Notes: Higgins debuts; Rizzo, Báez rest

May 20th, 2021

CHICAGO -- emerged from the home dugout at Wrigley Field in the hours leading up to Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the Nationals and was welcomed by some clapping from the Cubs personnel already on the field.

Ahead of Wednesday's game, Higgins had his contract selected from Triple-A Iowa, making him the new backup catcher behind All-Star Willson Contreras. When Higgins pinch-hit for Jason Heyward in the fourth inning, it made him the fifth player to make an MLB debut for the Cubs this year.

Cubs manager David Ross has enjoyed that aspect of this season.

"It's the best," Ross said. "Anybody on the field can relate to what that feels like and those nerves when you first get a chance to live a dream of a game you've been playing your entire life, and you get to step out there and perform and have success.

"Yeah, when they come off and I see the smiles, or the hands are shaking, or the nerves are there or not, all that stuff, it just makes me smile and laugh. And takes me back to the great memories that I have of when I first made that same journey."

In order to clear a spot on the active and 40-man roster for the 28-year-old Higgins, catcher Tony Wolters was designated for assignment. Ross said the Cubs like that Higgins offers some versatility beyond catching, given his experience playing first, second and third base.

Higgins was in the mix for an Opening Day job this past spring, but the Cubs opted to go with a more experienced option (and to preserve a layer of depth) to start the season. In 11 games at Triple-A, Higgins hit .333 with four extra-base hits, eight walks and a .971 OPS. He struck out twice in three hitless at-bats Wednesday.

"He's very versatile. A contact-type bat," Ross said. "I think it's just time. We've liked Higgy for a long time. His skill-set really fits us right now."

Before Higgins, the Cubs' Major League debuts this season have included lefty Justin Steele and right-handers Keegan Thompson, Tommy Nance and Trevor Megill. Steele and Thompson, specifically, have helped solidify the Cubs' bullpen over the past few weeks.

When Higgins made his debut, it marked the most MLB debuts for the Cubs since they had eight in 2017. That summer, Chicago did not reach its fifth MLB debut until June 28. Per team historian Ed Hartig, the last time the Cubs had at least five MLB debuts before the end of May was in 2000 (seven players).

"That's been so much fun," Cubs infielder David Bote said. "That's one of the most fun parts of this game, is to see those guys come and make their debuts and excel on top of it."

Rizzo, Báez get day off
Both first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Javier Báez were out of the starting lineup on Wednesday. Rizzo exited Tuesday's game early with a back issue, and Báez dealt with a back ailment earlier this month. The latter entered the game in the seventh inning and crushed a solo home run in the ninth.

"Everybody's been dealing with some bumps and bruises -- a bunch of guys," Ross said. "I'm just trying to make sure we're resting guys, keeping them healthy."

Ross described Rizzo as "day to day" and noted that the first baseman was available off the bench, if needed.

Heyward exits early
One day after Rizzo's early departure due to the back issue, Heyward left Wednesday night's loss with left hamstring tightness. Heyward popped out in his lone at-bat in the game and also made a slick sliding catch to rob Starlin Castro of a hit in the third before leaving the contest.

Worth noting
• Bote was batting .193 with a .316 slugging percentage and .258 wOBA heading into Wednesday's game. Bote's expected batting average (.256), expected slugging (.476) and expected wOBA (.344) told a story of a hitter running into plenty of hard luck so far this season.

"I haven't seen any of that stuff," Bote said Wednesday. "We talked in spring about not worrying about the results and that's been a huge test for me. Just continue on what I've been doing.

"I like the way I've been approaching the game. I like the way I've been attacking the baseball. That's all I can control."

• Entering Wednesday, Thompson had spun 11 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run to begin his MLB career. That's the third-longest streak in Cubs history, trailing only Larry Cheney (28 IP in 1911-12) and Vern Olsen (15 1/3 IP in 1939-40), per the team.

"P.J., I got to be around him quite a bit the last couple years. He's one of those guys that just loves to be around the field, around the guys. Great person. Hard worker. I'm super excited for these guys to come up and be a part of the group and fit right in." -- Bote, on Higgins