Jesse Chavez hasn't even been in a Cubs uniform for a week, but he's already become one of their most valuable pitchers
When the Cubs traded for Chavez late last week, a lot of Chicago fans might have reacted to the move with puzzlement and a little intrigue.
It was no surprise the Cubs were adding more pitching on the trade market, but it was a bit surprise that it came in the form of an under-the-radar arm.
Instead of immediately adding a big name pitcher (think: Zach Britton) like summers past (Jose Quintana, Aroldis Chapman), the Cubs began their trade deadline season by adding a new Swiss Army Knife to the bullpen.
If the Cubs need Chavez to go multiple innings, he's ready. If they need him to get one hitter, that's fine too. Spot start? OK. Closer for a game? That's fine, too.
"That's been the conversation — about doing anything," Joe Maddon said. "He's the Swiss Army Knife out there and he does it so well. I mean, God, he's so upbeat and he's very professional about it."
Maddon said he and pitching coach Jim Hickey talk to Chavez before each game and try to give the veteran right-hander an idea of how they may use him that day.
And yes, that even could mean some closing opportunities with regular stopper Brandon Morrow still on the disabled list.
"I have no qualms about putting him in the latter part of the game at all," Maddon said. "Just the fact that once he got here, we needed that lengthy guy and he's provided that, too.
"He's just been interesting already. He's as advertised and so we'll see how it plays out. So if we need him early to get out of a jam, you'll see him in there. And if we don't, you might see him in the latter part of the game, yes."
Chavez has actually been better than advertised since putting on a Cubs uniform.
Sure, it's only been a week and he's only pitched in three games, but the 34-year-old has retired all 12 batters he's faced, 6 of which have come via strikeout.
He attributes a lot of that early success to how welcoming the Cubs clubhouse has been, making him feel like he's been a part of the team since Day 1.
It helps that he's played with guys like Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Mike Montgomery and Morrow in the past, too. This is Chavez's 9th MLB team, after all.
Like Maddon said, Chavez is ready to do whatever, from eating innings to pitching in high-leverage situations. He said he's stretched out enough to do any role and has thrown 60 pitches as recently as June 1.
Still, Chavez was flying completely under the radar when the Cubs acquired him and Maddon credits the organization's scouting for the find.
After a rough start to the season with the Texas Rangers (5.48 ERA), Chavez said he was sitting in the bullpen in Houston on Mother's Day before a game and just decided to mess around with his arm slot, dropping it a bit as he delivered his pitch. He figured he didn't have much to lose.
He wound up pitching 3 perfect innings that day, striking out 4 as he shut down the defending champs.
Since that fateful moment, Chavez has a 2.08 ERA, 0.897 WHIP and 33 K vs. 7 BB in 39 innings.
"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said of the new arm slot. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball)out there and it wasn't coming.
"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."
Chavez joked that he actually thought the results were too good to be true from such a simple mechanical fix.
But he feels good about it now and gives the Cubs another versatile option in the bullpen as well as possible rotation depth.