Matt Swarmer strong again in Cubs’ Game 1 victory against Cardinals
Swarmer handcuffed the Cardinals for six innings. He struck out five and walked two, giving him 11 strikeouts and three walks in 12 innings.
It’s easy to overlook right-hander Matt Swarmer.
He played for Division II Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, was a 19th-round draft pick and spent years in the minors before getting the call to the big club.
True, Swarmer, 28, was the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2018. But even his second consecutive brilliant start was overshadowed by the impending major-league debut of much-hyped prospect Caleb Kilian.
Still, after Swarmer handcuffed the Cardinals for six innings Saturday in the Cubs’ 6-1 victory in the first game of a split doubleheader, he’s getting harder to ignore.
“Very impressive, never really in trouble,” manager David Ross said after Swarmer limited St. Louis to two hits.
Juan Yepez doubled with one out in the fifth inning, and Tommy Edman homered into the right-field basket with one out in the sixth, and that was it. Paul Goldschmidt, who came in on a 25-game hitting streak, went 0-for-2 with two walks.
Swarmer, who had a no-decision in the Cubs’ loss to the Brewers on Monday, again leaned on his fastball and a sneaky slider.
“It’s just straight down,” Ross said. “The lefties read fastball out of the hand; it’s on the same plane as the fastball. And then it just kind of disappears. You get real fastball swings out of hitters, not like, ‘Oh, there’s a slider, and I try to adjust my swing.’ They swing through it.”
Swarmer struck out five and walked two, giving him 11 strikeouts and three walks in 12 innings. Not bad against the top two teams in the National League Central.
He seemed almost starstruck by the thought of facing some of the Cardinals’ heavy hitters.
“I always watch those guys on TV and now to have a chance to face them, it’s really special in that moment,” Swarmer said. “I have to soak it all in. Man, these are the big-name guys.”
Swarmer, who left after 86 pitches, gave credit to catcher Willson Contreras.
“He called a great game,” Swarmer said. “I didn’t have to think too much out there.”
It was almost like two years ago, when Swarmer resorted to playing in an adult league after the minors shut down because of the pandemic.
“I was facing guys that had no hair,” he said earlier in the week. “I was just trying to find anywhere to play or find live hitters.”
He didn’t have to be anywhere near as sharp as he has been in a small sample size of major-league action.
“Those guys, you can get away with so much more,” Swarmer said. “You could throw one right down the middle, and they’d miss. Here you have to be really selective with what you’re throwing, in which counts.”
So far, Swarmer is making the right choices.
Frank Schwindel had three hits in the first game, including a 425-foot home run into the bleachers in left-center in the fifth inning and an RBI single in the sixth.
After going 3-for-5, Schwindel was hitting .298 since May 11 with seven doubles, six homers and 20 RBI, raising his batting average from .200 to .249.
He also made his pro pitching debut Friday, working the ninth inning in the Cubs’ 14-5 loss.
When was the last time he warmed up?
“Probably sophomore year in high school,” Schwindel said. “I was a catcher, so my coach wouldn’t let me do both.”
Ross said outfielder Seiya Suzuki has “almost full range of motion in that [left ring] finger, so it’s getting better every day. . . . It’s just a slow process.”
Left-hander Wade Miley (shoulder) “played catch the other day,” Ross said. “Threw light and feels really good. So that was great news.”