Cubs hope early returns from Javier Assad are no fluke

(Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
(Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

This season for the Chicago Cubs was about one thing: looking toward the future. We knew it would take just about everything breaking their way for this season to end with success as far as the standings go. Despite things not going as planned, especially when it comes to the starting rotation, the emergence of young hurlers like Javier Assad bode well for the team’s long-term outlook.

"“He looked super calm out there,” manager David Ross said after his first outing last week. “Pounded the strike zone. The cutter was working really well. Being able to pitch behind in the count, coming right at them out of the shoot.”"

Assad got the ball for just the second time in his big league career on Monday night in Toronto and, for the second straight start, he kept the opposing team off the board. The right-hander tossed five scoreless innings against the Jays, giving a boost to a Cubs staff without both Adrian Sampson and Justin Steele due to Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

Prior to this season, Assad had never really put it together over the course of a full campaign. Last year, he managed just a 5.32 ERA in 20 starts and one appearance at Double-A Tennessee and opponents hit .297 against him. Needless to say, that does little to hold down at job in the minors, let alone get your first crack at a big league rotation.

Cubs: Javier Assad has figured something out this season

But something seemed to click for the 25-year-old righty this season. Opening the year back at Double-A, Assad worked to a 2.51 ERA and racked up 74 strikeouts in just 71 2/3 innings. That body of work earned him a promotion to Iowa, where he just kept on rolling, limiting opponents to a .223 mark in seven starts and a relief appearance.

The next six weeks are all about young players auditioning for the future. You can bet Assad will join the likes of Sampson in the rotation, looking to cement their standing heading into next spring,  along with guys like Erich Uelman, Manny Rodriguez in the bullpen. If they can get healthy, we might see Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson again, although both are likely nearing the end of their seasons because of workload management.

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Across the organization, pitching is on the rise. Two strong starts to open a big league career doesn’t mean Assad will have an impact long-term, but seeing him find success is definitely another positive for a Cubs team that, all of the sudden, is playing much better baseball on a daily basis.