Brown cruises through 'pretty peaceful' first career start

Cubs' prospect holds Padres scoreless, gets support from Morel grand slam

April 10th, 2024

SAN DIEGO -- After tasting the Majors for the first time in Texas in the first series of the season, Cubs rookie was going over an appearance that went awry in a hurry. As the young righty talked things over with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, lefty offered some words of encouragement.

“Ben is kind of going through his mental process of reviewing the game,” Hottovy said, “and Steele comes over and he was like, ‘Man, when I made my debut. I didn't know where the ball was going. You at least had control in what you're trying to do. I didn't know. I couldn't feel my hands.’”

It was a reminder that the first time a player experiences the big leagues, there are nerves that can make slowing things down a challenge. In Tuesday’s 5-1 win over the Padres, Brown looked under control for a second outing in a row, and for the first time as a starter for a Cubs squad patching some early-season holes in the rotation.

Chicago’s lineup did its part with a five-run outburst in the fifth inning, when veteran catcher got things rolling with a leadoff shot against Padres righty Joe Musgrove. Later in the frame, launched a pitch from reliever Stephen Kolek a projected 431 feet (per Statcast) for his first career grand slam.

The 24-year-old Brown -- MLB Pipeline’s No. 9-ranked Cubs prospect -- worked into the fifth inning and held San Diego’s star-packed lineup off the scoreboard. There were moments in which the right-hander encountered traffic, but Brown did not allow any hits to the Padres when they got a runner on base.

“Look, it’s a hard league and the league is unforgiving,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said. “It’s not if you’re gonna get knocked down. You will get knocked down. Kind of what’s after that is always the most important thing. And that’s a great sign of what Ben did after his first appearance in the big leagues, right?

“He got knocked down his first time and there was certainly reason for him to say, ‘Oh my God.’ And he came out and pitched with a lot of confidence.”

Cubs center fielder also helped the cause in the first inning.

“That was sick,” Brown said with a smile.

After Brown allowed a leadoff double to Xander Bogaerts, the rookie gave up a fly ball to center off the bat of Fernando Tatis Jr. Bellinger made the catch and Bogaerts decided to test his arm, tagging and bolting for third on the play. The center fielder came up firing, uncorking a 90.1 mph throw to Morel at third for an inning-calming double play.

“Just a big, big play,” Counsell said.

The Cubs summoned Brown from Triple-A Iowa on March 30, following Steele landing on the injured list after straining his left hamstring during his Opening Day start. Brown was originally planning on starting for Iowa that day, but wound up working 1 2/3 innings against the reigning World Series-champion Rangers.

After a strong first inning, Brown left the mound having been charged with six runs on five hits in an outing that “wasn’t as bad as the line looked,” as Counsell evaluated things. With that Major League initiation behind him -- plus teammates sharing their own debut stories -- Brown was better equipped to move forward.

“I think one of the things you want to put in his head is that he's here for a reason,” Gomes said.

In his two games since the debut in Texas, Brown has racked up 10 strikeouts against two walks over 8 2/3 innings of work. The hard-throwing righty has given up just one run in that span, scattering six hits along the way. Brown has done so mostly with his fastball-curveball combination. He did not take the changeup out of his back pocket against the Padres.

Counsell said Brown’s fastball, in particular, stood out. The righty featured his four-seamer 51 times, averaging 96.5 mph and topping out at 98.4 mph, per Statcast. Brown noted that he felt his command wavering in the third, but he was able to push through it and make some adjustments to close out the start.

Brown admitted he had nerves over making his first career start, but felt “pretty peaceful” once he took his place on the mound.

“It's almost like tonight was a final affirmation that I needed,” Brown said.