Cubs doubleheader vs. Brewers features MLB debuts, reunions

When the Cubs called up Christopher Morel from Double-A a couple weeks ago, outfielder Nelson Vel?zquez had a feeling he wouldn’t be far behind.

Sure enough, Vel?zquez texted Morel on Sunday saying, See you soon.

Morel said he texted back: Stop kidding. But Vel?zquez was serious. The Cubs were recalling him from Triple-A Iowa to make his major-league debut Monday.

“Nelson for me is like a brother, really,” Morel said Monday, through team interpreter Will Nadal. “Inside the baseball field, outside the baseball field. The only thing that’s missing is blood between us. We get along super well. He’s been there to support me, help me out. I’ve been there as well.”

The Cubs’ doubleheader against the Brewers on Monday featured two sets of reunions – Vel?zquez and Morel, and right-hander Matt Swarmer and catcher P.J. Higgins.

Swarmer started Game 1, making his MLB debut.

“I had to soak it all in at first,” he said. “It was amazing.”

Swarmer’s reaction when he saw Higgins was catching him: “That’s awesome.”

Higgins, who debuted last year, had been catching Swarmer on and off since they were in Single-A Myrtle Beach together in 2018. And Higgins said he reminded Swarmer that they’d been doing this together for a long time as they went over scouting reports.

“I was like, ‘This is your big-league debut, you’re going to be nervous,” Higgins said. “But I was like, ‘Just trust me back there, I’ve got you. Just do what you do, and don’t don’t worry about anything else.”

Their pairing worked well. Swarmer held the Brewers to one earned run, although two errors behind him led to three more unearned runs. Most of the damage against Swarmer came on a pair of homers.

“A real low heartbeat for a first big-league start,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “… Just having mistakes and things go wrong, and continue to make your pitches, continue to hold runners. It never felt like he sped up, which happens to a lot of guys. Just continued to control what he could control, and that definitely stands out from a guy making his first start, first time in the big-leagues.”

Higgins provided a boost on the offensive side too, hitting the first home run of his major-league career.

Other firsts Monday included Vel?zquez singling in his first major-league at-bat. He beat out a slow roller to the right side of the infield.

It wasn’t the most predictable first knock for a hitter who left Triple-A tied for the most minor-league home runs in the Cubs organization this year (12). But Vel?zquez said he focussed in the Arizona Fall League on his timing and two-strike approach to cut down on his strikeouts.

He was named the 2021 Arizona Fall League MVP.

“I know there was some raw power in there that they were trying to tap into,” Ross said of Vel?zquez’s development, “and that the swing adjustments that he made and the work that he put in going into last year kind of put it all together for him, just being able to make more contact. He’s still got some of that in his game, but when you have that kind of power, that’s going to come.”

Morel, who Vel?zquez called his “bestie,” entered Monday hitting .293 with two home runs since his MLB debut on May 17.

Said Vel?zquez: “He told me, ‘No matter where you’re at, just go there, have fun, be you, and you will see the success come true. Just have fun like you know how to do.'”

They’d been teammates through different levels of the minor leagues – their promotions staggered at times – since Short-Season A ball in 2018. They began this season in Double-A together, before Vel?zquez moved up to Triple-A early this month.

“We always had the mentality that we were going to be together and do as well as possible,” Morel said. “The big-leagues weren’t really in our heads at that point, we just wanted to do our best and then eventually get to the big leagues.”

Monday afternoon they took the field together, Vel?zquez, playing right field, lined up behind Morel at second base.

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