'A big relief': Joc's 1st hit finds bleachers

April 8th, 2021

CHICAGO -- had a text chain going with a few of his teammates on Tuesday night. The new Cubs left fielder was still in search of his first hit of the season and the team as a whole had been struggling offensively.

had an idea.

"He says, 'Yeah, I'm bringing the waffle maker,'" Pederson said with a smirk.

The strategy did not work as it related to the win column for the Cubs, who were overpowered by Brewers righty Brandon Woodruff in a 4-2 loss in 10 innings on Wednesday afternoon. Pederson, however, did find that first hit -- a game-tying home run -- and was greeted by Happ, waffle maker in hand, in the dugout.

Among ballplayers, there is an old baseball adage about "waffling" a pitch, meaning to make good, hard contact. Happ has a history of bringing the cookware into Chicago's dugout for celebrations, dating back to the 2018 season.

Pederson launched his game-tying blast off Devin Williams in the eighth inning, turning towards his teammates and letting out a howl as the baseball soared to the right-field bleachers. Once down the dugout steps, the outfielder grabbed the waffle maker (still in the box) from Happ and celebrated some more.

That hit ended an 0-for-15 start to the season for Pederson.

"It was huge," Pederson said. "Grinded a little bit to start the season, just to kind of get the first one, especially in front of the fans and whatnot. I think it's a little bit more added pressure than normal. Yeah, it was a big relief."

It was a much-needed moment for the Cubs' collection of hitters, too.

After recent late-season and October offensive slides, and a tough overall showing from Chicago's core group last year, the lineup is under the microscope this year. And following a one-hit performance on Tuesday, the Cubs were no-hit by Woodruff for the first six frames Wednesday, spoiling a strong start by Kyle Hendricks.

When Happ singled in the seventh, it snapped an 0-for-34 funk for the Chicago nine. The Cubs were no-hit over a stretch of 11 consecutive innings, marking the first such streak for the North Siders' offense since Sept. 9-10, 1965.

Between an Eric Sogard triple in the seventh inning on Monday and Happ's single, the Cubs went 1-for-48 with 20 strikeouts. Happ's hit also represented the team's first single since the first inning on Sunday (a span of 30 innings).

"Everyone's just trying to get comfortable," Pederson said. "We have some really talented people in the group that when we get clicking, it's going to be fun to be a part of. It's coming soon."

Pederson is expected to be one of those key performers.

During Spring Training, Pederson certainly looked the part, hitting .378/.431/1.000 with eight homers and 19 RBIs in 45 Cactus League plate appearances. He made some changes to his stance over the offseason, including opening up a bit more, and the tweaks paid off immediately.

So, when Pederson went six games into the season without his first hit as the new guy replacing fan-favorite Kyle Schwarber, the pressure kept mounting for him. And after that strong spring, Pederson was not sure what, if anything, to adjust this early in a season.

"It was hard," he said. "When things are going right, it's hard to kind of understand what the fixes are and what the adjustments are. ... It's not the same adjustments as in the past, so that's kind of a new learning curve."

Even before Wednesday's game, Cubs manager David Ross did not sound overly concerned.

"We have confidence in him," Ross said. "Sometimes that first one's the hardest one to get. He's had some at-bats where he's done some good things to help us win ballgames."

Pederson agreed that the first knock of a campaign can feel like one of the more challenging hits of any given year.

"The first hit of the year is always an interesting one to get off your chest," Pederson said. "If I were to go 0-for-12 or whatever, or 14, in the middle of the year when I'm hitting .280 with 25 homers, it's kind of like, 'All right, no big deal.'

"But when it's the start of the season, it's just added, I don't know, the start of the season's weird."

It was weird to see Williams -- after giving up just one earned run in all of 2020 -- allow the homer to Pederson, marking the second earned run off the reliever already this year. That sparked a late push by Chicago, which loaded the bases with a chance to walk things off in the 10th.

And it was a little weird to see Pederson holding a waffle maker in the dugout, but he hopes Cubs fans get used to seeing that sight again this season.

"I hope we're making a lot of waffles," Pederson said. "Hopefully we're passing out waffles soon to all of us.”