AUSTIN EDITION Wuertz finishes season strong at Cubs AAA
After completing another successful season of pitching in the Chicago Cubs minor league system, Mike Wuertz is home in Austin resting his arm and playing some golf.
Wuertz spent the summer playing Class AAA ball in Des Moines, Iowa. The season ended for Wuertz and his Iowa Cubs teammates on Labor Day.
This was the sixth season in the Cubs organization for Wuertz and his second playing triple-A ball. The biggest thing for Wuertz after another long season on the mound is that he stayed free from injury.
It also helped pitching less innings as he changed from a starter into a reliever. After struggling with a series of losses early in the season as a starting pitcher, Wuertz finished the season strong with a 2.70 ERA out of the bullpen in a set-up role.
"Overall, I think I might've found my spot in the bullpen," Wuertz said. "I had to get my feet wet, but I made a good adjustment and had a pretty good year. Physically I felt great, it helped to be playing in my second year in the Pacific Coast League."
Season of change
With a solid starting pitching rotation on the Cubs major league team, the only real chance for Wuertz to eventually make it to the big time is as a reliever. There is always a need for live arms coming out of the bullpen. For Wuertz, the move to the pen only made his arm livelier.
"For me, throwing one or two innings is a chance to give it all you've got," Wuertz said. "It really helped my velocity. I went from throwing the fastball at 92-93 m.p.h. as a starter to hitting 95 coming out of the pen.
"I came in a few times with the bases loaded and got out of jams, so I got used to the pressure. When you need to make one throw to get an out, it's exciting to make that kind of pitch. I've pitched in a lot of close games and always thrived on the pressure. I'm not one who will back down."
It appears Wuertz has already acquired that bulldog mentality needed by a reliever. Wuertz had always been one of the strikeout leaders on the team when he was a starter and the move to the pen has renewed his arm strength.
"I felt great coming out of the bullpen," Wuertz said. "There weren't many times I pitched on back-to-back days, so my arm wasn't tired at the end of the season. I like the relieving more, because you mentally stay in the game."
Six seasons of playing in the minor leagues has left Wuertz yearning for a shot at the majors. He came into this past season trying to impress the Cubs brass enough for a shot at a starter's spot in the majors, but by moving to the pen, he may have found the way to a call up next season.
Yet, he's still property of the Cubs and not a free agent. Wuertz came right out of high school and his first season in rookie ball didn't count toward free agency. At this point, he heads into next season uncertain of the future.
"There's so many possibilities," Wuertz said. "They could leave me on the triple-A roster or put me on the 40-man major league roster in spring training. If I don't get on the Cubs roster, then I'd be eligible for the Rule V draft and any team could pick up my contract.
"One thing that's frustrating is you don't hear a whole lot from the coaches. But moving to the bullpen will give me a good chance next season. I've been a starter for most of my career, so I have a lot of versatility."
Wuertz plans to stay in Austin until January, then move back to Des Moines and start working out with his strength and conditioning coach on the Iowa Cubs in preparation for another season.