NEW YORK – Cubs vice president of player development Jared Banner had plenty of sit downs with prospects this spring. But his meeting with right-hander Matt Swarmer stood out.
“It might have been my longest sit down in the spring,” Banner told the Sun-Times. “We went over everything. He came over to my side of the desk. We looked at his profile and some of his charts and things of that nature. And that just tells me he was really inquisitive about what he needed to do to get better to get to the big leagues.”
Swarmer made it to the big-leagues a little over a week ago. And on Saturday, he hit the first bump in the road of his major-league career, in a 8-0 loss to the Yankees. Swarmer allowed six solo home runs in five innings, becoming the first Cubs starter to give up that many homers in a game in the modern era.
The last Cubs pitcher to give up six home runs was Tom Lee, in 1884, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
“I’ve just got to do a better job executing,” Swarmer said after the game, “and hopefully better things happen next start.”
It was Swarmer’s third major-league start, and his first two were quality starts. In each, he limited his opponent to one earned run through six innings.
“I’ve definitely seen him better,” Ross said Saturday. “Solo shots, I guess that’s better than walks. Those guys have got some powerful swings, and some big strong guys. They have the potential to put up some numbers with one swing of the bat, and they did that today.”
Swarmer, however, has perspective from his minor-league trials as he works past his first road outing in the big leagues. Yankee Stadium, against the best team in baseball (43-16), isn’t an easy place to gain that first experience.
Swarmer set another franchise record in 2019 with the Iowa Cubs, allowing 36 home runs in his 27 outings that year.
He worked on his slider grip and approach – understanding that each pitch sets up the next one. And he played in a men’s league when the pandemic wiped out the 2020 season, “facing men with no hair.”
“He’s been a guy we’ve been paying a lot of attention to,” Banner said. “He’s made some major improvements over the last year or so, especially with his slider. It’s a real weapon. It’s, a big-league weapon.”
Swarmer had so much success with that slider in his first two starts because of his ability to manipulate it, to the point that it almost behaves like multiple pitches, and how similar his fastball and slider look coming out of his hand.
“His slider is the pitch that guys don’t see and swing like a fastball,” Ross said before Saturday’s game, “and you try to slow down to recognize the slider, and it lets the fastball play.”
One game doesn’t wipe out that progress. And Swarmer won’t face Aaron Judge (2 home runs), Giancarlo Stanton (1), Gleyber Torres (1), and Jose Trevino (1) and Anthony Rizzo (1) every start.
“Definitely a good lineup, the best I’ve ever faced,” Swarmer said. “But I’ve still got to make my pitches.”
While the Cubs’ rotation has been decimated by injuries, the club is relying on pitchers like Swarmer, with the talent but not the experience, to step in.
“Just going to try to limit the damage next time when things start hitting the fan,” Swarmer said. “Just try to make them feel uncomfortable up there. They just seemed like they saw the ball really well.”