Cubs’ Jeremiah Estrada debuted one year after life-threatening battle with COVID-19

Reliever Jeremiah Estrada threw a hitless inning in his debut against the Blue Jays on Tuesday.

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Cubs reliever Jeremiah Estrada, pictured during spring training, made his MLB debut in Toronto on Tuesday.

Cubs reliever Jeremiah Estrada, pictured during spring training, made his MLB debut in Toronto on Tuesday.

TORONTO — In August 2019, Jeremiah Estrada underwent Tommy John surgery. In August 2021, Estrada was hospitalized with COVID-19. 

“This year, I was just like, ‘I’m scared of August,’ ” he said.

Estrada had almost made it through the month when he got the news: He was headed to the big leagues. 

Estrada made his major-league debut on Tuesday in Toronto, throwing a hitless inning and striking out two. His fastball averaged 98.1 mph. 

“He’s got some unique stuff, especially the fastball,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “It’s such a unique profile, and it just carries. It’s a really good pitch. And then, obviously, the breaking balls that can play off of it.”

Estrada hasn’t had an easy path to MLB. Due to injuries and the cancellation of the 2020 minor-league season, Estrada didn’t pitch in a regular-season game from July 2019 through May 2021. 

“It was a lot of grief,” he said. “Just a lot of stuff that you wanted to feel like you could do, but you couldn’t. And it was a tough feeling. But at the end of the grief, there’s four stages of it, and I was just like, I need to add another one, which is revenge. Which is my time to come back and to just do what I can do.”

He did just that, posting a 1.57 ERA in Single-A Myrtle Beach in 2021. But his hospitalization at the end of last season didn’t just threaten his career. 

“I almost died from it,” he said. 

Estrada was on the injured list working back from elbow tightness when he tested positive for COVID-19 in late August.

At first, Estrada just had a headache, sore throat and lost his taste and smell. But a week into his illness, he said, he started throwing up for hours on end. Over the next several days, he made multiple trips to the hospital to receive IV fluids and medication. 

He started puking black fluids and experienced other gastrointestinal issues. He had chills, a fever of 102 degrees, hallucinations. Eventually, his oxygen levels dropped dangerously low, and he was put on oxygen.  

He said he spent a couple weeks in the hospital. 

“It was just the worst feeling and the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life,” he said. “I remember not eating for like two weeks. And it was just the worst feeling ever.” 

He said his dad, Ramiro, called the hospital to check on his son, and the medical staff member he talked to told him to pray. 

The next day, his appetite returned. He finally ate some graham crackers. He’d turned a corner. 

A year later, he made his MLB debut. 

“It’s absolutely unreal,” he said. “It was a blessing. I’m just glad to be here.”

Estrada said he wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19 when he got sick last year. But once his sense of taste and smell returned in late July, he got the shots. 

“I hate shots,” he said. “But I was just like, ‘That’s what the Cubs want. . . . I trust them.” 

Because he was fully vaccinated by this week, he was eligible to serve as a substitute player when the Cubs placed Justin Steele and Adrian Sampson on the restricted list due to Canada’s requirements for entry.

With the opportunity, Estrada impressed. He struck out the first batter he faced, Teoscar Hernández. He walked Santiago Espinal. But then he struck out Danny Jansen and induced a groundout from Jackie Bradley Jr. to finish the frame. 

Not a bad end to August 2022.

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