CHICAGO -- A little more than four hours before game time Thursday, Wrigley Field was empty and quiet save for a few players stretching.
Jordan Lawlar walked out to shortstop with D-backs third-base/infield coach Tony Perezchica and the two spent some time talking. Perezchica showed Lawlar some different angles for where a shortstop sets up depending on who is at the plate and what terminology the D-backs use.
It was the calm before the storm for Lawlar, who was called up from Triple-A Reno and put right into the starting lineup at shortstop for the D-backs-Cubs series opener. After grounding out in his first at-bat, Lawlar collected his first big league hit in the fourth with an infield single to third before making a stellar play in the bottom half of the inning.
The D-backs rode a pair of home runs from Tommy Pham and a quality pitching performance by Ryne Nelson to a 6-2 win over the Cubs that put them a half-game ahead of the Marlins and Reds in the race for the final NL Wild Card spot.
- Games remaining: at CHC (3), at NYM (4), vs. CHC (3), vs. SF (2), at NYY (3), at CWS (3), vs. HOU (3)
- Standings update: The D-backs (73-68) hold the No. 3 Wild Card spot and are a half-game ahead of the Marlins and Reds and 2 1/2 ahead of the Giants. Miami and Cincinnati hold the tiebreaker advantage over Arizona, as does San Francisco, but the D-backs can change that if they win the final two games against the Giants on Sept. 19-20.
When he went out to shortstop in the bottom of the first inning it was quite a different scene than earlier.
“It was amazing,” Lawlar said. “Standing at shortstop, looking at all the fans in the stands. It was amazing. I’ll never forget it.”
Lawlar didn’t have to wait long for his first taste of game action. After Mike Tauchman walked to lead off the inning, Nico Hoerner hit a grounder back to the mound and Nelson whirled and threw to short, where Lawlar displayed some fancy footwork to turn a double play.
“I thought the first play -- [Nelson’s] wide throw on the double play -- maybe helped his heartbeat slow down a tiny bit,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “It was a very reactive athletic play that he made look super easy. That is not an easy play.”
Lawlar’s first hit came in the fourth when he beat out an infield grounder to third.
“You’re running to first base, hit the bag and then you’re talking to [Cubs first baseman Cody Bellinger],” Lawlar said. “It’s amazing.”
Unlike recent seasons, though, September isn’t about developing players for next year. The D-backs are in a pennant race and Lawlar was called up to contribute. It’s a lot for a 21-year-old.
Lawlar, though, has dealt with expectations before, ever since the D-backs selected him sixth overall in the 2021 MLB Draft. Once Corbin Carroll got promoted to the big leagues late last August, Lawlar took over as the D-backs' No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline.
Neither the expectations nor a left shoulder injury he suffered soon after being drafted slowed his rapid rise through the system.
“I think I’ve always tried to control the controllables,” Lawlar said. “That’s all you can do in baseball. So I think if I keep that mindset, that helps calm all those nerves or whatever pressure [there] may be.”
As he does with any young player joining the team, Lovullo called Lawlar into his office for a talk.
“'You didn’t get called up because you were having average moments,'” Lovullo said he told Lawlar. “'You were doing things so just remember what that feels like and slow it down, take a deep breath and go out and execute.' I know we’re all excited, Jordan too, but he was probably calming me down. The way he just came in and sat down, leaned back in a very relaxed way, made me feel good.”
Lawlar will get all the starts at shortstop against left-handers and, depending on how that goes, the team will look to get him into some games against right-handers.
Lovullo, though, started Lawlar at short against a right-hander Thursday night for a very specific reason.
“My mindset was he’s a very talented player and he’s been hot, swinging the bat very well and I just wanted to get all the [nerves] out of there right away,” Lovullo said. “There’s going to be excitement whether he’s sitting in the dugout or playing shortstop. So I wanted to capitalize on the momentum of how he’s been doing and the energy that he’s been feeling.”
Lawlar and Carroll are close friends, and Carroll no doubt has shared with Lawlar what it was like for him when he was promoted to the big leagues last year. With the D-backs having such a young team, there are plenty of players Lawlar has played with before.
Lawlar arrived in Chicago about an hour before the rest of the team did Wednesday night and he spent some time with Carroll and right-hander Zac Gallen.
“Corbin said just be myself,” Lawlar said. “So I just have to be myself and try to do anything I can and be ready to help this team win when my name is called.”