Cubs left-hander Jordan Wicks ‘ready for the moment’ in major-league debut, retires 15 straight in victory vs. Pirates

Wicks was the Cubs’ first-round draft pick in 2021.

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Cubs lefty Jordan Wicks held the Pirates to one run through five innings in his debut Saturday.

Cubs lefty Jordan Wicks held the Pirates to one run through five innings in his debut Saturday.

AP Photos

PITTSBURGH — Left-hander Jordan Wicks just needed a moment to slow things down. By the time pitching coach Tommy Hottovy left the mound on a visit three batters into the game, Wicks had renewed conviction in his plan.

The next pitch he threw, a cutter down and in to the Pirates’ Connor Joe, induced a swing and a miss. Then he placed two changeups below the zone in the exact same spot, and Joe swung and missed them both.

With that strikeout, Wicks started a dominant run through the Pirates’ lineup in his major-league debut to set the Cubs up for a 10-6 victory Saturday.

‘‘In my dreams, I imagined that,’’ Wicks said. ‘‘It was unbelievable.’’

The Cubs called up Wicks and dropped him right in the middle of a race for a playoff berth. They hold the second of three National League wild-card spots and are four games behind the NL Central-leading Brewers. The Cubs had a rotation spot to fill after moving left-hander Drew Smyly to the bullpen.

Wicks held the Pirates to one run and two hits and struck out nine in five innings, retiring the last 15 batters he faced. He became the first Cubs pitcher in the expansion era (since 1961) to set down that many batters in a row in a debut, according to Elias.

‘‘It’s just such an exciting day for us, him, the organization,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘When you see a young man put in the work, have all the hype and get to make his debut in this kind of pennant race, just a really, really cool moment for where we’re headed.’’

The Cubs selected Wicks in the first round of the 2021 draft (No. 21 overall) out of Kansas State. Once in the organization, he worked to enhance his pitch mix, honing his four-seamer and curveball and trying out a sweeper-slider grip. But his changeup long has been the highlight of his arsenal.

‘‘His development has been a good progression of knowing who you are as a person, as a human being and as a pitcher coming into it and then being able to piece the things together that are going to make you that much better,’’ Hottovy said.

Wicks began the season in Double-A Tennessee and earned a promotion to Triple-A Iowa in late June. In his last four starts before his call-up, he had a 2.29 ERA.

It’s impossible to predict, however, exactly how a prospect will respond to the atmosphere and pressure of a major-league game.

‘‘We don’t have time to go up here and try to ease our way into it and get settled in and try and be cute,’’ Wicks said. ‘‘It’s about putting our team in the best position to win ballgames. And I love that, personally.’’

The Pirates have been aggressive all series, and that remained true Saturday. Ke’Bryan Hayes drove Wicks’ second major-league pitch into the left-field stands. Then Bryan Reynolds jumped on a first-pitch sinker for a single.

Wicks shied away from the strike zone against Andrew McCutchen, issuing a five-pitch walk. Then his first two pitches to Joe were balls, bringing Hottovy to the mound.

‘‘He just reminded me that I was making good pitches,’’ Wicks said. ‘‘I wasn’t missing by much. He said, ‘Hey, they’re going to start swinging at those.’ ’’

Wicks used all of his pitches, but his changeup took center stage the rest of the way, generating nine swings-and-misses and two called strikes.

Wicks struck out five consecutive batters in the first and second, making him the first Cubs pitcher in the live-ball era (since 1920) with that many in a row in his major-league debut, according to Elias.

‘‘He wouldn’t be up here if we thought he wasn’t ready for the moment,’’ Ross said. ‘‘And that’s what that entails: belief in yourself, being confident in yourself and knowing what you can do on that stage. He never wavered.’’

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