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updated: 8/6/2014 6:47 AM

Javier Baez hits game-winning homer for Cubs in debut

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  • Video: Baez talks about homer

  • The Cubs' Javier Baez looks skyward as he crosses home plate after his game-deciding home run in the 12th inning Tuesday night at Colorado.

      The Cubs' Javier Baez looks skyward as he crosses home plate after his game-deciding home run in the 12th inning Tuesday night at Colorado.
    Associated Press

  • Cubs President Theo Epstein says Javier Baez, who will make his major-league debut tonight in Colorado at second base, has done a "much better job of making the pitcher work, swinging at strikes, looking for pitches that he can drive."

      Cubs President Theo Epstein says Javier Baez, who will make his major-league debut tonight in Colorado at second base, has done a "much better job of making the pitcher work, swinging at strikes, looking for pitches that he can drive."
    Associated Press/file

 
 

As far as Cubs President Theo Epstein is concerned, the time is right for Javier Baez.

And was it ever in Baez's major-league debut Tuesday night.

He hit the game-winning home run in the top of the 12th inning to give the Cubs a 6-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies.

The Cubs earlier in the day selected the contract of Baez from Class AAA Iowa and promptly inserted him into the starting lineup batting second for the night game at Coors Field.

Baez went 0-for-5 with 3 strikeouts his first five times up. He struck out in the first and followed that with a groundout to third base in the fourth and another strikeout in the sixth.

In the seventh, Baez came up with the bases loaded and two outs, and he lined out to deep right field. He struck out swinging in the 10th.

All just setting up the dramatics in the 12th.

The call-up of the 21-year-old infielder has been anticipated all year. At Iowa, Baez had a hitting line of .260/.323/.510 with 23 home runs, 80 RBI, 34 walks and 130 strikeouts in 388 at-bats. He said he was informed of the call-up by Iowa manager Marty Pevey.

"I said, 'Are you serious?' and then I realized I was really going to the big leagues and got really excited, and called my mom and told my brother and everybody started jumping around and started crying," Baez told reporters. "I was just playing every day and doing what I wanted to do. I thought it (the wait) was going to be longer."

Drafted by the previous baseball regime in 2011 as a high school shortstop, Baez recently made the transition to second base at Iowa.

"As for why now, it's really a number of reasons," Epstein said on a conference call. "First of all, Javy has made a lot of strides in the areas we've emphasized for his development. Most importantly, he's doing a much better job of making the pitcher work, swinging at strikes, looking for pitches that he can drive. His strikeout rate has decreased each month, and his walk rate has increased. He's performing much better of late.

"Really all year he's worked really hard. He's competed day in and day out. He continues to play excellent defense, both at shortstop and most recently at second. He has close to 450 plate appearances at Triple-A now, which, while not ideal, is a pretty large sample and close to where we like to see our players at each level."

The Cubs have all-star Starlin Castro at shortstop, and they've moved second baseman-outfielder Arismendy Alcantara (recently called up from Iowa) to center field. They also traded for highly regarded shortstop prospect Addison Russell on the Fourth of July in a deal that sent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. Russell is at Class AA Tennessee.

Epstein said Baez likely will play almost every day and at second base, but that he could see fill-in time at other positions.

The Cubs will return home Friday, and Epstein acknowledged there could be a media crush for Baez. He said the Cubs would do all they could to "protect him, including trying to lay out reasonable expectations."

Epstein added that he doesn't believe Baez is a player who needs to be "treated with kid gloves."

"Javy understands the game really well," Epstein said. "He plays to win. He shows up every day. He plays every day. Javy is in some ways baseball mature beyond his years."

The Cubs have several prospects in their minor-league system, including third baseman Kris Bryant, outfielders Jorge Soler and Albert Almora and catcher-outfielder Kyle Schwarber.

Epstein didn't want to get into whether this was the start of something big for the organization.

"It's just the promotion of a really talented prospect who's had an outstanding development year," he said. "I don't believe in making grand pronouncements as an organization or making statements. Ultimately the performance of our players will speak for themselves.

"So I'm not going to get into what this means or what this signifies other than it's the right step for Javy's development. There are others behind him who at the appropriate time will continue to add potential impact talent to our big-league club."

bmiles@dailyherald.com

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