Adbert Alzolay's pickoff caps Chicago Cubs' series win in Seattle behind another solid start by Javier Assad

Meghan Montemurro, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Baseball

Javier Assad making case to stay in rotation

Right-hander Jameson Taillon’s next start in the upcoming week will come with the Cubs, forcing someone from the rotation to get bumped.

Counsell hasn’t publicly declared whose spot Taillon will take, but it’s expected to come down to right-handers Javier Assad and Ben Brown, both of whom have also pitched well out of the bullpen. Assad did his part Sunday, making a case to stick in the rotation by limiting Seattle to two runs in 5 2/3 innings. Those runs came against the last batter he faced, Jorge Polanco, on a two-run homer that left Assad frustrated his start ended similarly to his outing Monday in San Diego when he surrendered a two-run home run to end his night.

Despite that hiccup, Assad, who owns a 2.16 ERA through three starts, scattered four hits at T-Mobile Park, walked one and struck out six batters to set up the Cubs’ win.

“I thought Javy pitched really, really well,” Counsell said. “Filled up the zone and just kind of the same pitches to end the game … but definitely put us in position to win and a quality start.”

Christopher Morel’s defense takes center stage

Since the Cubs and Counsell committed in spring training to give Christopher Morel an opportunity to be their starter at third base, there have been some rough defensive moments.

But then he delivers defensive plays like in Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Seattle Mariners, and it’s a reminder of Morel’s progress and why the organization wants to see if he can be a reliable defender at the position. Morel’s defensive highlight reel Saturday on back-to-back at-bats featured a diving stop in the sixth inning that prevented at least one run scoring off Shota Imanaga and a leaping snag with runners on scoring position to assist reliever Mark Leiter Jr. in stranding the runners in scoring position.


“The plays Morel made were unbelievable, saved the game for us,” Leiter said.

Imanaga walked two batters to begin the sixth — his first walks allowed this season — as the Cubs tried to hold on to their one-run lead. Morel dove toward the third-base line to snag the baseball and delivered a one-hop throw to first for the first out of the inning. The play prevented the ball from likely reaching the left-field corner and preserved the Cubs’ lead.

Imanaga was so impressed and appreciative of Morel’s defensive effort he wanted to congratulate him by putting Morel on his shoulders and tossing him in the air, like the “kata guruma” judo technique, a smiling Imanaga explained.

“The backhand as well as the diving play, those two just overall really helped me out,” Imanaga said through interpreter Edwin Stanberry. “And I want to thank him as well as for the fact that with his defense we were able to win.”

Two great plays won’t stop the focus on Morel’s performance at third base. The Cubs lineup is at its most versatile when Counsell can pencil in Morel at third regularly and rotate who he uses as the designated hitter. They need him to be a competent defender if he is going to remain the regular starter. His three errors tie him for the most among major-league third basemen, but defensive performances like Saturday’s also show his upside and why it’s worth seeing what they have there.

“I definitely feel more confident,” Morel said through an interpreter Sunday. “I want to thank Counsell for instilling that trust in me and giving me the opportunity to go out there and play third base. Just to be able to get those reps in and get the trust up.”


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