NEW YORK -- Right-hander Javier Assad is one of many Cubs players who will need to be evaluated for 40-man roster decisions this winter.
If you go by Monday’s game, Assad should be on the roster for a while. Assad turned in his best game as a Major Leaguer as the Cubs defeated the Mets, 5-2, at Citi Field.
Assad, who earned his first Major League win, pitched a career-high six innings, allowing one run on five hits while striking out six batters. He lowered his ERA to 2.53 over five appearances (four starts).
“The key has been confidence, just really being on the mound, trusting my stuff, trusting what I have,” Assad said through interpreter Will Nadal.
“I think I’ve developed that confidence, and I think I feel comfortable on the mound and I know I can execute my pitches.”
At first, it looked like Assad was going to have a bad night. He threw 24 pitches in the first inning and had the bases loaded with two outs. But Assad was poised. He got out of the jam by striking out Mark Canha to end the threat.
“I just tried to stay aggressive, tried to get a strikeout, a ground ball. The game will dictate what I will try to do,” Assad said. “But I will also be on the front foot, be aggressive, just trying to get out of that jam.”
Assad was dominant after that first inning. From the second inning to his last, he displayed a deadly cutter that had the Mets perplexed. It didn’t matter what the count was, Assad was able to get the big outs with the pitch.
“To be honest, his sinker was not where we wanted it to be, but his cutter was making up for it, for sure,” Cubs catcher P.J. Higgins said. “Being able to move [that pitch] into the lefties. We kind of used it whenever we needed it.”
Assad’s slider and changeup were just as deadly. The only time the Mets scored off Assad was in the fourth inning, when James McCann singled to left field, scoring Canha. After that, Assad retired seven of the next eight hitters before leaving the game.
"As advertised. Really good cutter. That was the pitch for him tonight,” Mets general manager Buck Showalter said. “He commanded that on both sides of the plate. He established both sides of the plate with all his pitches, and that makes it really tough.
“It wasn't as much something we didn't do as something he did do. You could tell, he was staying down and working different planes in the strike zone. When you establish, you can throw the ball to both sides -- especially the cutter. It was almost like a small slider, it had more depth on it than most cutters do, and that's unusual. It's a good pitch. We knew that coming in."
The Cubs gave Assad plenty of run support. They scored all five runs off Mets right-hander Chris Bassitt by the fourth inning. Zach McKinstry and Rafael Ortega both had two RBIs and a homer.
“It was a good offensive performance there, good approach off Bassitt there early on. It gave us enough” Cubs manager David Ross said. “And then Javy locked it in. Really nice job. The Mets left a lot of guys on base. We pitched really well with traffic.”
After the game, Assad received the game ball from closer Brandon Hughes, who earned his fifth save of the season. Hughes entered the game in the eighth inning when the Mets had the bases loaded and one out, but he got out of the jam by inducing Eduardo Escobar to fly out to Ortega in center field and getting Darin Ruf to line out to right fielder Seiya Suzuki. The Cubs had to use three relievers -- also Mark Leiter Jr. and Manuel Rodríguez -- to get out of that inning.
“Bases loaded, one out -- it’s bigger than just me,” Hughes said. “That’s Mark and Manny’s runs. That’s Javy’s win. It’s way bigger than just me coming in and trying to get outs. There was a whole lot [going] into that moment.”