Brian Duensing thought he was being punked.
But there was no Ashton Kutcher or hidden cameras.
The defending champions really were going hard after Duensing on the free agent market over the winter.
"I asked my agent, 'What are we missing? I don't understand,'" Duensing said on this week's CubsTalk Podcast. "He said, 'Hey, when teams want somebody, they go after him.' I said, 'Alright, they must know something that I don't.'"
And they did.
The Cubs front office was passionate about going out and getting Duensing as a veteran left-handed option in the bullpen.
"I know our scouts in the offseason felt really strongly about him," Joe Maddon said. "Coming into this season, that's all I heard about. Our guys loved Brian Duensing."
Duensing is a diamond in the rough, a guy who entered the winter with a 4.13 and 1.38 WHIP in 662.2 career innings, striking out an average of 5.9 hitters per nine innings.
This season, the 34-year-old has a 2.45 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and has nearly doubled his strikeout rate to 10.2 batters per nine innings.
"A lot of swings and misses — I don't know what that's about, to be honest," Duensing said. "I really don't know what's going on there. Just things are working really well right now and hopefully they continue."
Duensing had a stretch of 16.1 scoreless innings going before giving up a run and taking the loss Wednesday in San Francisco.
It all looks legit, too. Duensing's FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and xFIP (expected FIP) are at 2.99 and 3.34, respectively, meaning the peripheral numbers support his breakout season.
Based on FanGraphs' WAR, Duensing (0.7) is tied with Mike Montgomery and Koji Uehara as the second-best Cubs reliever behind only Wade Davis (0.9). Hector Rondon (0.5 WAR), Pedro Strop (0.5) and Carl Edwards Jr. (0.4) are further down that list.
Duensing admitted feeling a little unsure of himself when he first joined the Cubs, as he didn't want to be the guy not producing on a team vying for its second straight World Series. He battled a back injury and started the year on the disabled list before posting an 8.10 ERA in seven April games.
But since then, his ERA is at 1.54 with only 32 hits in 41 innings.
"When he started out this year, I was getting to know him, he was getting to know us," Maddon said. "He's really quiet on the surface, but an ingratiating, under-the-surface fellow. He's got a great personality.
"I wanna believe the way we do things has permitted him to be himself. And I think because of that, you're seeing the best side of him pitching-wise."
Duensing raved about the Cubs' pitching infrastructure, giving credit to pitching coach Chris Bosio, catching/gameplanning coach Mike Borzello and bullpen coach Lester Strode.
He's also fit in seamlessly with his teammates, who are doing everything they can to help keep Duensing going strong.
Even telling him he stinks.
"He's asked us not to say anything good about him," Davis said. "We keep telling him his stuff is no good and he stinks. He doesn't want to hear none of it, which is good. That's how you should think.
"People don't wanna hear they're doing good. Just to keep him away from it. You always wanna be able to live between both [good and bad] thoughts."
The Cubs bullpen has been under scrutiny lately with some late meltdowns that have helped to hand games away. But with Uehara on the disabled list and Davis and Edwards still searching for consistency, Duensing has been the unsung hero the Cubs bullpen has needed.
Even if nobody's really noticed.
"The other day, I walked out with Addison Russell," Duensing said. "Obviously, everybody's yelling for Addy and then as you walk by, you hear, 'Hey, who was that guy?'
"But it doesn't matter. That's good. If I'm doing my job, then no one knows I'm there, which is the way it should be. As long as I'm not getting recognized that's probably a good thing, so I'll take that.
"But maybe I'll start wearing my jersey out in public or something. I think I'm one of the most generic-looking human beings of all time or something."