Why the Cubs opted to recall outfielder Nelson Velázquez
The Cubs have preached pitching and defense as the mainstays of the team this season.
Monday afternoon, they made a move to shore up their leather.
Outfielder Nelson Velázquez was recalled from Triple-A Iowa and righty Javier Assad was optioned to make room on the 26-man roster. By recalling Velázquez, the Cubs gave them a natural backup outfielder and one who has familiarity roaming the pastures at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs currently rank last in baseball in Outs Above Average (OAA) from the right field spot, albeit in a small sample. They’ve used three different players in the first 8 games of the season at right field as they await the return of Seiya Suzuki who is rehabbing from an oblique injury at Triple-A Iowa. Velázquez was inserted as a defensive replacement in right field for Miles Mastrobuoni in the 8th inning of Monday night’s game against the Mariners.
“There’s a multitude of things,” manager David Ross said of the reasoning to recall Velázquez. “Having a little bit better defense in right to be able to put somebody in there later in games.”
Velázquez has been swinging a hot bat, too.
In 8 games (33 plate appearances) with Triple-A Iowa, the righty was hitting .364 with 3 home runs, 7 RBI, a stolen base and a 1.129 OPS. Velázquez’ time at the World Baseball Classic with Team Puerto Rico allowed him to gain more confidence off his rookie campaign as he started 2023.
“The WBC helped me a lot,” Velázquez said Monday afternoon. “Being able to get advice from the ballplayers that have some time playing this sport; they have a ton of players that have played World Series, they have rings and to know what they think when they’re hitting and all that, for me it was a really good experience.”
Suzuki will continue his rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa this week. The I-Cubs were off on Monday, but he’ll be back in their lineup on Tuesday when they host Omaha.
“Getting better. Really good feedback from yesterday,” Ross said. “I think we’re just hoping best case scenario that we’ll see him on the West Coast. That would be nice.”
Assad had pitched 4.1 innings in relief this season across two outings, allowing 6 runs. The Cubs opted to carry the righty out of the bullpen to start the season after he thrived in that role with team Mexico in the WBC. With Mexico, Assad threw 5.2 scoreless innings against Team USA and Team Puerto Rico.
Now, the Cubs will stretch him back out as a starter with Iowa — and if the Cubs need to turn to him, they know they can rely on him in either role.
“He could come back up and still go in the bullpen,” Ross said. “Just get him some regular work and stretch him out for some starter depth should we need that.”