Tuesday’s game was ugly for the Cubs, but Duane Underwood Jr. was a very bright spot.
Underwood faced six batters and struck them all out after he came on for starter Jon Lester in the fifth inning. In doing so, he became the first Cub in the modern era (since 1900) to strike out every batter he faced and record six-plus strikeouts in the game.
“I didn’t know it was six until I got to the dugout and they said ‘Look at the board,’” Underwood said. “I thought that was pretty cool. I’m not trying to punch tickets. I’m just trying to get guys out. I’ve pitched to contact. I’ve struck guys out. Whatever gets the out is where I’m out.”
This was the 25-year-old’s first appearance of the season and second of his MLB career.
Underwood was 95-97 with his fastball and heavily used that pitch among his 29 pitches. He did get Mark Canha to strikeout swinging on a changeup for his final out.
“I know the score was not good,” manager Joe Maddon said. “They got a different attitude as offensive players, I think, a little bit, but to punch out six and they have a pretty good lineup. That was impressive.”
After Lester gave up 11 runs in four innings, the game was out of reach, but Underwood showed he could be a useful piece for the Cubs bullpen.
Lester joked Underwood probably should have started the game.
“I’ve always been impressed with his stuff,” Lester said. “He’s one of those kids you see and you see him work hard and you hope that he figures it out. I feel like he’s been given opportunities and he’s done well with them.”
Underwood was used as a starter in the minors until late May of this season. He had a 6.46 ERA in 10 starts in Triple-A Iowa, largely due to a lack of control (28 walks in 47 1/3 innings). Since moving to the bullpen in Triple-A, Underwood has had a 2.83 ERA with 36 strikeouts and 10 walks in 28 2/3 innings.
He credited Iowa pitching coach Rod Nichols with helping him transition to the bullpen. He said Nichols told him to stay aggressive when he comes out of the pen.
“I feel like I’ve been doing that since I’ve made the transition and it’s helped all my stuff play,” Underwood said.
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