A buzz was already expected Friday for the home debut of highly touted Chicago Cubs prospect Javier Baez, but the excitement level of the Wrigley Field faithful has only increased following his first few days in the majors.
After homering three times in his first three games, Baez will put his talents on display for the first time in front of the home fans when Chicago opens a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Cubs (49-64) are on their way to a fifth straight losing season for the first time since a six-year stretch from 1978-83, but they’ve stockpiled plenty of young talent that they hope will soon make an impact at the major league level.
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One of those players is Baez, who made his big league debut Tuesday in Colorado and homered in the 12th inning to give Chicago a 6-5 win. The 21-year-old second baseman went 0 for 4 in a 13-4 loss Wednesday before going 3 for 4 with two home runs and four RBIs in Thursday’s 6-2 victory, the Cubs’ seventh in 10 games.
"I haven’t been nervous or anything," Baez said. "I’ve been slowing the game down and thinking about the situation of the game."
Baez is expecting an amped-up crowd Friday.
"I think it’s going to be more exciting than (Coors Field)," he told MLB’s official website. "We’re home, and we have all the support from the fans, and there are a lot of people who know you and they want you to do good."
Manager Rick Renteria is looking forward to seeing how Baez is welcomed.
"I’m sure there will be a lot of excitement," he said. "He’s a young man who has been touted for a long time, and rightfully so. He’s a very gifted, good looking young player. I think he’ll be fine."
Baez will step into the batter’s box against Chris Archer (7-6, 3.42 ERA), who has been dominant on the road since mid-May.
Archer went 0-1 with a 6.35 ERA in his first four starts away from home, but he’s posted a 1.87 ERA while going 3-2 in his past seven – including consecutive victories.
The right-hander won for the first time in four home starts Saturday after allowing three runs and striking out nine over six innings to beat the Los Angeles Angels 10-3.
After winning 11 of 12 to climb back into the AL wild-card race, Tampa Bay (55-59) has lost five of seven.
"It’s hard to maintain that kind of level or that pace, there’s no question about it," manager Joe Maddon said. "That’s why you want to be able to have a decent start (to the season), so that you can absorb these kind of moments at this time of the year. We’ve set it up to the point where we really can’t."
Cubs starter Tsuyoshi Wada (1-1, 3.32) is coming off a pair of strong outings after getting roughed up by San Diego on July 23 in his second major league start.
The left-hander earned his first career victory five days later by allowing one run in seven innings against Colorado, and he gave up two runs in 5 2-3 innings of Saturday’s 5-2, 12-inning loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
This is the Rays’ second visit to Wrigley Field after losing two of three in 2003. They swept a three-game series from the Cubs in the last meeting in 2008.