Javier Assad’s Cubs teammates not surprised by his WBC success: ‘That’s how he does it’


MESA, Arizona — First baseman Matt Marvis watched his fellow Cubs in the World Baseball Classic during his time with Team Israel. And when he returned to the Cubs’ camp on Friday, he made an observation to share about Javier Assad.

“Everyone continues to be amazed by him,” Marvis said.

Similar sentiments were shared among those who played alongside Assad after Mexico’s match against the United States on Sunday.

He made his second WBC appearance on Friday in Mexico’s 5–4 quarter-final victory over Puerto Rico, pitching 2‰ scoreless innings.

Assad is in contention for the Cubs’ fifth starter spot, but manager David Ross said Friday has yet to be decided. But even if Assad doesn’t make it into the rotation on Day One, he could still be on the roster.

The Cubs’ long-relief role may not be as set as it appeared to be going into spring training. We haven’t ruled out roles in the bullpen for Assad or Adrian Sampson. Teams value lengths in the bullpen early in the season when pitchers aren’t as hardened as they are later in the year.

Mexico put Taijuan Walker, Julio Urias and Jose Urquidi in the rotation, with Assad in a multiple-inning relief role.

This “surprise” not only allowed Assad to mow down a U.S. lineup full of All-Stars, but also allowed only one baserunner in three innings.

Assad, who made his debut last August, also surprised people by keeping a clean sheet in nine combined innings in his first two major league games. He had some difficult outings after that, but finished with a 3.11 ERA. In nine appearances, his fastball averaged 93 mph.

This offseason, Assad implemented a velocity program that employed core velocity belt training, weighted plyo balls, lifting and conditioning. He tweaked the mechanics and focused on getting rid of the hind legs and not flying too early.

“I’m really happy with where I am,” Assad said last month. Now I can see the zone better.”

Against the US, he touched 97 mph. It was a cleanup pitch against the first hitter he faced in the WBC, Pete Alonso. The fastball flew into Alonso, cutting the corner of his zone and creating a whiff.

“I knew he was fearless,” Ross said of the outing.

Lefty Justin Steele, who has been in the Cubs’ system since Assad signed out of Mexico in 2015, hasn’t been as surprised as Marvis.

“That’s Assad, baby,” said Steele. “He’s just right. He’s really good. I’ve been watching him for quite some time.”

On Friday, Assad replaced Urias in the fifth inning as Mexico trailed Puerto Rico 4-1. He allowed a single to Francisco Lindor and walked MJ Melendez, but disallowed another baserunner.

After what he showed this spring, that performance against a strong Puerto Rican lineup wasn’t all that surprising.


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Written by Natalia Chi

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