Mervis' first MLB mash completes mom's memorabilia

Cubs first baseman happy to add milestone baseball to her collection of Mother's Day gear

May 17th, 2023

HOUSTON -- The baseball that  sent clanking off Minute Maid Park’s right-field pole on Tuesday night was tossed into the stands.

It did not remain there long, as Cubs first-base coach Mike Napoli quickly let the necessary parties know of the ball’s importance.

“I’ve to thank him for that,” Mervis said.

In the North Siders’ 7-3 loss to the Astros, that blast marked what the Cubs hope is the first of many for Mervis in his big league career. The rookie first baseman earned the nickname “Mash” for his power exploits as he slugged his way up the organizational ladder, but that first one in the Majors had been elusive.

The power outage ended in the second inning, when Mervis turned on a 1-0 four-seamer from Houston’s Cristian Javier. The low-and-in pitch rocketed off Mervis’ bat at 110.7 mph, per Statcast, and struck the pole.

It was a shot that pulled the game into a 1-1 deadlock that Cubs starter Justin Steele was unable to hold. And while the blast came in a losing effort, Steele was thrilled for his teammate.

“That was really cool to watch,” Steele said. “I’ve been waiting a really long time to see him get into one. It was really fun to watch. Going off the foul pole was really cool, too.”

The Cubs have been giving Mervis regular at-bats at first base and allowing him to work through the early learning curve every Major Leaguer experiences. Heading into Tuesday’s loss, the 25-year-old Mervis had a .219/.265/.250 slash line with 14 strikeouts and just two walks in 34 plate appearances.

It did not help that after Mervis was promoted on May 5, he swiftly saw a slew of tough lefties, plus reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara in his first taste of The Show.

“He’s going to get a chance against guys that aren’t tough on lefties or Cy Young winner,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer quipped this week. “Give him time. I think he’ll find it.”

The early showing did not resemble the robust results or plate discipline that was a staple of Mervis’ quick ascent from A-ball to the big leagues.

Last year, Mervis slashed .309/.379/.606, slugged 36 homers and led the Minor Leagues with 119 RBIs as he rose from High-A to Triple-A. His strikeout and walk rates improved at each level.

In his first 24 games this season at Triple-A, Mervis hit .286/.402/.560 with six homers and 27 RBIs, along with a 17.0% strikeout rate and 16.1% walk rate.

“I don't see him pressing or trying too hard,” manager David Ross said. “It’s the same guy. The at-bats, the defense, all that stuff seems to be pretty consistent with what he's shown us so far.

“It’s early. We’ll continue to watch it, if anything gets off, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of him. I just want him to go out there and be himself.”

Mervis looked more like himself against the Astros.

Houston fed him more breaking balls (five sliders and four curves) than fastballs (seven four-seamers), but was aggressive in the strike zone. In his four trips to the plate, Mervis opted for a more aggressive approach and the result was the home run and a well-struck single in the ninth inning.

“I was swinging the bat and I felt good, so just letting it fly,” Mervis said. “I’m just trying to adjust to how I’m getting attacked and just keep making those adjustments.”

Ross liked what he saw within Mervis’ at-bats all night, too.

“Good approach,” said the manager. “Really good at-bats. But I think it's going to be, just as he settles in -- getting on his pitch and in his timing -- it looks really good when he's aggressive to the fastball and he can spit on some really close pitches.”

And when everything is working -- that timing, the pitch recognition and the swing -- Mervis can launch a baseball like he did on Tuesday night.

The rookie said he was happy to finally get the first homer milestone out of the way.

“It felt good. You said it: Out of the way,” Mervis said. “Obviously that’s something you try not to think about, but that’s also part of the reason why I’m here. So, just get it out of the way. And now it’s not a thought anymore.”

The only thought now for Mervis: Who gets the baseball?

“I talked about how all my memorabilia stuff goes to Dad,” Mervis said. “But I think this one’s going to go to Mom. The Mother’s Day bat and cleats, and now the ball.”