It would have been easy for the Chicago Cubs to start fading when Marcus Stroman and Drew Smyly started to struggle. Instead, the Cubs continue to win - taking 15 of their last 20 - and on Friday, we saw a big reason why that's happened: a 'next man up' mentality, this time showcased in the series opener against Toronto by Javier Assad.
Regardless of role, Javier Assad will pitch key innings for the Cubs
The young right-hander tossed a career-high seven innings, limiting the powerful Blue Jays lineup to just one run on four hits, lowering his season ERA to 3.12 and helping Chicago keep pace in the race for a postseason spot. He's been a jack-of-all-trades for David Ross this season, building on his impressive performance in the World Baseball Classic as a member of Team Mexico.
"I think just in the last six weeks you've seen him in every kind of situation there is, which you don't see a lot of pitchers in baseball doing these days. And this isn't just a guy filling innings. This is a guy who's throwing 94 [mph] with command of five pitches. It's a legit mix. Not at all surprised by what he did today, but it's still impressive, for sure."- Nico Hoerner on Javier Assad
Stroman could return from the IL as early as next week - and, at least for the time being, Smyly will work out of the bullpen. That means we're all but guaranteed to see Assad get at least one more start - and he's certainly earned it. In two spot starts here in August, he has a 2.53 ERA across 10 2/3 innings. Dating back to June 16, a nearly two-month span, he's got a 1.29 ERA (well outpacing a 3.47 FIP, so it's fair to expect at least some regression coming) - limiting opponents to a .504 OPS.
Over the season's final seven or so weeks, it's clear that Assad will have a role to play: whether that be as a starter or a swing man/long reliever remains to be seen. But, as Ross and several of his teammates noted after his outing Friday, the situation doesn't seem to matter to him. He's just ready to take the ball and do his job.