'It was awesome': Swarmer's debut caps long road to Majors

May 30th, 2022

CHICAGO -- Matt Swarmer took a moment to soak everything in when he walked out to Wrigley Field's mound on Monday. When the Cubs pitcher toed the rubber, it was the culmination of a long, winding road.

"My adrenaline was pumping right away," Swarmer said. "I had to cool down and say, 'Hey, this is just another game.'"

But this was not just another game for Swarmer. This was his Major League debut, and against the rival Brewers in the opener of a Memorial Day doubleheader in front of a packed house that included his parents.

In a 7-6 loss, Swarmer turned in a quality start, shaking off the nerves and staying calm even when things went awry behind him. Given his path to the Majors, it should not be a surprise that the righty was able to work through a dose of in-game adversity.

"Man, I wanted this ever since I was five years old," Swarmer said. "Coming from a guy that went to Division II, it's possible for anybody. You've just got to work hard and good things will happen."

The 28-year-old Swarmer was a 19th-round selection by the Cubs in the 2016 MLB Draft out of Division II Kutztown University. On Saturday, his scheduled start for Triple-A Iowa was scratched and he learned he was heading to Chicago to pitch for the Cubs.

"My heart just ... it was awesome," Swarmer said. "Good feeling."

Swarmer earned the promotion after turning in a 2.08 ERA through 39 innings for Iowa, limiting batters to 23 hits and racking up 42 strikeouts against 14 walks.

His showing this year has been a dramatic step forward from 2021 (5.22 ERA in 89 2/3 innings at Triple-A) and '19 (5.65 ERA in 151 1/3 innings at Triple-A). During the pandemic-impacted 2020 season, Swarmer found an adult recreation league and pitched there just to stay ready.

The big leagues surely felt far away.

"I was facing guys that almost didn't have hair on top," Swarmer quipped. "I was just trying to find anywhere to play or just find live hitters. It was definitely different."

Plenty of Cubs fans were hoping to see top pitching prospect Caleb Kilian (No. 5 on the team's Top 30 prospect list, per MLB Pipeline) and the highly-touted righty will likely reach The Show this season. In the meantime, Swarmer logged an impressive outing.

"Real low heartbeat for his first big league start. Very impressed," Cubs manager David Ross said. "It never felt like he sped up, which happens to a lot of guys. He just continued to control what he could control and I think that definitely stands out from a guy making his first start."

Over six innings, Swarmer kept the Brewers off balance with a mix of sliders (49) and four-seamers (41), which both come out of the same arm slot. That approach helped him generate 11 swinging strikes (10 via his slider) and finish with six strikeouts in his six innings.

Swarmer -- charged with just one earned run out of four allowed overall, thanks to a pair of errors -- said it helped to have catcher P.J. Higgins behind the plate. Higgins has worked with the pitcher at multiple affiliates over Swarmer's career.

"I just told him, honestly, 'Listen dude, we've been doing this for a while,'" Higgins said. "I was like, 'This is your big league debut. You're going to be nervous. Just trust me back there. I've got you. Just do what you do and don't worry about anything else.'"