Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Javier Assad Shut Down Team USA, Continues to Make Case to Make Opening Day Cubs Roster


We haven’t heard a lot about Javier Assad for a couple weeks because he’s been with his Mexican teammates at the World Baseball Classic, but the right-hander made his presence known Sunday night and continued to make a strong case to make the Cubs Opening Day roster.

Assad came in to face the United States after Mexico jumped to a 7-1 advantage following Joey Meneses’ second homer of the game. Sure, Assad had a comfortable six-run lead, but he was still facing a lineup filled with stars on the American side and the right-hander didn’t allow the United States to get back in the game, showing he wasn’t intimidated by the potent lineup.

Assad pitched three scoreless innings, only allowing one hit, a Mike Trout single to leadoff the sixth inning.

The Cubs righty faced 10 total batters and only needed 37 pitches to go through Team USA. Assad started his outing the same way he ended it, by striking out New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso with some heat. First, Assad went up and in on a 2-2 count, getting Alonso to whiff in the fourth inning.

Then, with two outs and a runner at first base in the sixth inning, Assad made Alonso chase a 96mph fastball located low and away from the right-handed hitter to complete his three shutout innings.

Prior to Assad’s appearance against the United States in Sunday’s World Baseball Classic game, he made two spring training outings with the Cubs. In those two games, Assad allowed no runs, no hits, striking out two hitters and only surrendering one base runner via walk in four innings pitched.

Yes, at this point Hayden Wesneski appears to be the clear frontrunner for the Cubs fifth starter role, but it’s not like Assad hasn’t also made a good case so far for himself in spring training and now with Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. I mean, look at the names Assad faced and set down with relative ease on Sunday night in front of a packed and electric Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz.

That was just Assad’s first two innings. After Trout’s single in the sixth, he got Paul Goldschmidt to foul out to the first baseman, then Nolan Arenado hit into a fielder’s choice before striking out Alonso for the second time.

In 2022, Assad made nine total appearances with the Cubs, eight of those being starts. He tossed 37.2 innings and posted a 3.11 ERA. The ERA looks good, but Assad did have trouble with walks and his strikeout rate wasn’t good either. However, in terms of the depth chart, Assad is certainly out-performing Adrian Sampson who at this point seems to be third in the three-man competition for the fifth starter spot on the Cubs.

While it may be difficult to fit Assad into the team’s Opening Day roster because of the limited eight-man bullpen, he is definitely proving why he should be one of, if not, the first guy who gets the call from the minors to fill in for a starting pitcher whenever one is needed in the regular season.

But if Assad can keep pumping 96-97mph on the radar gun, then the Cubs may have an even tougher decision to make at the end of March and that’s actually a great thing because this team has a lot of quality pitchers who deserve a spot on the big league roster.

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