Spring Training Notebook: Cubs reflect on Javier Assad’s outing vs. USA and rings are handed out
MESA, Ariz. — For many people, Javier Assad’s outing Sunday night against the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic was a surprise.
Three innings, 0 runs, 2 strikeouts, 1 hit and 10 batters faced against an American lineup loaded with hardware, accolades and star-studded power.
But there was one person that was not surprised with the outing — his Cubs teammate and fellow Mexican pitcher Manuel Rodríguez.
“I had no doubts,” Rodríguez said. “Without a doubt it was amazing what he did. I knew he was going to do well. Since we arrived, we had talked about how well he had prepared this year, how healthy he is, how strong he is and the manner in which he is using his pitches, it’s incredible.”
Arguably the most impressive moment, though, was his strikeout when he first came into the game, whiffing Mets slugger Pete Alonso on a 97 mph fastball up and in. That was a predicator of things to come.
Kyle Tucker and Tim Anderson had no answer in the 4th inning. Will Smith, Jeff McNeil and Mookie Betts were put down in order in the 5th. Mike Trout singled to lead off the 6th, but then NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt fouled out and Nolan Arenado grounded into a fielder’s choice. Assad ended his outing like he started it — striking out Alonso, this time on a 96 mph fastball down and away.
“That’s Assad, baby,” Justin Steele said. “That’s just how he is. He’s really good. I’ve watched him for quite some time, now.”
The velocity uptick was another eyebrow-raiser for many. Last year in the majors, the hardest-thrown pitch Assad had thrown was a 95.1 mph fastball to McNeil. Sunday night, Assad had 10 pitches that were faster than that.
Again, that was no shock to Rodríguez.
“That’s something we were talking about,” Rodríguez said. “He told me at one point last season he hit 97 and so he told me his goal this season was to touch 98 and he’s really close at this point.”
Assad’s success and rise to prominence is an example of the work he’s put in and the importance of organizational player development.
“I think the stuff that stands out — sometimes there’s names that aren’t on the radar as much you don’t hear about that can be really good big leaguers and impact us winning and put themselves on the map when opportunity presents itself,” manager David Ross said. “Being ready for that is extremely important.”
Tauchman continues to impress
With Seiya Suzuki’s injury likely causing him to start the season on the injured list, there’s an outfield roster spot seemingly now open. One name that continues to impress in that department is non-roster invitee Mike Tauchman.
The Palatine native has hit .318 this spring with a home run, 3 stolen bases and a .968 OPS. He’s 5-for-10 with 2 extra-base hits against left-handed pitching, too, and has played at all 3 outfield spots this spring.
“We put him in right a lot. He’s a really good defender. He’s swung the bat really well,” Ross said on Sunday. “He’s got some baseball savvy. It’s been fun to watch him play.”
The Cubs gave out some rings Tuesday night. The team honored the 2022 Midwest League champion South Bend Cubs before their game against the Rockies as the team were presented with their championship rings.
Top prospects Pete Crow-Armstrong and Alexander Canario were some of the prospects on hand to receive their hardware.
The Cubs hit the road to take on the Reds in Goodyear, Ariz. on Wednesday night at 8:05 p.m. Caleb Kilian is scheduled to start for Chicago.