It’s easy to overlook Matt Swarmer.
The 28-year-old right-hander played for Division II Kutztown State in Pennsylvania, was a 19th-round draft pick and spent years in the minors before getting the call to the big club.
True, Swarmer was the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2018. But even his second straight brilliant start was overshadowed by the impending MLB debut of much-hyped prospect Caleb Kilian.
Still, after Swarmer handcuffed the Cardinals for six innings Saturday in a 6-1 Cubs win in the opener of a split doubleheader, he’s getting harder to ignore.
“Very impressive, never really in trouble,” manager David Ross said after Swarmer limited St. Louis to two hits.
Juan Yepez doubled withone out in the fifth, Tommy Edman homered into the right-field basket with one out in the sixth — and that was it. Paul Goldschmidt, who came in on a 25-game hitting streak, was 0-for-2 with two walks.
Swarmer, whohad a no-decision in a Cubs loss to the Brewers on Monday, again leaned on his fastball and a sneaky slider.
“It’s just straight down,” Ross said. “The lefties read fastball out of the hand, it’s on the same plane as the fastball. And then it just kind of disappears. You get real fastball swings out of hitters, not like, ‘Oh, there’s a slider and I try to adjust my swing.’ They swing through it.”
Swarmer struck out five and walked two, giving him 11 strikeouts and three walks over 12 innings.
Not bad against the top two teams in the NL Central.
Swarmer seemed almost star-struck by the thought of facing some of the Cardinals’ heavy hitters.
“I always watch those guys on TV and now to have a chance to face them, it’s really special in that moment,” he said. “I have to soak it all in. Man, these are the big-name guys.”
Swarmer, who left after 86 pitches, gave credit to catcher Willson Contreras.
“He called a great game,” Swarmer said. “I didn’t have to think too much out there.”
It was almost like two years ago, when Swarmer resorted to playing in an adult league after the minors shut down because of the pandemic.
“I was facing guys that had no hair,” he said earlier in the week, recalling that experience. “I was just trying to find anywhere to play or find live hitters.”
He didn’t have to be anywhere near as sharp as he’s been in a small sample size of MLB action.
“Those guys, you can get away with so much more,” Swarmer said. “You could throw ones right down the middle and they’d miss. Here you have to be really selective with what you’re throwing, in which counts.”
So far, Swarmer is making the right choices.
Frank Schwndel had three hits in the opener, including a 425-foot homer into the bleachers in left-center in the fifth and an RBI single in the sixth.
After that, Schwindel was hitting .298 since May 11 with seven doubles, six homers and 20 RBIs, raising his batting average from .200 to .249,
He also made his pro pitching debut on Friday, working the ninth inning in a 14-5 Cubs loss.
When was the last time he warmed up? “Probably sophomore year high school,” Schwindel said. “I was a catcher so my coach wouldn’t let me do both.”
Ross said outfielder Seiya Suzuki has “almost full range of motion in that finger, so it’s getting better every day. … It’s just a slow process.”
Lefty Wade Miley (shoulder) “played catch the other day,” Ross said. “Threw light, and feels really good. So that was great news.”