Jake Nix. Photo Credit: Grant Wickes.
San Diego — If Jacob Nix was feeling the pressure of his big league debut, it didn’t last very long. The 22-year-old righty, who just three weeks ago was talking with us in San Antonio, was met by almost 70 friends and family at Petco Park Friday night before turning in a masterful six innings.
Nix got into a little trouble in the first, loading the bases after two quick outs, but induced a ground ball to get out of it and never looked back. He retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced.
“At the very beginning of the game, [he was] kind of feeling for the offspeed a little bit, not really trusting it,” said manager Andy Green postgame. “Fastball command was there from the beginning, and as the game went on, he just got better and better.”
Nix, who posted a 1.84 ERA over 10 starts in the minors this summer, allowed only four hits over his six innings, throwing 63 of 88 pitches for strikes on the night. As he has all year, he leveraged his fastball, and both offspeed pitches to get weak contact rather than rack up strikeouts.
“They’re both weapons,” said batterymate Austin Hedges. “He was able to use them both as weapons, but the fastball’s the big weapon. He’s got location to both sides, he can elevate.”
Nix, number nine on our Top 20 Padres Prospects list coming into the year, held Texas League hitters to a .211 average this year, getting a lot of weak flyball contact. But on Friday he secured eight grounders and only three fly outs.
It’s a pretty remarkable journey for a guy who, four years ago had lost his professional contract with the Astros, lost his NCAA eligibility and didn’t have a clear next step.
“Obviously, it was a tough time,” said Nix. “I didn’t have a home. I didn’t have anywhere to play and I didn’t really have a whole lot of opportunity in front of me. It’s amazing how far you can come in that amount of time.
“I was really hoping for maybe a September call, and August is even better.”
Nix joins a rotation that includes fellow system products Brett Kennedy, Joey Lucchesi, Walker Lockett, and will have Eric Lauer when he returns from the disabled list.
Kennedy beat Nix to the Majors by two days, narrowly coming in behind reliever Trey Wingenter. We caught up with both of them to talk through their whirlwind weeks as well.
MadFriars: When did you find out you were getting the call?
Brett Kennedy: I knew on Sunday. I went in and Rod [Barajas] called me in the office and gave me the news I wasn’t pitching the next day, but I was pitching in Milwaukee. It was kind of an awesome feeling getting to share it with Rod and Bronswell [Patrick], who have been great coaches. It was a cool moment.
Did Bronswell have any final words for you before you headed up?
Brett Kennedy: They basically just said the way I pitch is different than a lot of guys, but don’t change anything, just keep attacking guys and don’t try to do too much. It was nice that they instilled that confidence, that I don’t have to change anything to be successful.
At what point did you start thinking about how and when you might get the opportunity?
Brett Kennedy: Probably after the all-star game, you knew that things were shaking up and I felt really good pitching and things were clicking. It wasn’t like when is it going to happen, but just, be ready when it does. So I just kept pitching my game and waiting for the call and it finally happened.
Have you had any further issues with the ankle since your stint on the disabled list?
Brett Kennedy: It was something really weird. I got it the first start of the year and battled through it for eight starts. It was ugly watching me on the bases because I kind of had a limp. It felt fine pitching. When I went to Arizona, I got it cleaned up and now it’s fine. I just had to get rest and lay off it for a bit.
Who was your signing scout, and have you had a chance to talk to him?
Brett Kennedy: It was Jim Bretz. He texted me and it was good. I love Jim because he took a shot on me. I had two teams that wanted to draft me, basically, and the Padres were one of them. He believed in me and it worked out, so it was really nice. We’ve talked throughout the season and in the offseason, I saw him. He’s been a great guy.
You had a really different pitch mix than those of us who’ve followed you through the system remember. Was that an intentional decision on your part?
Brett Kennedy: I think it was just the way the game played. I think they knew – they have a lot of information. They were trying to get to me early, a guy in his debut. After we had to realize they were hunting fastballs – you know, they have a lot of big power hitters – and my slider was really good. It was probably the best it’s been all year. So me and Hedges made an adjustment to keep them honest. And the slider was working, especially against the lefties.
If somebody had told you two years ago that you’d be that slider heavy in your big league debut, what would you have thought?
Brett Kennedy: I’ve always said, I’ll always do what I need to do to get hitters out. So if the time came like that, I would believe it. It’s not my game, but I always say I’m going to throw what gets hitters out. So if I have to throw 95 percent fastballs and they’re not on it, I’m not going to stop. But if they are on it, I have to make an adjustment. And they were.
MadFriars: Who gave you the word?
Trey Wingenter: It was Bronzy. He pulled me into the office and Rod gave me the good news.
Did you have a sense it was coming at all?
Trey Wingenter: It took me a minute. They tried to play it off with a little front – hey, watch some videos. I knew something was up, but it kind of blindsided me.
Walk us through what happened after you got the word?
Trey Wingenter: I didn’t have much time to think, really. I made a couple of calls – my family and girlfriend. Then I had to get out of there, do a quick load of laundry, get to the airport and get out of there.
I got in at like 2:00 a.m., went to sleep – I didn’t sleep that much – and got up for an early day game and was right in there. Everything happened really quick.
Did you have a time in there to stop and really breathe it in?
Trey Wingenter: On the flights to Chicago. That was good for me. I didn’t sleep a minute, but just tried to take it in and enjoy it. It was just really peaceful.
Have you heard from your signing scout?
Trey Wingenter: Steve Moritz, who is actually going to be here this weekend. We’ve had a really good relationship and kept up well. It’s nice for him to be here along with everyone else.
What has relationship been in terms of how often you touch base and what you talk about?
Trey Wingenter: Throughout the season, twice or three times. And I get to see him in spring training. He just kind of keeps up and sees how everything is going. He’s always been really encouraging and really supportive – he’s been great for me.
He said to just do the same thing you’ve been doing, just stick with your same routine. He and Rod were both saying that. What makes you good at this level will make you good at the next level. You can’t get up there and do anything different. It’s still the same game.
Were you able to hold that in your head when you got to Wrigley?
Trey Wingenter: I was telling myself that a lot, but it’s tough to do. It’s overwhelming the first few days. Hopefully, I’ll settle in during this homestand and get my routine and get everything back to being familiar and attacking it just like I did in other places.
What did you to get into the moment and remind yourself that, despite all the rest of it, you’re still standing on a mound and have to make pitches?
Trey Wingenter: It’s tough to do. But really, once I threw the first pitch to the first hitter, that’s when it became almost like a normal game. Not quite, but there was some familiarity there and after that, after I got out of the inning, it went back again.