Matt Duffy has emerged as a key component of the 2021 Cubs
When the lineups came out for the final two games of the series in Atlanta, Cubs fans certainly perked up seeing Matt Duffy hitting 3rd.
With David Ross moving Anthony Rizzo into the leadoff spot on a temporary basis, that left an opening in the middle of the order.
Suddenly, a guy who was a non-roster invitee to spring training and a player few projected to make the Opening Day roster was hitting in one of the most important positions in the batting order.
Like he did in Arizona, Duffy quietly went about his business and proved everybody wrong once again.
He walked twice and singled in Wednesday’s night’s loss and was a central part of the Cubs’ offense all night in Thursday’s 9-3 win with 2 hits, 2 walks, 2 runs scored and an RBI. He is now hitting .286 with a .432 on-base percentage this season.
The 30-year-old has always had a knack for grinding out professional at-bats. He finished second behind Kris Bryant in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 and boasts a career .282 batting average and .339 OBP.
Duffy has also drawn praise from the face of the franchise for his presence off the field.
“Duffy’s been really good in the clubhouse,” Rizzo said. “Very steady and low-key. Keeps a really good perspective of the game.”
Throughout his career, he has actually started more games hitting 3rd in the batting order (128 games) than anywhere else. But on a Cubs team with perennial All-Stars like Rizzo, Bryant, Javy Báez and Willson Contreras, not many anticipated Duffy to be hitting 3rd on April 28 or 29.
That’s also because his role early this season was strictly as a bench bat and part-time player.
He did not start a game from April 6 until April 21 (a stretch that also included a brief stint on the COVID list). But with Thursday’s outing, he has now started 6 of the last 9 contests.
“What has impressed me about Matt Duffy is his professionalism,” David Ross said. “His ability to embrace a role and stay ready, his work ethic, his baseball IQ, his approach, his contact ability, the ability to stay ready with timing when he doesn’t get those starts and still be ready to do one of the harder things in baseball to pinch-hit and be successful at it.
“He’s done a really good job at that. All the way around, a very impressive young man and happy he’s on our team.”
That contact ability is a huge part of the equation here.
The Cubs swing and miss a lot as a team and Duffy provides a different element. As the Cubs have been without Bryant and Báez a bit recently and Joc Pederson has been on the IL, Duffy’s contact-oriented approach has earned him some regular playing time.
It’s also why Ross and Co. wanted him on the Opening Day roster.
In spring training, Duffy flew under the radar amid a crowded race for the final bench spots. David Bote, Nico Hoerner, Eric Sogard and Ildemaro Vargas were competing for the second base job while Jake Marisnick was signed to be the fourth outfielder and Cameron Maybin provided another veteran option.
Even Duffy was a little surprised he made the initial roster.
“Yeah, a little bit, to be honest with you,” he said. “Just the spring that some guys were having. It seemed from where I stood, there were four guys that had an opportunity to win a few spots. I think I came on a little bit in the last week, but with the spring that some other guys had, I might be on the outside looking in.
“But what was expressed to me was just my skillset and putting the barrel on the ball and putting together quality at-bats off the bench was valued I think a little bit more than I thought they valued it when I was just internally stewing in my head about what the roster was going to look like.
“When I finally stopped worrying about that and just said, ‘play baseball and be yourself and if they like you, they like you,’ that’s when I started to relax a little bit and my play started to improve at the end of spring there. But yeah, I was a little bit surprised.”
Now he’s playing a key role for a team that’s trying to find its groove as the calendar flips to May.