Cubs hold an eventful day of debuts at Wrigley

  • Cubs starting pitcher Matt Swarmer delivers during the first inning in the first game of a doubleheader Monday, May 30, 2022, against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. In his MLB debut, Swarmer gave up 1 earned run in 6 innings, though the Cubs lost 7-6.

    Cubs starting pitcher Matt Swarmer delivers during the first inning in the first game of a doubleheader Monday, May 30, 2022, against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. In his MLB debut, Swarmer gave up 1 earned run in 6 innings, though the Cubs lost 7-6. Associated Press

Updated 5/30/2022 9:39 PM

Sure, it can be frustrating watching a big-market team like the Cubs try to awkwardly execute a slow rebuild.

But that's not the fault of the players who have been toiling in the minor leagues for years, pursuing their dreams.


So even though the Cubs were swept by Milwaukee, Monday's doubleheader was actually kind of fun. It featured major league debuts, career-firsts and even some reunions.

Starting pitcher Matt Swarmer was solid in his first big-league appearance, allowing just 1 earned run over 6 innings. He got to throw to his longtime minor league catcher P.J. Higgins, who happened to hit his first home run in the majors.

Then outfielder Nelson Velazquez collected an infield hit in his first major league at-bat, while reuniting with his self-proclaimed brother, Christopher Morel.

The difference in the 7-6 loss was a 3-run homer in the seventh inning by Brewers shortstop Luis Urias off reliever Daniel Norris. That broke a 4-4 tie and the Cubs left runners in scoring position in their final three at-bats.

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"Debuts are one of the best parts of our game, I think," Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner said. "Everyone who's played at this level understands how much time and effort and people it takes to get to this point. Just congratulations to all of those guys."

Swarmer, 28, has been pitching in the Cubs organization since being drafted in the 19th round in 2016 out of Kutztown University. He was their minor league pitcher of the year in '18, then struggled in his first turn at Triple A in '19.

When the pandemic canceled the minor league season a year later, Swarmer joined an adult baseball league near his hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, just to stay active. He said his parents and uncle were able to make it to Wrigley Field on Monday.

"My (Iowa Cubs) pitching coach kind of told me," Swarmer said. "He scratched me from the start on Saturday. He said, 'There's a chance you might be throwing Monday.' And he's like, 'You know what that means.' It was awesome, a good feeling.


"I wanted this ever since I was five years old. It was cool having my support team there, my family. It's such a cool feeling."

Higgins went through the same thing last season and said he tried to give his pitcher some helpful advice during their pregame strategy session.

"I just told him, 'Listen dude, we've been doing this for a while,'" Higgins said. "We go over the scouting reports and I get pretty in depth in it. I'm like, 'This is your big-league debut, you're going to be nervous. Just trust me back there. I got you. Just do what you do and don't worry about anything else.' That may have helped. I don't know if it did or it didn't."

Higgins said what makes Swarmer effective is a slider that breaks in three different directions. He struck out six, walked one and gave up 5 hits.

"Mixing the fastball and slider in there, a couple change-ups, it looked like he was in pretty good control," manager David Ross said. "Both sides of the plate, stuck with his strengths. Low heartbeat for a first big-league start. Very impressed."

Morel and Velazquez were together at Double A Tennessee earlier this season, and things moved quickly from there. Velazquez played just 19 games at Triple A Iowa before getting the call-up.

"When our game ended (Sunday), I received a text message from him saying he was going to see me soon," Morel said. "I told him, 'Stop kidding. You're kidding with me.'

"Nelson for me is like a brother, really. Inside the baseball field, outside the baseball field. The only things that's missing is blood between us."

Velazquez started both games and went 2-for-7 at the plate with two infield singles. The Puerto Rico native wasn't a highly rated prospect, but took off last year after working on his swing mechanics. He was named MVP of the Arizona Fall League in 2021.

There was another major league debut in Game 2 as the Cubs brought in right-handed pitcher Anderson Espinoza after starter Drew Smyly left the game while warming up for the fourth inning due to right oblique soreness.

Espinoza piled up 6 strikeouts in 4 innings, but gave up a go-ahead home run to ex-Cub Victor Caratini, and the Brewers swept the doubleheader with a 3-1 victory. A Willson Contreras home run was the Cubs' only offense.

Swarmer certainly deserved a better fate, and he'll likely get more chances. Errors by Clint Frazier and Patrick Wisdom led to 3 unearned runs in Game 1. The Cubs were one strike away from ending the sixth inning with a 4-2 lead, but Brewers outfielder Tyrone Taylor connected for a game-tying 2-run homer.

Higgins and Rafael Ortega hit back-to-back homers in the fourth to make it 4-2, the fifth time in 10 games the Cubs went back-to-back. Hoerner stayed hot, going 3-for-5 with 3 RBI.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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