The hype train has been rolling down the tracks as Cubs fans — and even those inside the organization — eagerly awaited the arrival of pitching prospect Caleb Kilian.
Manager David Ross faced daily questions about when the key return in last summer’s Kris Bryant trade with the Giants would make his major-league debut.
The desire to see a payoff for the fire sale of the World Series core was palpable.
Kilian’s eagerness to get to the big leagues matched the anticipation around the team and fan base.
“It was the best day of my life,” Kilian said Saturday night after the second game of a split doubleheader, a 7-4 Cardinals win in 10 innings.
“Coolest ballpark ever. What a place to debut.”
Kilian learned Thursday, the day he turned 25, that he would be called up from Triple-A Iowa to make his debut.
The Cubs’ No. 5 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, started with a flourish and ended with a no-decision.
After striking out the first two big-league hitters he faced — Tommy Edman and Nolan Gorman — Kilian induced a broken-bat groundout by Paul Goldschmidt, who came into the first game of the doubleheader with a 25-game hitting streak.
Kilian retired the first nine Cardinals he faced, relying on a fastball that topped out at 97 mph, before running into trouble in the fourth inning.
Two walks and a single loaded the bases before Kilian wild-pitched a run home. Brendan Donovan then smacked a two-run double into the gap in left-center for a 3-1 St. Louis lead.
But Kilian regrouped and got out of that inning without further damage. After a scoreless fifth, he was done with a line of five innings, three hits, three runs (all earned), two walks and six strikeouts.
“He threw the ball pretty good,” Ross said. “I thought he mixed his pitches well, came out firing BBs.”
Because Kilian has been a starter throughout his pro career, Ross didn’t hesitate to send him back out for the fifth inning.
“Just giving him a reset,” Ross said. “The wheels didn’t fall off [in the fourth].”
Matt Swarmer, a less-heralded pitching prospect who nonetheless has impressed in his first two big-league starts, is one of many in the organization who expects good things from Kilian.
“It was cool to see him here,” Swarmer said. “He has really good stuff. . . . He’ll be a lot of fun to watch.”
That’s also Ross’ hope and belief. But he was still advising caution.
“He’s been impressive in a lot of ways,” Ross said before the opener of the twin bill. “But you’ve still got to make your major-league [debut]. . . . No one knows how it’s gonna go. But I’m happy for him. All the hard work has paid off.”
That said, Ross tried to tap the brakes on the expectations for Kilian, who was 2-0 with a 2.06 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 39,, innings at Iowa.
“I try not to hype it up much,” Ross said. “I don’t think any one player is ever, like, the savior, right? We put all these labels on a young man. He’s gonna come up, he’s gonna make a start and we’ll see how it goes. And we’ll analyze it afterward.”