The Chicago Cubs are back! Fresh off a sweep of the Phillies, their first in Philadelphia since 2000 — plus a win against the Pirates on Monday night, and the Cubs are a perfect 4-0 to begin the second half of 2022. If they continue their winning streak, they can finish 99-57 and will undoubtedly make the playoffs! Until that happens, the Cubs sit 11.5 games back in the National League Wild Card and 13.5 games back in the N.L. Central.
Several Cubs shined over the weekend sweep of the Phillies. Nico Hoener continued his breakout season, proving that he’s an All-Star caliber player when healthy. Catcher Yan Gomes had his first two-homer game as a Cub in the City of Brotherly Love. But the player who shined most over the weekend was rookie outfielder Nelson Velázquez.
Nelson Velázquez Arrives
Entering the 2nd half, Cubs rookie outfielder Nelson Velázquez had yet to really stand out. In a limited number of plate appearances, Velázquez had a couple of home runs but no signature moments. That changed in the last game of the 1st half.
Down 2-1 to the hated New York Mets in the top of the 8th inning — the Cubs were looking like they would be swept into the All-Star break. A single by third baseman Eduardo Escobar sent former All-Star Francisco Lindor racing around third, intent on extending the Mets’ lead. But Nelson Velázquez had a different idea.
Nelson Velázquez shows off the arm! pic.twitter.com/BLj7I1qUYT
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 17, 2022
Game Saving Play Unleashes Velázquez’s Swagger
Veláquez’s rocket throw to get Lindor at the plate proved to be a huge play for the Cubs and the rookie. The Cubs rallied to win the game, snapping a nine-game losing streak and finishing the 1st half as winners. For Veláquez, the Cubs hope that his statement play from the 1st half unlocks a whole lot more.
Velázquez Mashes In Philadelphia
Fast forward to the first game out of the break in Philadelphia. The Cubbies rolled back the clock to 2016 and were up 7-1 entering the 8th inning. Enter Nelson Velázquez, who didn’t start the game. For Cubs manager David Ross, the risk was low. Why not give the rookie outfielder an extra at-bat in a blow-out win? Needless to say, Velázquez made the most of his opportunity.
Velázquez launches one 421 feet! 💪 pic.twitter.com/p2XggSJicg
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 23, 2022
Icing on the cake! But Veláquez wasn’t done. He got another at-bat in the 9th inning, again taking advantage of the opportunity.
A two-homer, 5-RBI night off the bench for Nelson Velázquez! pic.twitter.com/dBfjtS3Lro
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 23, 2022
Two innings, two home runs, and five RBIs for rookie Nelson Velázquez. Not a bad day’s work. Cubs Manager David Ross spoke about Velázquez’s big night to the Chicago Sun-Times:
‘‘The thing that stood out in that [first] at-bat [Friday] was it didn’t look sharp to start. It looked like he was finding his timing. . . His swings and timing got better really fast, which was encouraging.. [Pinch-hitting] is a hard task and is usually reserved for a lot of veteran guys. But we’ve been using him more and more to come in and have some of those at-bats. He’s had some real thump.’’
Real thump. Those words are the key to Nelson Velázquez sticking with the Cubs for more than a cup of coffee. On Sunday, the rookie proved that his Philadelphia “thump tour” wasn’t finished.
Three homers in the last three games for Nelson Velázquez! pic.twitter.com/z5aGTGypgH
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) July 24, 2022
Power Bat, Arm Will Keep Velázquez in Cubs 2023 Plans
No one wants Nelson Velázquez to have a hot second half more than Cubs’ management. The Cubs’ rebuild is more than a year away. Having a young, team-controlled, power-hitting left fielder with a strong arm as part of that rebuild only gives the team more flexibility to spend money elsewhere. Cubs fans should hope that he can fulfill that destiny.