In latest of '21 Cub debuts: Rivas shines, Effross struggles

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Cubs first baseman Alfonso Rivas saw action during spring training in Arizona.

    Cubs first baseman Alfonso Rivas saw action during spring training in Arizona. Associated Press

  • Alfonso Rivas had two hits Sunday in his major league debut with the Cubs.

    Alfonso Rivas had two hits Sunday in his major league debut with the Cubs. Associated Press

  • Indiana's Kyle Schwarber, left, is comforted by Scott Effross after losing to Oregon State in a College World Series elimination game in June 2013 in Omaha. Effross made his major league debut for the Cubs Sunday in a loss to the White Sox.

    Indiana's Kyle Schwarber, left, is comforted by Scott Effross after losing to Oregon State in a College World Series elimination game in June 2013 in Omaha. Effross made his major league debut for the Cubs Sunday in a loss to the White Sox. Associated Press

 
By Matt Baron
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 8/30/2021 3:57 PM

The lefty gets a call-up from Triple-A Iowa, plays flawless first base, and secures his first two Major League hits for a Cubs team mired in fourth place in the division.

What happens next?

 

For Mark Grace, after he broke into the majors this way on May 2, 1988: A sterling 16-year career in which he led all big leaguers in hits and doubles during the 1990s, earned four Gold Gloves, appeared in three All-Star Games, and won a World Series ring with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

As for Alfonso Rivas, whose Grace-like debut happened Sunday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field? Time will tell, but in this season of myriad Cubs big-league debuts and second chances, Rivas' initial performance stands out as especially promising.

Inserted into the lineup's eighth spot, Rivas stroked a sharp single to center field on the first pitch he saw from White Sox pitcher Dylan Cease. Two innings later, the former Arizona Wildcat led off the fifth with a double down the left-field line. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound newcomer had 2 of the team's 4 hits off the hard-throwing, increasingly effective Cease.

In the seventh, against Ryan Tepera, Rivas nearly made it 3-for-3. He drilled a shot to the warning track in left center field that was snagged by a sprinting Luis Robert.

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In 237 plate appearances for the Iowa Cubs, Rivas slashed .284/.405/.411, with 4 home runs and 32 RBI.

Before Sunday's game, Cubs manager David Ross' description of Rivas as a "calm and consistent type player" served as a preview of the 24-year-old's day.

"I got to see him last spring training for the first time -- a controlled at bat, knows the strike zone, takes his walks," said Ross. "(He makes) contact, more of a gap-to-gap kind of (hitter), but I really love the way he controls the zone and his at bats seem to be professional every single time."

Another Cub who made his MLB debut was Scott Effross. A former Indiana Hoosier teammate of ex-Cub Kyle Schwarber, the 27-year-old had fanned 66 batters in 60⅔ innings at the Class AA and Class AAA levels this year, posting a 7-2 record and 3.41 ERA.

On Sunday, the 6-foot-2 righty entered with one out in the sixth inning and the White Sox holding a 10-1 lead. Leury Garcia fouled off a few pitches before getting hit on a full count. Next came a wild pitch, though Effross did strike out Cesar Hernandez before Robert deposited a 2-and-2 pitch deep into the left field stands.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Just like that, Effross had made the quintessential 2021 splash. Through his first three batters, he was at the center of the Three True Outcomes (Garcia's HBP essentially being a base on balls) -- the term for action involving nobody outside the batter, catcher and pitcher.

And the fourth batter he faced, Jose Abreu, only barely engaged a fielder. The reigning American League MVP sent Rafael Ortega to the center field fence, with the long out ending the inning, Effross's ERA dropped from 54 to 27, a byproduct of a small sample size that equally explains Rivas' .667 batting average and 1.667 OPS.

Fielding a question about Rivas' strong showing, Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks made a point of including both newcomers in his response: "Both of those guys out there today, it was awesome to see ... special moment for those guys."

Rivas and Effross bring to a dozen the number of players making their Major League debuts with the Cubs this year, and to 38 the number appearing in a Cub uniform for the first time in 2021. Overall, there have been 63 Cubs in action this season. The latter two figures are both franchise highs, with the prior marks of 34 and 56, respectively, occurring under similar circumstances -- the rebuilding (66-96) season of 2013.

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