Cubs prospect McNutt follows Maddux's lead

Cubs prospect McNutt follows Maddux's lead

Cubs prospect McNutt follows Maddux's lead
MESA, Ariz. -- The first batter Trey McNutt faced in his spring big league debut launched a 1-0 pitch over the fence in left for a home run.

The Cubs right-hander didn't watch Zack Cozart's ball sail over the bullpen on Sunday, but looked at the umpire and asked for another ball. He struck out the next Reds batter, then walked a man, then fanned the next. After a double, a wild pitch and two more walks, McNutt was lifted.

When the 21-year-old came into the dugout, Greg Maddux was waiting for him.

"I asked him, 'How far did that ball go?' Because I didn't even look up," McNutt said of the home run.

McNutt was able to laugh off the outing. Maddux, a four-time Cy Young winner who is a special assistant to the Cubs, has been able to help the highly touted right-hander. They first met this year at Class A Peoria.

"Greg coming into Peoria last year was huge to my success," McNutt said Monday. "He taught me how to pitch. I was throwing 95, 97 [mph], and I just dropped down to 90 to 94. I can still run it up there, but I enjoy trying to hit my spots and setting up hitters. That's what I was trying to do [Sunday], but I couldn't find the strike zone."

Maddux's advice? Slow the game down. Don't try to blow hitters away. At Peoria, McNutt was 6-0 with a 1.51 ERA. At Class A Daytona, he was 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA. He finished at Double-A Tennessee 0-1 with a 5.74 ERA in three starts. The emphasis was on location, location, location.

"I've always heard that," McNutt said, "but to hear him say it and then go out there and actually do it, you could see the results. The coaches in Daytona were saying, 'You're only 90, 94 [mph] today -- and you only gave up one hit.'"

By focusing on his command, McNutt said he can mix his other pitches in.

"It makes it a lot more fun, too, to set up hitters than just go up there and try to throw it by people," McNutt said. "That's the way I used to be."

A 32nd-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, McNutt's name was mentioned this offseason as a possible piece in the Cubs' dealings with the Rays for Matt Garza. Instead, Chicago sent another top prospect, Chris Archer, in the eight-player deal.

"I thought I was going to be in Florida this year," McNutt said. "They had just put Archer on the 40-man and he had a real good year last year and I thought I was going to Tampa. We got on the Internet and I saw they traded Archer instead, and thought, I got lucky there. I'm glad I'm still here -- I wish Archer was still here, too. He's fun to watch."

So is McNutt, who has a 13-2 record and 2.19 ERA in 38 Minor League games. Once he gets that first outing of the way, he's settled down. In his first start for Peoria last season, he gave up two hits, walked two and struck out seven over three innings. His last start for the Chiefs on June 16, he fanned 10 in five innings and gave up one hit.

His first start at Daytona, he gave up three runs on four hits over three innings, striking out six. His last outing with the team, he served up one hit over six innings and struck out six.

That's why he wasn't too bothered by Sunday's debut.

"You don't know how much faster the game speeds up until you get out there on the mound," he said. "Then your heart's pumping, your adrenaline is going. It's really, really hard and takes a while to slow it down. That comes with experience and time and throwing. I'll be ready for it next time. I'll be prepared for next time."