The fourth-year I-Cubs skipper and former first base coach with the Oakland A’s is well known throughout the clubhouse as a fun-loving practical joker. When Aardsma got the call, he wasn’t sure what Quade’s true motives were at first.
Thankfully, April Fool’s Day was over two weeks ago.
“He called at about 10 a.m. and asked if I wanted to leave early,” Aardsma said late Sunday evening from an airport in Denver, where he was scheduled to board a connecting flight to Los Angeles for the start of the Cubs three-game series with the Dodgers beginning Monday evening.
“My response was, ‘Uh, I don’t know!’ I mean, you never know if the guy’s going to play a trick on you or not, but he said the Cubs had called me up and wanted me to get out to L.A. in time for [Monday].”
Indeed, the Cubs made their second roster move in as many days on Sunday, promoting the 24-year-old Aardsma to Chicago and placing OF Angel Pagan on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring.
On Saturday, the club re-called RHP Roberto Novoa from Iowa and sent RHP Michael Wuertz to Triple-A. Wuertz, however, will not join the Iowa team until Monday, according to one Iowa official.
Aardsma dazzled team officials this spring by re-discovering the zip on his fastball and shoring up his primary off-speed pitch -- his curveball. His velocity had climbed back into the upper 90s after struggling to reach the 90 mph plateau for parts of last season at Double-A West Tenn.
“The word in Spring Training was that they wanted me to stay in the bullpen and start the year at Iowa and be the closer there,” said Aardsma, who began 2005 as a starter for the San Francisco Giants AA team before he was traded with Jerome Williams for LaTroy Hawkins in late May.
“I understand that my role with the big league club will probably be a little different as the emergency guy or as the early guy out of the ‘pen,” Aardsma noted. “I don’t care what kind of role it is as long as it’s with the team.”
To begin the year at Triple-A, Aardsma tossed seven shutout innings, allowing two hits in five appearances. He picked up a win in relief and also notched two saves.
With an impressive spring and a fast start to the regular season in Des Moines, a promotion to the major league club at some point this year was inevitable, veteran Iowa broadcaster Deene Ehlis believed.
“He was very impressive,” Ehlis said. “You knew at some point that he would be called up. Early on, he was unhittable. Opponents had a really tough time touching anything too hard, because he was able to throw strikes, spot the ball and work in some good off-speed pitches to keep hitters off-balance. With the way he was pitching, it was only a matter of time.”
Ehlis added that Aardsma had continued to reach between 95-97 mph on the radar gun in his first five appearances this season. The Giants’ first overall pick in the 2003 draft was with the Cubs Triple-A team in Round Rock, Texas, for their four-game series against the Express prior to the promotion.
The move back into the bullpen helped Aardsma relocate the velocity on his fastball enough to focus more on perfecting his breaking ball. Toward the end of last season, he was gradually throwing harder, at times reaching 94-95 mph on the radar gun. By the time he joined the Arizona Fall League in October, he was topping out at 97 mph.
“There’s no question that coming out of the bullpen, there’s a lot more energy involved,” Aardsma said. “The adrenaline is very high when the game is on the line in the ninth inning. That kind of feeling makes you want to come to the ballpark every day.”
The Cubs wanted to go with 12 pitchers for the upcoming road trips to Los Angeles and St. Louis, and the addition of Aardsma allows them to do that. The team is 7-4 in their first 11 games with a combined ERA of 4.08 and fresh off taking two of three games from the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park over the weekend.
“I just want to contribute and help the Cubs win,” a modest Aardsma said. “I’ve had some success early on at Iowa and I want to carry that on to the big league club.”
E-mail Steve Holley: firstname.lastname@example.org.