CINCINNATI -- The player Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein described as having the body of an athlete perhaps more suited to the National Football League donned his jersey with a lineman’s number – 68 – and took the field at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park for his highly anticipated major league debut Wednesday.
Jorge Soler, 22, batting fifth and playing right field against the Reds, was just trying to keep his emotions under control.
“I’m so excited,” Soler said through coaching staff assistant and interpreter Franklin Font while sitting in the steamy visitors dugout about three hours before the scheduled 6:10 p.m. CT first pitch. “I’m thankful for the team giving me this opportunity. I’ve waited two years for this moment.”
Part of Cubs manager Rick Renteria’s job is to help the 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-handed slugging prospect keep his emotions under control. Renteria already has a lot of experience with that task this season, based on the number of prospects who’ve made their major league debuts with the Cubs this season. Soler will make it eight.
“I’m sure it’s pretty high and I’m hoping that, like all these guys, after the first pitch, first swing, first play, first run or whatever it is, it kind of dissipates, and then you just go out and play baseball,” Renteria said before Wednesday’s game about Soler’s level of emotion.
Soler was with Iowa in Tacoma, Washington, when manager Marty Pevey told him Monday that he was being called up to the major leagues.
“I was real surprised,” said Soler, who figured the Cubs would wait until Sept. 1 when active rosters can be expanded from 25 to 40.
Soler arrived in Cincinnati about 11 p.m. Tuesday after a day of traveling from Tacoma, so he wasn’t even in town when his arrival became even more important to the Cubs. Right fielder Ryan Sweeney left Tuesday’s game in the second inning with a left hamstring strain, and first baseman Anthony Rizzo departed in the eighth with tightness in his lower back, but not before logging his 30th home run of the season in the first inning.
Sweeney was placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday, along with outfielder Justin Ruggiano, who has left-ankle inflammation. Ruggiano's assignment is retroactive to Aug. 23.
Rizzo’s status was less definitive, but more hopeful for the Cubs.
“It’s day-to-day,” Renteria said. “We’ll check in throughout the day today as he’s being treated and see how he’s doing. Hopefully, we’ll have a better idea of how he’s feeling during the ballgame.”
Rizzo’s injury deprived the Cubs of immediately seeing what their lineup would look like with his and Soler’s bats present at the same time. Renteria has given little to no thought about how he will deploy the two when both are available.
“I’ll kind of figure that out as we go along,” he said. “Right now, I have him where I have him. We’ll see how he fits when everybody’s healthy and we see how some of the matchups play out. You would have to allow me an opportunity to at least see him a little bit before I start deciding on how I’m going to proceed.”
Meanwhile, Renteria was doing what he could to ease Soler’s transition.
“I welcomed him, made sure he got together with [third-base coach Gary Jones] to make sure he’s got the signs, and let him know that if there’s anything we can do for him to let us know, but to just go out there and have some fun,” Renteria said.
Did Soler have anything Renteria could do for him?
“He just smiled,” the manager said. “This is a great opportunity. They’re going to be playing on the biggest stage of the game of baseball, and you want them to feel comfortable. You want them to know that you’re here for them and you’re pulling for them. You want them to have a sense that we appreciate the situation and the circumstances they’re in, and we’re hoping that they have success.”