GENEVA – Scott Baker has yet to throw a pitch at the big-league level since signing a one-year, $5.5 million contract with the Cubs last November, but the 31-year-old right-hander hopes he took a step toward returning to the majors Friday night after another rehabilitation outing with the Kane County Cougars.
Making his fourth appearance with the Cubs‘ Class A affiliate, Baker helped the Cougars salvage the final game of a three-game series with Beloit, throwing four innings in their 5-2 victory.
The win snapped a five-game losing streak for the Cougars (51-74, 21-38 second half).
Baker got off to a shaky start, giving up three hits – including a home run – and walking a pair in the first two innings.
“I felt like I started off a little slow, a little lethargic, but I kind of picked it up as the game went on,” Baker said.
Baker’s fastball was topping out at about 86 mph in the first two innings, but he was throwing it consistently at 88-89 mph over his final two innings of work, in which he allowed just one hit and faced only six batters, striking out two.
“Velocity’s kind of a byproduct to me of arm strength and good mechanics,” Baker said. “In the beginning, I was kind of struggling to kind of find it a little bit. So, once you’re trying to find it and just trying to guide it or aim it – that never has a good effect. That’s always an adverse effect for me when I’m trying to guide the ball.”
The only run Baker yielded was on Matt Olson’s solo homer to right leading off the second. It was his 22nd round-tripper of the season and 85th RBI, putting him in the top three in each of those categories in the Midwest League.
The Cougars tied the game in the bottom of the second off Beloit starter Deyvi Jimenez on an RBI single by Trevor Gretzky, who also started the winning four-run rally in the bottom of the seventh with a one-out single to center.
Gretzky is hitting .412 in his first five games with the Cougars since being promoted from Boise.
Jeimer Candelario’s two-out, bloop single to left off Trevor Bayless (1-2) scored Gretzky and Gioskar Amaya, and Rock Shoulders followed with a two-run homer that just cleared the left-field wall.
Justin Amlung (5-4) followed Baker to the mound and threw three scoreless innings of relief to pick up the victory. Andrew McKirahan pitched the final two innings, allowing a run in the eighth.
Baker, who has not pitched in the majors since August 2011 due to right elbow problems that eventually required Tommy John surgery last year, said he’s not sure what his timetable will be going forward.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he said. “I’m day-to-day. I just try to be a good employee and do as I’m told. I’m not sure where the next step will be.”
The Cougars will open a seven-game road trip, their last trip of the year, with the opener of a four-game series at 6:35 p.m. tonight in Wisconsin against the Timber Rattlers.