Chicago baseball report: Luis Vázquez gets the call from Cubs — and White Sox exec Josh Barfield helps honor the Negro Leagues

The Cubs are finally beginning to see more division opponents.

They hit the road to St. Louis this weekend for their first series of the season against the Cardinals before heading to Milwaukee for the first time in 2024. The Cubs then welcome the Cincinnati Reds to Wrigley Field to kick off the next homestand, a 10-game window to potentially create some separation within the National League Central.

The White Sox conclude their stretch of 13 consecutive games against American League East teams, continuing their series against the Baltimore Orioles and then seeing the Toronto Blue Jays again. The Sox just lost two of three to the Blue Jays in Toronto.

Every Friday during the regular season, Tribune baseball writers will provide an update on what happened — and what’s ahead — for the Cubs and White Sox. Want more? Sign up for our new newsletters.

Opportunity knocks for Luis Vázquez

Vázquez saw Triple-A Iowa manager Marty Pevey’s name pop up on his phone Sunday, closed his eyes and prayed: “This might be it.”

When Vázquez answered, Pevey asked if he knew why he was calling. The Puerto Rican native told his manager he hoped it was the news he had been waiting for since the Cubs drafted him as a teenager in 2017. Pevey congratulated Vázquez, who joined the Cubs on Tuesday for his first big-league call-up.

Vázquez, 24, had a feeling his opportunity might be coming when he started four consecutive games at third base last week. Until then, all but one of his starts for Iowa this year came at shortstop.

“It crossed my mind,” Vázquez said Tuesday through an interpreter. “My job is to help the team and contribute. Ultimately, it’s about winning. I’m willing to go out there and do whatever is needed.”

Vázquez estimated 30 to 40 family members from his hometown of Orocovis, Puerto Rico, came to Wrigley Field and saw him make his big-league debut as a defensive replacement in the top of the ninth inning in Wednesday’s 9-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves.

Known as a glove-first player, Vázquez took a big step forward offensively last year and put himself on the Cubs’ radar by producing a .257/.382/.428 slash line with 20 extra-base hits and 40 RBIs in 66 games at Triple A. Vázquez’s work ethic and strides on the mental side of his offensive game didn’t go unnoticed by the organization.

“It’s a good example of the more a guy gets the chance to play and log at-bats with quality professional coaching, guys with good aptitude can continue to get better and better,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “He’s taking the swing-decision stuff to heart and he’s continued to improve.”

Josh Barfield honored to pay tribute to Negro Leagues

Josh Barfield laughed when asked if he had the chance to take a few swings in preparation for Saturday’s Hall of Fame East-West Classic.

“I haven’t but I need to,” Barfield told the Tribune on Tuesday in Toronto. “I’ve been so busy with work, but I might sneak into the cages.”

The Sox assistant general manager will participate in the game, officially titled the “Hall of Fame East-West Classic: A Tribute to the Negro Leagues All-Star Game,” at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The event is part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s salute to Black baseball. The game will take place the same day the museum opens its new exhibit, “The Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball.”

“Anytime you get to honor the people that come before you, specifically the Negro Leagues and the new exhibit they’re opening up, it’s really special,” Barfield said. “My whole life, I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up in this game, whether as the son of a major-leaguer (Jesse Barfield), a player (from 2006-09 for San Diego and Cleveland) and now on this side.

“None of it would have been possible without the guys that came before me. To go there and pay tribute to them, it’s all really cool.”

Adam Jones, David Price, Dexter Fowler and Curtis Granderson are some of the other former major-leaguers listed on the rosters for the game.

“Edwin (Jackson), I wouldn’t be surprised if he hit 95 (mph),” Barfield said. “I’m really excited to see (José) Contreras. I don’t know how old he is, but I’ve heard he’s been pitching as recently as a few weeks ago.

“Hopefully we make it through without too many injuries.”

Number of the week: 2-14

With Monday’s 9-3 loss to the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, the Sox fell to 2-14 in series openers. They are 0-8 in road series openers.

Week ahead: Cubs

  • Friday: at Cardinals, 7:15 p.m., Marquee

  • Saturday: at Cardinals, 6:15 p.m., Fox-32

  • Sunday: at Cardinals, 6:10 p.m., ESPN

  • Monday: at Brewers, 3:10 p.m., Marquee

  • Tuesday: at Brewers, 6:40 p.m., Marquee

  • Wednesday: at Brewers, 6:40 p.m., Marquee

  • Thursday: at Brewers, 12:10 p.m., Marquee

With shortstop Dansby Swanson and second baseman Nico Hoerner returning to the lineup this week, the Cubs regained some defensive stability, particularly up the middle. Vázquez’s call-up gives the Cubs middle-infield insurance if Swanson or Hoerner needs a day off as they come back from, respectively, knee and hamstring ailments.

