On another team, rookie P.J. Higgins would be among the least experienced. But with the Cubs, who have had eight major-league debuts already this season, his nine big-league games last year go a long way.
“Going back to my early career, every time I repeated [a level], I always did better,” Higgins said in a conversation with the Sun-Times. “You feel more confident, a little more experience, you’re used to everything that goes along with it.”
He viewed returning to the major-leagues similarly. And that mindset has worked well for him. Entering Wednesday, Higgins was batting .317 with a pair of home runs.
This season, the Cubs originally brought up Higgins as a backup catcher, when Willson Contreras missed three games with hamstring tightness and then Yan Gomes went on the IL with an oblique strain. But when Gomes returned last week, the Cubs held onto Higgins, largely for infield depth. Higgins started at third base on Wednesday against the Padres.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I kind of just went into it with an open mindset, and whatever happened, happened, and I was just gonna go out and do my thing and just play the game.”
Higgins’ time in the majors last year was cut short by the injury, and he underwent season-ending elbow surgery.
“I didn’t know what to [make] of it, just because it was my first serious injury that just shut me down,” he said. “So it was kind of like where you’re in that high moment [making it to the majors], and you’re kind of like, ‘Now I really don’t have much to do, other than get surgery and rehab.'”
In November, the Cubs re-signed Higgins to a minor-league contract. He joined the team in Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, and was called up in late May.
When a packed schedule and injuries forced the Cubs to call up rookie starting pitchers, Higgins made a specialty out of catching major-league debuts. He caught both Matt Swarmer and Caleb Kilian in their first big-league starts.
He had familiarity with both. Higgins had caught Swarmer for years in the minors, and he got to know Kilian in Spring Training. Plus, Higgins vividly remembered his own major-league debut last year and the veterans he leaned on.
His goal was to relieve the pressure on Swarmer and Kilian. He told them: “This is your day. I’m going to give you the best opportunity back there, trying to call the best game I can. … Just go [out] there, and just trust me.”
Madrigal to the 10-day IL
The Cubs placed Nick Madrigal on the 10-day IL with a left groin strain. The move, retroactive to Sunday, allowed them to recall Kilian to start Wednesday.
The injury had sidelined Madrigal since the 12th inning of the Cubs’ extra-innings loss to the Yankees last Friday. Cubs manager David Ross on Wednesday called the injury “pretty significant.”
“And with him, we’ll probably be a little extra cautious coming off what he did last year,” Ross added, alluding to Madrigal’s 2021 season-ending surgery to repair a hamstring tear. “We’ve got to find a way to keep him on the field pretty regularly and be able to let him continue to develop into a big-league starter, everyday player.”
Madrigal has played 31 games this season. He spent almost three weeks on the IL in May for a lower back strain.