Duane Underwood, Jr made his Major League debut tonight for the Chicago Cubs. Drafted in the second round by the Cubs in 2012, the 23 year-old is (to-date) a rarity in the Epstein/Hoyer regime: home-grown pitching making it to the big league squad.
Despite the excitement surrounding Underwood’s call-up, the Cubs dropped Monday’s contest to the Dodgers 2-1.
While Dodger Stadium is a pitcher-friendly park, not much else about this debut favored Underwood. The Dodgers entered Monday winning seven of their last ten (including hitting seven homers yesterday) and have a deep lineup that can work counts. The Cubs, on the other hand, made the trip to LA fresh off a four-game sweep at the hands of the last-place Reds and are still resting Kris Bryant.
Sure enough, the beginning of the game was a bit tense for Duane. A 14 pitch at-bat by Matt Kemp that resulted in a walk fueled a 41 pitch first inning — though he escaped without giving up a run. An Enrique Hernandez solo home run on the first pitch of the second inning stirred concern further, but from there Underwood was downright impressive.
Featuring a low-to-mid 90’s fastball, an average curveball, and an intriguing changeup, Underwood’s debut was exciting, albeit brief. Even with shaky control, he displayed major league caliber stuff, his change-up in particular giving him a chance to be an above average hurler.
Pulled after just four innings — with an exaggerated pitch count (77) due to the first inning — Underwood’s debut gave the Cubs a chance to win the game. He departed with a line of four innings, two hits, one earned run, three walks and three strikeouts.
Unfortunately for Underwood, Kenta Maeda threw a gem for the Dodgers. Keeping the Cubs hitters off balance all night, he pounded the strike zone, forced batters to chase out of the zone often and simply put, dominated the Cubs lineup. The night belonged to Maeda, as he finished with a stellar seven innings, three hits, zero earned runs, one walk and nine strikeouts.
The Cubs best scoring opportunity off Maeda came in the fifth, with Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ leading off with back-to-back singles. Momentum was quickly lost when Chris Gimenez popped up a bunt attempt, doubling off Schwarber at second. Joe Maddon insisted on pinch-hitting Tommy La Stella for Underwood even after the botched bunt attempt, a curious decision given Duane’s effectiveness, forcing the bullpen to work overtime.
The Cubs once again put together a rally in the eighth, netting two more lead-off singles to start the inning off lefty Scott Alexander. While I immediately questioned pulling Maeda (he had only thrown 84 pitches) the plan worked, as Albert Almora grounded into a double play to end the inning. Chris Taylor added an insurance run with a solo shot in the bottom half of the frame, and while the Cubs scratched a run off Kenley Jansen in the ninth, they fell 2-1.
It was a frustrating game in what has been a frustrating several days for the Cubs. Hopefully their ace will help them get back on track tomorrow night.
Up Next For The Cubs
The Cubs and Dodgers will resume the four-game set tomorrow evening. Jon Lester will look to continue his fantastic season, facing off against Ross Stripling. Game time is 9:10 p.m. CST, and you can catch it on WGN or on the radio at 670 The Score.
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