Jhoulys Chacin talks about pitching and overcoming slow starts during spring training
PHOENIX – One of the primary reasons Jhoulys Chacín signed with the Milwaukee Brewers as a free agent was his belief that it might be his best chance to finally pitch in the playoffs.
As it turned out, Chacín was right. But the next question was: How would he respond personally to pitching in the bubbling cauldron of October baseball?
Fortunately for both pitcher and team, Chacín took to the postseason like a new puppy to a chew toy.
“That’s the big thing,” manager Craig Counsell said Wednesday. “He probably raised his performance to places he hadn’t gone before.”
Chacín, 31, who pitched seven years for Colorado, Arizona, Atlanta, the Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres before signing with the Brewers in December 2017, actually started pitching in big games for the Brewers before the postseason. He was the only pitcher to take every turn in the rotation and led the staff with 12 quality starts, going 8-2 with a 1.53 ERA in those games.
No start was bigger than Game No. 163 on Oct. 1 in Chicago, the showdown with the Cubs for the NL Central crown. Chacín came up big that day despite pitching on short rest, allowing only one hit – a homer by Anthony Rizzo – in 5⅔ innings as the Brewers won, 3-1, to claim the division and avoid the wild card crap shoot.
“We leaned on him during that stretch,” Counsell said. “He made (two) starts on three days rest. We were organizing our rotation around him to pitch in the right games. It lined up. We were taking advantage of a player who was performing. He was rolling.
“It’s like what (Christian) Yelich was doing. He was hot, and we were taking advantage of it. If you take the 2018 Jhoulys Chacín, it was Game No. 163 at Wrigley, for sure. … That was his virtuoso performance, for sure.”
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Finally getting his chance to pitch in the postseason, Chacín proved he was up to the moment. He pitched five shutout innings in Game 2 of the NLDS vs. Colorado and 5⅓ shutout innings in Game 3 of the NLCS in Los Angeles. Chacín absorbed the loss in Game 7 but only because he surrendered a two-run homer to Cody Bellinger in the second inning that put the Brewers behind, 2-1.
It was disappointing for all involved for the season to end that way but there was no denying that Chacín was the right man at the right time for the Brewers, making his two-year, $15.5 million deal a real bargain.
“He hadn’t been on playoff teams his first seven or eight years (in the majors),” Counsell said. “He was pitching really well but he also just enjoyed how the game changes, how competitive they become and how much fun they are.
“From the guys who hadn’t done it for a long time to the guys who, like Jhoulys, are there for the first time, you kind of see something different. I hope we test the scenario where it gets to be old hat. That’s the scenario we’re trying to test.”
It’s a new year and Chacín made his spring debut against Cleveland, and it was a quick one. He recorded three outs on five pitches, an outing so efficient he then went down to the bullpen to throw 10 more to get some extra work.
“They were swinging the bats early,” he said. “I was just trying to keep the ball down. When you get a 1-2-3 inning on five pitches, you can’t complain about it. They already had me for just one inning.”
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Chacín admitted this spring feels different, now that he has a year – and a great year – under his belt with the Brewers. He’s one of the guys, a feeling that grew quickly last season with a tight-knit bunch.
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“It feels different, for sure, but I’m excited, too,” he said. “I have more motivation to do more and get the season going. We didn’t finish it last year. I’m happy to be back here. I can’t wait for the season to start.”
As for what he learned about himself during that breakthrough season, Chacín said: “When I pitched that game (in Chicago), it’s something I always dreamed about. I know we made the season for Brewers fans when we beat the Cubs to take the division. It’s something you’re never going to fit. It’s one of the best games I’ve ever been part of.
“It’s something I knew could happen here. When I got here, I wanted to prove people were wrong about me. I knew I could do it. That’s when everything started getting better and went the way I wanted. I believed in myself, and the guys here believed in me. That’s why I feel so comfortable here.”