikeout in the bottom of the 1st, Assad permitted back-to-back singles to Jake Fraley and Kyle Farmer but induced an inning-ending double play to Donovan Solano. He exited the game with a pair of runners on in the 6th inning, but Keegan Thompson escaped without the runners scoring and thus ended Assad’s first taste in the big leagues.
“A lot of learning, really,” Assad said through team translator Will Nadal. “A lot of learning from my teammates, opposing players, just everyone around me. Just been a really great experience, just happy to be here and continue to contribute.”