Strong Stretch Against Strong Teams, Swanson's First Dinger, Hendricks Rehab, Velazquez, Amaya, and Other Cubs Bullets

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Strong Stretch Against Strong Teams, Swanson’s First Dinger, Hendricks Rehab, Velazquez, Amaya, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

I am not getting my coat back out. I don’t care what you throw at me, Mother Nature. I’m not doing it. Coat is away for the year.

  • There are still many more difficult series ahead for the Cubs, especially through May, but I just wanted to note that in this recent stretch where they played the Rangers, Mariners, Padres, and Dodgers twice, they went 9-7 in those games (with a 3-0 against the A’s mixed in). The Cubs posted a winning record against four very good teams, and the only series loss in there was one of the two against the Dodgers. Maybe the Rangers aren’t actually as good as they’ve shown so far. Maybe the Mariners are actually a sub-.500 team. Maybe the Cubs got lucky against the Dodgers and Padres. Whatever. It’s early and it’s a brief stretch. But I’m just saying: for a couple weeks, the Cubs played almost nothing but expected playoff contenders, and the Cubs came out of it with a winning record.
  • Now the Cubs get a stretch of more winnable games, with six against the Marlins, bookending a four-gamer against the Nationals. The Marlins, currently .500, are not a bad team. But the Nationals are an extremely bad team. Gotta go 6-4 over this stretch, at least.
  • Back to yesterday. Dansby Swanson didn’t think he got that one yesterday, but got a little extra push from the Wrigley wind blowing toward left, and then the basket caught it (note, though, that because of the well out there in the corners, it was actually a deeper home run shot than it looked – it would’ve left 22 other parks).
  • Some context for how early we still are when it comes to the numbers: that one solitary home run nearly DOUBLED Swanson’s ISO on the year (from .036 to .068). Like I said yesterday with his power, I’m not really worried about not having seen much of it yet. It’s coming, and the extra walks are the most intriguing part.
  • Watch out for Nelson Velazquez:
  • In all seriousness, Velazquez has done everything you’d want him to do in his brief call-ups this year. He just looks like a big leaguer. Cody Bellinger figures to return tonight from paternity leave, and that could mean Velazquez heads back down to Iowa. It’s also possible the Cubs finally decided they’d rather carry Velazquez as the 4th outfielder, and one of Edwin Rios (who has options) or Luis Torrens (who does not) is out. We’ll see.
  • Michael Fulmer looked as good yesterday as he has all year, and although he was pitching an earlier inning with a lead, it was hardly what you’d call “low leverage,” since it was the heart of the Padres’ order. Hopefully it helps get him right, and we’ve seen it work out before.
  • One tweak as noted by The Athletic, and you can see it in that clip: Fulmer is now moved over toward the third base side of the rubber, as opposed to being way over on the first base side, where he was before Thursday’s outing.
  • Kyle Hendricks’ first rehab start at Iowa was pretty terrible on the results side of the ledger – he didn’t last two innings, got charged with six earned runs – but that wasn’t going to be the focus (good or bad). Hendricks felt healthy, his fastball was 87-89 mph, and he got up into the 50s in his pitch count. All the important boxes got checked. The only negative of the outing is that it confirmed the already-very-unlikely possibility that Hendricks could come back after just one rehab start was not going to happen.
  • That Iowa game was BONKERS by the way:
  • The only Cubs pitcher who was unscathed was Riley Thompson, who – intriguingly – came in for a two-inning relief appearance. The 26-year-old righty is a starting pitcher by trade, but he has had very little minor league time thanks to injuries and the pandemic, so his role might be fluid going forward. It was just one outing, and it could have been a matter of keeping him on schedule while accommodating Hendricks … but it did make you wonder whether the Cubs are toying around with the idea of not wasting too many more of Thompson’s bullets in the minor leagues. Another multi-inning relief option for later this year? Perhaps. Note that Thompson is not yet on the 40-man roster.
  • Miguel Amaya homered again last night at Tennessee:
  • If it weren’t for 10 other guys having ridiculous starts to the year, Amaya would be the biggest story in the farm system. This is a guy who has been able to play in just 63 games total since 2019 because of different injuries and the pandemic. A guy who is in his final option year. A guy who plays a position where it would be EXTREMELY HELPFUL if the Cubs had a guys come up internally next year to be a part-time starter. And he’s come back this year to hit .275/.412/.700/193 wRC+ so far. He’s obliterating the ball.
  • Amaya, who just turned 24, needed to do enough in the first half to show he was back to full health and ready for Triple-A, and clearly he’s doing that. The strikeout rate is near 30%, which is definitely a concern, but that could be the rust. Give him another month at Tennessee, and if he’s still solid, let him take over as the primary catcher at Iowa. The Cubs need to know if he can handle that, and also need to get him working with more of the pitchers he could be seeing the following year. (Previously, Amaya was known as a plus-glove catcher, though I don’t have a sense on how he rates as a “helps maximize pitcher performance” catcher.)
  • Seriously. How do the Cubs have so many prospects who are impossibly hot right now:
  • Ben Brown and Brandon Birdsell also had dominant outings again last night, and I’ve been loving their starts to the season. Must be a B thing.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.