Shota shows way as Cubs' rookies star in nightcap

Lefty earns second quality start; Busch, Canario log huge hits, while Brown rolls in relief

April 21st, 2024

CHICAGO -- It’s been an eventful couple of weeks for the Cubs’ rookies to start the season.

Those rookies stepped up big time in the Cubs’ 5-3 win over the Marlins on Saturday night in Game 2 after Chicago’s 3-2 loss in the opener of a doubleheader at Wrigley Field. , Ben Brown, Alexander Canario and Michael Busch all made key contributions in the nightcap victory.

“[They’re] definitely taking advantage of the opportunities,” said outfielder Cody Bellinger, who homered in the first inning of Game 2. “They're doing an unbelievable job of that and honestly just seem very comfortable and relaxed, and confident in their ability, and trust what they do. They're doing a great job of it all.”

One rookie who has been incredible through three weeks of the season is Imanaga, who had been flawless for the Cubs in his previous three starts. That continued against the Marlins.

Imanaga gave up three runs (two earned) on five hits to go with no walks and five strikeouts. Despite facing some troubles for really the first time in his career, Imanaga was able to get some key outs when it mattered most.

After giving up a home run to Josh Bell on a middle-middle fastball in the sixth inning, Imanaga struck out the next two batters to earn his second quality start of the season. The left-hander’s ERA now sits at 0.84 across 21 1/3 innings to begin his MLB career while allowing zero walks in three of his first four starts.

“I thought Shota pitched well,” manager Craig Counsell said. “He did a nice job, got us six innings in the second game with a doubleheader, which was great, and kept runs off the board. So, another good start. That’s four good starts for Shota.”

Imanaga, though, wasn’t the only rookie to make an impact on the mound in Game 2.

Brown -- who started on Monday against the Diamondbacks and delivered six innings of one-run ball -- came on in relief against the Marlins and looked fantastic. The club's No. 9 prospect gave up just two hits while striking out three across two scoreless innings.

Brown has surely been thrust into different roles to start his Major League career, and the right-hander has adapted to any situation.

But, on Saturday, he saw his first hold situation, pitching in a two-run game in the seventh and eighth innings. Brown’s ability to pitch in different spots -- whether it be as a starter or in the bullpen -- gives the team plenty of flexibility moving forward, especially with Jameson Taillon back and Justin Steele (hamstring) nearing a return.

“I think Ben's going to make a lot of starts for us as well,” Counsell said. “So this is just kind of where we're at right now. The day was unique with the doubleheader. But Ben did a great job. [He] came in in a big spot and put up two really big innings.”

With Imanaga and Brown locking it down on the mound, they got some help from Canario and Busch at the plate. Canario, the Cubs' No. 10 prospect, hit a towering homer in the sixth, and Busch drove in the go-ahead run on a two-run single in the same inning.

“The team responded,” Canario said through an interpreter. “We were able to get a rally going, and I'm super happy to start the inning that way.”

We might be just 21 games into the new season. However, it is a huge positive to see the Cubs’ rookies contribute at this high of a level early on.

Imanaga has been extremely efficient through four starts, Brown could be a real weapon for Chicago in various roles, while Busch might be the early favorite to win National League Rookie of the Year.

With a 2-for-4 game at the plate, Busch, a first baseman, is now hitting .373 (19-for-51) with three doubles, six home runs, and 15 RBIs over the past 14 games.

It’s these early contributions from the rookies that give the Cubs plenty of hope in 2024.

“Our young players have played really, really well,” Counsell said. “So that's something really encouraging for sure. It's great to get them off to a good start, especially.”