Morel, Hughes both impress in minors, then do same in debuts

Brandon Hughes was nervous as heck before the Cubs' 7-0 victory over Pittsburgh at Wrigley Field on Tuesday. So much so that the relief pitcher went to the bathroom three times in the first four innings.

Christopher Morel wasn't nervous at all. In fact, the 22-year-old told Willson Contreras that he would duplicate Contreras' feat of smacking a home run in his first major league at bat.

Two call-ups - with two wildly different backgrounds - turned out to be the stars of the night and wrote some pretty incredible history as the Cubs (15-20) won for the sixth time in the last eight games.

"I mean that was fun, wasn't it?" said manager David Ross. "There's something about young guys coming up and having a little bit of spark, a little bit of energy."

Let's start with Hughes, who transitioned from an outfielder to a pitcher in 2018 after being told he had no future in the organization if he didn't make the move.

Not wanting his major league dream to die, Hughes improved an already solid fastball and now throws it 91-94 mph. He also got rid of a "loopy" curveball and developed a nasty sweeping slider.

Ross went to Hughes with one out in the sixth inning after Daniel Norris developed right Achilles soreness.

"Phone rang and 'Hughes' was the name that got called and I was like, 'All right. I'm gonna be warming up on the main mound in front of Wrigley,' " Hughes said. "I've never done that in my pitching career. That was my first time in Wrigley (and I'm) warming up in front of Wrigley.

"It was pretty special. And then to have the performance that I did it was even more special."

And historic. Hughes had to start with a 2-0 count on Josh VanMeter and ended up walking the Pirates' leadoff hitter (although it was charged to Norris).

Hughes then settled in and struck out Bryan Reynolds and Ben Gamel with his signature slider. Hughes notched 3 more strikeouts in the seventh inning to become the fourth reliever in Cubs history to record 5-plus strikeouts in his major-league debut.

Hughes, who didn't allow an earned run in 16⅔ innings in the minors, didn't think he'd be nervous when he spoke to reporters beforehand.

But he was wrong.

"I was sitting in the bullpen and am like, 'Does my stomach hurt? I don't know if my stomach hurts. Does it? I don't know,' " said Hughes, who laughed about all his bathroom trips and added: "I was like, 'All right. I need to slow down. I need to chill out.' "

Morel made quite an impression during batting practice by belting several balls deep into the bleachers. One hit the scoreboard in left field.

"You knew something was coming," he said with a smile afterward.


Morel came on as a pinch hitter in the eighth, and after falling behind 0-2, he worked the count to 3-2 and then absolutely unloaded on a 92-mph fastball. The Dominican became the first Cub to homer in his MLB debut since Contreras on June 19, 2016.

"For sure I got nervous," said Morel, who tipped his hat to the roaring crowd when he went to play third base in the ninth. "(It was) my first at-bat in the big leagues. Two strikes. ...

"So I concentrate and I say, 'I can do it. (I've) done it before. So I can do it right now.' "

Said Ross: "You knew it was gone off the bat. Shoot, man, that's the stuff you dream about. ... He told me in spring training on the half field, 'You're gonna see me this year.' "

Keegan Thompson (3-0) started for the Cubs and pitched 5 innings, allowing 4 hits and striking out five.

Cubs' Christopher Morel warms up before a spring training game against the Dodgers in March. Morel was signed as an international free agent in August 2015 out of the Dominican Republic. He hit .306 with 5 doubles, a triple, 7 home runs and 20 RBI in 28 games for Tennessee. The Cubs recalled him Tuesday Associated Press
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