Home News Shota Imanaga’s stellar MLB debut fuels Chicago Cubs’ win over Colorado Rockies

Shota Imanaga’s stellar MLB debut fuels Chicago Cubs’ win over Colorado Rockies

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Shota Imanaga treated his major-league debut Monday as if he was still in spring training.

Go to bed, wake up and it’s another game. Chicago Cubs fans, though, made sure Imanaga knew he had their support, cheering him as he made the trek from the Wrigley Field home dugout to left field for his pregame warmup.

“It just showed how much passion and respect they have for the players so I just wanted to answer that and pitch well,” Imanaga said through interpreter Edwin Stanberry.

By the time Imanaga’s first big-league start ended on a chilly afternoon in the home opener, the Japanese left-hander dazzled, setting up 40,072 fans to sing “Go Cubs Go” as the Cubs went through the handshake line following their 5-0 win over the Colorado Rockies.

The Cubs’ offense finally broke through Dakota Hudson in the bottom of the sixth. Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki both singled to open the inning, setting up Christopher Morel’s Little League home run two batters later. Colorado left fielder Nolan Jones whiffed fielding Morel’s single, causing the ball to roll to the wall. Happ and Suzuki scored, and Morel scampered home when Nolan’s throw and the subsequent attempt home were off the mark. The three runs off two Jones errors on the play was the opening the Cubs needed in the tough weather conditions.

The Rockies could not solve Imanaga. He tossed six shutout innings, the deepest outing by a Cubs starter in the early season, and struck out nine without walking a batter. Imanaga joined rare company in the process of securing his first win. He became the first Cubs pitcher with at least six scoreless innings and nine strikeouts in his MLB debut since 1901 and tied Dutch Reuther (1917) and Jordan Wicks (2023) for the second-most strikeouts in a big-league debut in franchise history.

Imanaga took a no-hitter into the sixth inning when the Rockies tallied back-to-back two-out hits. He quickly locked in on Jones, striking him out on three pitches following an automatic ball from a pitch clock violation. Imanaga slapped his mitt and yelled, “Let’s go!” after getting out of the inning to keep the game tied.

“He’s a pretty fiery competitor,” Happ said. “Obviously you don’t get that in spring training. You’re not going to be fist-pumping coming off the mound in a spring training game. With that atmosphere, with the crowd, to see his kind of presence and how much he cares is pretty cool. I think as we get going in the summer, you’ll see a lot more of that.”

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Shota Imanaga celebrates a strikeout to end the top of the sixth inning against the Rockies on Monday, April 1, 2024, in the home opener at Wrigley Field. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)
Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Shota Imanaga celebrates a strikeout to end the top of the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies on Monday, April 1, 2024, in the home opener at Wrigley Field. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

Imanaga’s continued appreciation of Chicago sports fans was on display by choosing “Chelsea Dagger,” the Blackhawks goal celebration song, as his warmup music as he took the mound at Wrigley Field for the first time. Imanaga, who initially heard the song when he went to a Hawks game in November, picked it for Cubs fans.

“I want to be able to make sure they’re happy about the songs I pick and so I can get acclimated to the culture over here,” Imanaga said.

Three-and-a-half hours before Imanaga took the mound, shortstop Dansby Swanson initially played coy when asked what makes the lefty so special.

“I can’t give you the secrets because then everybody will know,” Swanson quipped. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s obviously got a unique kind of like profile in terms of just how he throws and how the ball moves. So it’s a little bit deceptive for most people.”

The Rockies had no answer for Imanaga’s splitter. He generated 12 whiffs on the 24 splitters he threw Monday. Imanaga, who finished with 20 total swing-and-misses, said he’s had a good feel for his splitter since the start of spring training and was able to carry that into his start versus the Rockies. Because Imanaga has seen major-league hitters get to balls thrown closer to their bodies than players he faced in Japan, he wants to create depth between his splitter and four-seam fastball.



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