Can Codi Heuer be the Cubs future closer? He wants the job.
Codi Heuer knows where he started and knows where he wants to end up.
In the recent past, he pitched on the South Side, but the Cubs reliever is also the only active major-league player who was born in Montana.
"I take a lot of pride in that. It's a pretty cool thing," Heuer said. "I love Montana. That's where I was born and raised. It's my roots."
Heuer will revisit some of his baseball roots when the Cubs face the White Sox in a weekend series at Guaranteed Rate Field. Heuer and second baseman Nick Madrigal were traded from the Sox to the Cubs for Craig Kimbrel on July 30.
The Cubs are winning far less than the first-place White Sox these days, but things are going well for Heuer. In his first 11 appearances with the Cubs, he has an ERA of 1.35, with 1 save.
This is Heuer's second season in the majors, so the Cubs are still getting to know him. The 24-year-old right-hander has a path in mind for his future.
"Ideally, hopefully, I'm getting the ball in the ninth and closing games," Heuer said. "Growing up, I always loved the idea of shutting the door in the ninth inning against guys. That's just something I've really strived for in a career. As of right now, I'm just kind of taking it one day at a time."
Asked if he had a favorite closer growing up, Heuer said it was Jonathan Papelbon, who was passed by Kimbrel on the all-time saves list earlier this season.
"I grew up a Red Sox fan, so I was a big Jonathon Paplebon fan," Heuer said. "When he was closing for them, he was lock down. I don't know really why I was a huge Red Sox fan back then, but that was my guy."
When in Montana, you've got to pick something, right? There's no home team.
"I think my buddy I played Little League with, he was a huge Red Sox fan and he rubbed off on me," he said.
When the Cubs made the trade, team president Jed Hoyer said they'd already identified a few tweaks they'd like Heuer to try. Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy provided an update on that process.
"When we acquire guys, my big thing is we've got to get to know them a little bit," Hottovy said. "Get to know what they've done in the past, what they've tried in the past. We go through all the pitch grips and everything he uses.
"Let him get some appearances under his belt. Then we started talking through some things that we'd like to work on and then he was just like, 'Let's go.' "
Hottovy said one change was to have Heuer develop more of the typical fastball mix, with the rising four-seam and the sinking two-seam.
"He threw one that was technically a sinker, but it was kind of an in-between grip," Hottovy said. "We wanted to take that one grip and make it two different fastballs. He wanted to do it right away and he had some thoughts on some mechanical stuff he wanted to work on."
Backing up a little bit, there have been 26 major-league players born in Montana, according to baseball-reference.com. Two names stand out. One is John Lowenstein, who might be best remembered here as a member of the 1983 Orioles team that beat the White Sox in the ALCS.
Like Heuer, Lowenstein left Montana before he got to high school. Lowenstein ended up in Riverside, California, while Heuer's family moved to Fort Collins, Colorado. There was good reason. Being in cold-weather country, there is no high school baseball in Montana.
"We played Legion ball in Montana instead of high school ball," Heuer said. "I grew up playing Little League, and it was always very popular."
The other famous Montana baseball player is another renowned Baltimore Orliole, pitcher Dave McNally. In contrast to Heuer and Lowenstein, McNally was born, attended high school, died and is buried in Billings, Montana.
The list of Montana's greatest major-leaguers includes a starting pitcher and platoon outfielder.
Can Heuer round out the group as a reliever?
"He's not afraid to take the ball. That's fun for us," Hottovy said. "A guy that really thrives in some of those high-leverage situations and his willingness to do that while working on things and trusting it.
"We try to push and give guys information but let them kind of dictate when they're ready. He was ready and he's just a competitor. It's fun to watch him get out there and compete."
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