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Javier Assad’s career night highlights Cubs homegrown pitching

9 months agoAndy Martinez

CINCINNATI — Javier Assad turned in a career night when the Cubs needed it.

And in doing so, highlighted the strength of their pitching infrastructure.

The righty had a career-high in innings (8) and pitches (98), but the Cubs’ offense struggled to back him up and the Reds mounted their second-straight 9th-inning rally to walk it off against the Cubs, 2-1.

Saturday night’s performance was quite the outing for a pitcher who started the year in the Cubs’ bullpen, struggled in the role, was optioned to Iowa and returned to serve as a long reliever. After Marcus Stroman’s injury — and coupled with Assad’s success in relief — Assad was moved into the rotation and been a pivotal piece for the Cubs’ charge for the postseason.

“He’s obviously been huge, just being able to step up,” Dansby Swanson said. “It’s pretty special to be able to see a guy, [who] early on when he wouldn’t throw for a week and then they call on his name. And he’d go out there and get outs and commands all his pitches. And then that’s obviously carried over now. It’s every fifth day.

“He’s been awesome for us.”

His success, coupled with that of their other homegrown arms of Justin Steele and Jordan Wicks has given the Cubs a rotation that’s helped keep them within striking distance of a playoff spot. 

It has the Cubs feeling strong about their pitching infrastructure.

Back in March, it would have seemed almost laughable to think that the Cubs would be in a playoff race on September 2 with what their rotation has gone through:

– Stroman’s injury

– An inconsistent season from big free-agent signing Jameson Taillon

– Struggles and two separate moves to the bullpen for lefty Drew Smyly

– Bouncing up and down from Triple-A and then some struggles from Hayden Wesneski

Yet the last two days at Great American Ballpark have shown how strung the Cubs’ pitching set-up is. Assad’s career night, coupled with Wicks’ solid outing on Friday afternoon (5 innings, 1 run on 5 hits and 3 walks with 3 strikeouts) showcased that.

“We have a really good pitching infrastructure,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said Friday. “We’ve drafted well, but we brought guys in, and I think we’ve made guys better, which is wonderful.”

Friday afternoon, the Cubs’ 2021 first-round draft pick Wicks was again strong in his second big-league outing.

“He’s really poised. I think that’s the biggest thing. The stuff plays. He’s got a lot of weapons,” Hoyer said. “But he’s had some moments in each game — obviously, the first few batters of the Pittsburgh game — but even today, scattered throughout were some moments he had to make big pitches.”

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