“It made some sense to prioritize defense right now, so that was really the the main focus of the decision,” Hoyer said Tuesday of Vázquez’s promotion. “Normally those guys play there a lot, but if we have to give them more days off or give them some rest, we think we have a defender here that we feel really good about.”

The Cubs defense collectively hasn’t been playing at the elite level Hoyer envisioned coming into the season. Their minus-10.5 “Def” metric entering Thursday was tied with the Oakland Athletics for fifth-worst in the majors, while their minus-10 defensive runs saved (DRS) ranked 24th. With less experienced defenders at third base (Christopher Morel) and first base (Michael Busch), game reps are especially important.

“Christopher’s work throughout the season from Day 1 has been very, very good, very consistent,” manager Craig Counsell said. “I feel like we’ve made progress.

“Busch’s experience over there, a lot of it to me has been we just needed to get him in the game at the position a lot. To me, the plays at first base are more difficult to practice. The game speed of it is important to experience. But having said that, there’s still plenty of things we can do with Michael and are trying.”

Week ahead: White Sox

  • Friday: vs. Orioles, 6:40 p.m., Apple TV+

  • Saturday: vs. Orioles, 1:10 p.m., NBCSCH

  • Sunday: vs. Orioles, 1:10 p.m., NBCSCH

  • Monday: vs. Blue Jays, 1:10 p.m., NBCSCH

  • Tuesday: vs. Blue Jays, 6:40 p.m., NBCSCH

  • Wednesday: vs. Blue Jays, 6:40 p.m., NBCSCH

  • Thursday: off

The Sox recalled Nick Nastrini from Triple-A Charlotte to start Wednesday against the Blue Jays. The return did not go as he’d hoped.

Nastrini allowed eight earned runs on seven hits with six walks in 3 1/3 innings in a 9-2 loss. He said he didn’t do a good job showing his fastball up.

“The fastballs that were up were too up,” he said. “And the fastballs I tried to go up I was also yanking down, and so I wasn’t salvaging the upper third of the zone. When I don’t do that, it makes it tough to pitch.

“When you’re only pitching in the bottom half of the zone, they’re looking in one spot. They’re great hitters, they’re going to make adjustments and hit the ball when you throw the ball in one spot.”

Manager Pedro Grifol said the right-hander is in line to face the Blue Jays again during a three-game series beginning Monday at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“I’m eager and curious to see how he bounces back in five days against the same team, probably the same lineup,” Grifol said. “I want him to learn from this, I want him to think about it, I want him to throw his bullpen thinking about (Wednesday). And I want him to get to work and be ready to go in five days.”

What we’re reading this morning

This week in Chicago baseball

May 25, 1982: Fergie Jenkins is the 7th pitcher to strike out 3,000 batters

The Cubs pitcher reached the milestone by striking out Garry Templeton in the third inning of a 2-1 loss in San Diego.

When you think of Jenkins in a Cubs uniform, you think about the 284 career wins, the 3,192 strikeouts, the 267 complete games and, of course, that fateful 1969 season. He waited a long time to join Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo as statue-worthy Cubs, but it was worth the wait. It happened on May 20, 2022.

May 29, 1962: Cubs hire Buck O’Neil as the first Black on-field coach in MLB history

His debut was the next day. O’Neil played, managed, coached and scouted for nearly eight decades. He was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022.

“I have never told anyone this before, but I was the one who talked to (then-Cubs owner) P.K. Wrigley and asked him to hire Buck,” Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks said in 2006.

“That had always been between just me and Buck. I’m saying this with love today: It was me. I said to Mr. Wrigley: ‘There is a man I know who has a lot of talent with baseball. It’s Buck O’Neil.’”

O’Neil, one of the game’s greatest ambassadors, was elected to the Hall of Fame through the Early Baseball Era committee on Dec. 5, 2021.

He was a three-time All-Star during 10 seasons with the Memphis Red Sox and Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. O’Neil, who died in 2006, helped found the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo. The Hall of Fame’s John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, established in 2007, is named in his honor.

May 29, 2013: Dioner Navarro has the 1st 3-homer game of his career, connecting from both sides of the plate for the Cubs

He drove in a career-high five runs and scored four times in the Cubs’ 9-3 win over the White Sox at Wrigley Field.

Navarro, who went 3-for-3, became the first Cubs catcher with three homers in a game since George Mitterwald on April 17, 1974, and the first Cubs player to belt three home runs in one day since Aramis Ramírez in 2010.


“I’m not really surprised by it because I think it’s a measure of a successful professional, and that’s what Kyle has been. He’s ready for anything.” — Craig Counsell on Kyle Hendricks’ upbeat comments Wednesday to reporters when the veteran discussed the Cubs moving him to the bullpen