Chicago Cubs Lineup (5/10/24): Hoerner at Short, Madrigal at 2B, Assad Pitching

Among pitchers who have logged at least 20 innings this season, Javier Assad‘s 1.66 ERA ranks 10th. That’s good. Even gooder is that Assad ranks fourth among his own rotation-mates behind Shota Imanaga (1.08), Jameson Taillon (1.13), and Hayden Wesneski (1.59). Speaking of Taillon, he was initially slated to start this one before disappearing from the list of probables.

Sunday’s game is still listed as TBD and could go to Taillon if this is just a matter of getting him a little rest, but the lack of clarity is a bit concerning. With the bullpen already struggling to hold even comfortable leads, another hit to the rotation would be suboptimal. Guess the bats just have to get it going.

Nico Hoerner is leading off and he’s at short, which will be the case for a while now that Dansby Swanson is on the IL. Mike Tauchman is in right, Cody Bellinger is the DH, Christopher Morel cleans up at third, Ian Happ is in left, and Michael Busch is at first. Nick Madrigal is at second, Miguel Amaya is the catcher, and Pete Crow-Armstrong patrols center.

On the bump for the Bucs is 22-year-old rookie Jared Jones, who’s making the eighth start of his career after putting up an excellent performance against the Rockies last weekend. The righty allowed just one hit over seven shutout innings and tied a career high with 10 strikeouts. He didn’t walk anyone either, making his 18.7% swinging-strike rate all the more impressive.

All the talk has been about Paul Skenes making his MLB debut on Saturday, and for good reason, but Jones has very similar stuff. His fastball sits just under 98 mph and lights up the top of the zone just slightly to the arm side. He will also go middle-middle because he gets good ride and can still generate plenty of whiffs in what might seem like hittable locations. That pitch makes up nearly 50% of his offerings and it’s among the top 10-11 fastballs in MLB by value.

Jones’s slider is at least as good, ranking in the top 10 for both total and per-pitch values. What makes it so tough isn’t just that he throws it around 90 mph, but that he’s able to locate it at the lower glove-side corner of the zone with great frequency. He’s got elite velocity and the ability to move the ball around to change hitters’ eye levels, which isn’t fun to face.

The biggest difference between Jones and Skenes is their size, as the latter is 6-foot-6 and nearly 250 pounds while the former is 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds. That presents quite a different look for opposing teams, especially since their repertoires are so similar on paper. Having these two atop the rotation for the next several years is going to be a problem.

For all he does well, Jones does have a significant weakness: He gives up a lot of hard contact in the air. He allows more flies than grounders and his 45.8% hard-hit rate is more than seven points (18.3%) higher than the MLB average. That has resulted in seven home runs out of 27 total hits allowed so far, and he’s given up two homers in a game on three separate occasions. The Pirates lost all of those games even though Jones gave up a total of eight runs combined.

Jones isn’t likely to make enough mistakes to beat himself, so the Cubs have to be ready to jump on a fastball that catches too much of the heart of the zone or a slider that backs up a little. And it probably won’t be good enough to tag such a pitch for a hard single because walks and hits are going to be hard to come by. Though WHIP has kind of fallen out of favor as a measure of performance, Jones’s 0.78 mark ranks fourth among qualified pitchers.

Even more impressive, his 33.8% strikeout rate and 30.5% K/BB rate are better than any of the other 78 pitchers on the list. You didn’t used to see big strikeout pitchers who worked so efficiently, but there appears to be a growing trend of guys who are willing and able to beat hitters in the zone with their stuff. I like the idea of attacking and knowing you can win with strikes.

The last note on Jones is that he’s pitching to very stark reverse splits, using that back-foot slider to limit left-handed batters to a .145/.175/.342 slash with a .223 wOBA. Righties aren’t great by any stretch, but .225/.257/.408 with a .291 wOBA looks outstanding by comparison. I’m not sure I’d have gone with Busch, and Tauchman may not be a great choice with Seiya Suzuki back, but alas. Morel may need to run into one tonight because this matchup could come down to which team is able to score just one run.

First pitch from PNC Park is at 5:40pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.

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