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2023 Cubs player profiles: Michael Rucker

Twenty-seventh in a series. Rucker has had his ups and downs but has mostly stayed in the major-league bullpen.

Photo by Matt Dirksen/Getty Images

Michael Patrick Rucker was drafted by the Cubs in the 11th round of the 2016 Major-League Draft. The odds of him making the major-league team from that spot are long, but Rucker put in his time in the minor-league system, surfacing first with a forgettable 2021 stint where he pitched 28⅓ innings and ended up with a 6.99 ERA.

Still he was effective enough in spots to get a spot in the 2022 bullpen, where he was much more effective, logging 54⅔ innings with a 3.42 ERA and 1.28 WHIP.

Now in 2023, he’s having trouble finding his stride and is currently with the Iowa Cubs, having been optioned May 30. He’s not alone in the current bullpen, which is struggling and keeping the team from keeping pace with the division leaders.

Odds are he’ll be back in Chicago before long, perhaps facing less-leveraged situations until he overcomes his issues. He has excellent strikeout numbers at 9.8 per nine innings, and though he walks a few people, that number isn’t terrible. His problem has been that he misses in the strike zone, and he’ll have to refine his approach with an eye toward greater command of his pitches.

Rucker has a five-pitch mix — fastball, slider, cutter, curve and change. His slider and change-up are his least-used pitches as he throws roughly 40% fastballs and mixes in the cutter and curve. His mid-90s 4-seamer has a tendency to flatten out and get hit hard, and he has been known to leave the curve up in the zone.

Fix those issues and you have an effective mid/short reliever.

Rucker is well-liked in the Cubs’ clubhouse. He made a nice gesture at the end of last season, about which Adbert Alzolay said “I think it was the first time that a teammate has come up to me and done a gesture like that with everyone here in the locker room with the pitchers...”

He’s found a little success this year, and no doubt would like to recapture some of his magic as otherwise he could be one of the odd men out as the bullpen coheres or congeals into its ultimate 2023 form.

A lot of his unprepossessing numbers are from one bad game. David Ross seems to like him, but it’s about the numbers. However...

“Outside of one outing, he’s thrown the ball really, really well,” Ross said Tuesday in Washington. “Filling up the strike zone, can spin it in the strike zone, cut it. He’s done a really nice job. It was nice of him to come in, clean that up a little bit and try to get us back in there.” — Andy Martinez.

He’s the only BYU alum plying his trade in MLB. Most of the time, anyway. the drive to Iowa seems longer than the trip to Chicago. Rucker knows the score.

“For a pitcher like Rucker, the drive from Iowa to the Windy City is quickened by the dream that awaits — Wrigley Field and all of its glory. Whereas the drive from Chicago to Des Moines is slowed by the same feelings that come on the day after Christmas — an emotional letdown.

“They call it ‘riding the shuttle’ between Des Moines and Chicago,” Rucker says. “I knew that getting bounced around was going to be an option. I just know I have to perform regardless of where I’m pitching.” — Deseret News.

He’ll be back. Whether he comes back next year is up in the air, though.