Cubs shut out St. Louis behind successful Assad debut, drop nightcap
Technically, this was one of the most successful debuts in Cubs history.
Javier Assad didn't allow a run in his first major league appearance Tuesday, but needed to squirm out of some trouble, then got a big hand from the bullpen as the Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 2-0 in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Wrigley Field.
The Tijuana, Mexico native tossed 4 scoreless innings, with 4 hits, 4 walks and 3 strikeouts. He left the game in the fifth inning after the first two runners reached base, but Michael Rucker came in and retired the next three batters to keep the Cardinals off the board.
"He looked super calm out there," Cubs manager David Ross said of Assad. "Looked like the cutter was working really well. Coming right at them right out of the chute. Really nice debut for him. That's a really good lineup over there."
The Cubs' win result ended the Cardinals' eight-game win streak. The Cards had the hottest-hitting lineup in MLB for the past week, but have scored just 1 run in the first two games of the series.
Assad, 25, made his Cubs debut in 2016. He had a slow rise from rookie league to Eugene to South Bend to Myrtle Beach. After a rough 2021 in Double A Tennessee, when he posted a 5.32 ERA, he made a big jump this year with a 2.66 ERA between Tennessee and Iowa.
The right-hander used six pitches Tuesday, but focused mostly on the cutter (35%), four-seam (28%) and sinker (19%). He used a curve, change and slider sparingly, while his fastball topped out at 94.7 miles per hour, according to Statcast.
He was understandably emotional after the game, hugging his parents and other family members on the field, after accepting a bucket shower from former minor league teammate Christopher Morel.
"It was a pretty long journey, almost seven years I've been working for this," Assad said through a translator. "It's just been an amazing experience to be here."
The last Cubs pitcher to throw at least 4 scoreless innings in his major league debut was Springfield native Ryan O'Malley, who went 8 innings in 2006. Before that, it was Amaury Telemaco in '96 and Jeff Pico in '98.
None of those pitchers ended up doing much with the Cubs. O'Malley, after a 109-pitch debut at Houston, appeared in just one other major league game six days later.
Assad's second pitch of the game was ripped into the left-field corner for a double by Lars Nootbaar, who then took third on a wild pitch. But with one out, Nootbaar was thrown out at the plate on a grounder to first baseman P.J. Higgins.
The first strikeout of Assad's big-league career was against legendary slugger Albert Pujols. Assad got a bit of a break on a called strike three that was a few inches off the plate, but it's a strikeout in the history books.
"I was three years old when he debuted," Assad said of Pujols. "So I never would have imagined I would have been facing him, let alone getting that strikeout. But not just him. Yadier Molina, Nolan Arenado, those are guys that I've looked up to, guys that I've watched play throughout my life."
Assad loaded the bases in the third inning on two walks and a single, but ended the inning with a groundout. Pujols led off the fourth with a double before Assad retired the next three batters.
There wasn't much action against Cubs relievers. Rucker, Sean Newcomb, Erich Uelmen and Brandon Hughes allowed just one baserunner. Hughes now has 3 career saves, all in the past five days.
The Cubs scored their runs in the third inning, starting with singles by Morel and Zach McKinstry. Morel scored on a ground out by Nico Hoerner, then Seiya Suzuki added an RBI single.
When the Cubs called up Assad from Iowa, they sent down reliever Kervin Castro. Right-hander Nicholas Padilla was added as the 27th player for the doubleheader.
Catcher Willson Contreras did not play in either game because the ankle injury suffered in the Field of Dreams game is still bothering him.
Cards 13, Cubs 3:
Nolan Arenado and Tyler O'Neill homered in a five-run fourth inning, Corey Dickerson had 4 hits and the St. Louis Cardinals pounded the Cubs 13-3 on Tuesday night to split a doubleheader.
The NL Central-leading Cardinals got back on track in the nightcap with 16 hits. Tommy Edman had a solo homer, a double and three RBIs.
Dylan Carlson had a 2-run triple as the Cardinals pulled away with six runs in the ninth. Cubs designated hitter Franmil Reyes came on for his first pitching appearance and hit pinch-hitter Albert Pujols with a 70 mph delivery, then got Paul Goldschmidt to hit into a double play and struck out Paul DeJong.
Jake Woodford (3-0) allowed a run on 4 hits in 5⅓ innings in his first start this season.
Hitless in the opener, Arenado went 3-for-4 in the nightcap. The seven-time All-Star is 11 for his last 25.
Dickerson doubled twice and had an RBI. Brendan Donovan drove in two runs.
Cubs Rafael Ortega and Franmil Reyes each had RBI doubles, and Nick Madrigal had 2 hits. The Cubs have dropped three of four following a five-game winning streak.
Arenado launched his 26th homer to Wrigley's left-center bleachers on the first pitch he saw in the fourth from Cubs starter Adrian Sampson (1-4) to end a 10-game longball drought.
O'Neill turned on a 1-0 slider and lined a two-run shot over the ivy in left for his eighth homer and second in 17 games.
O'Neill hit .286 with 34 homers in 2021, but has been hampered this season by left hamstring and right hand injuries. The outfielder is hitting .230 in 74 games
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.