Jeremy Jeffress wants to help the Cubs lock down their bullpen — and feed fans with his fried seafood truck

Tribune Content Agency

MESA, Ariz. — Fried seafood has been one of Jeremy Jeffress’ lifelong passions, and the new Cubs reliever hopes his food truck can make a visit to Wrigley Field this season.

“That’s a passion of mine,” Jeffress said. “Bring good food to people and good smiles and good excitement.”

If Jeffress can rekindle the National League All-Star form he displayed in 2018 with the Brewers, the Cubs’ chances of maintaining leads they lost in 2019 can become more appetizing.

Jeffress, 32, signed a one-year, $850,000 contract with a chance to earn an additional $200,000 in incentives. He became a bargain after he posted a 5.02 ERA and a 1.365 WHIP in 48 appearances last season with the Brewers, and the velocity on his four-seam fastball dropped from 96.2 mph to 94.4, according to Fangraphs.

A right shoulder injury in spring training was the first of many problems for Jeffress, who was released on Sept. 5.

“Last year my hip started to hurt, it didn’t react off a pinch-hit swing, which was kind of weird,” Jeffress said. “But after that, it didn’t heal right and needed more strength. I took care of that this offseason, coming back stronger than ever. It’s going to be good.”

If Jeffress’ velocity returns, he can he help a bullpen that posted only a 23.6 strikeout rate and an 11% walk percentage — 14th in the NL.

Several Cubs hitters believe Jeffress’ 2019 season was an anomaly.

“He never gave in when we faced him,” said David Bote, who is 0-for-4 lifetime against Jeffress. “One of my favorite things about having a guy like him on our side is instead of having to face him, he’s going out there and will bear down, whether he has his stuff or not.

“You’re going to get a bulldog who wants to shove it down somebody. To play defense behind a guy like that and having him in the clubhouse ignites you.”

Jason Heyward, Albert Almora Jr. Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras and Bote have at least four at-bats against Jeffress and are a combined 0-for-28 with 12 strikeouts against him.

“One of the first things I told him was that I was glad he’s here because I don’t have to face him anymore,” said Almora, who is hitless in four career at-bats against Jeffress. “His energy rubs off when you’re around him.”

After being discarded by the Brewers — who selected him in the first round of the 2006 draft and traded twice for him — Jeffress is grateful to remain part of the rivalry — now with Cubs.

“The guys think that they didn’t want to hit off me, well, I didn’t want to face those guys,” Jeffress said. “You’ve got to be on your ‘A’ game. I remember watching the entire nine innings on days I didn’t have to pitch, and those games were intense.

“The bullpen usually helped decide those games, whether it was a pinch-hit blooper or a double play that didn’t get turned usually cost someone the game.”

Jeffress is aware he’s being asked to help fill the void caused by the loss of three free agents — Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek and Brandon Kintzler. That trio provided the most experience and dependability to a bullpen that posted the eighth lowest ERA (3.98) in the National League and a 58% save rate, ahead of only the Marlins and Rockies.

“Those three guys were part of a huge pen last year,” Jeffress said. “It is all about experience — the guys who have been through the big moments and know how to handle them, how to prepare once they come.

“There are some guys who have to step up this year. Everybody, including me, has to step up in those big moments because that’s what it’s going to take to win championships.”

Since embarking on a professional career, Jeffress has persevered. He was diagnosed with juvenile epilepsy in 2013, according to He served a 100-game suspension in 2009 for his third violation of minor-league baseball’s program for a drug of abuse, believed to be marijuana.

And in 2016, Jeffress was arrested in the Dallas area for driving while intoxicated while pitching for the Rangers and enrolled in a rehab center to avoid a suspension.

Since then, Jeffress has stayed out of trouble, and his efforts to bring his food truck, named “JJ’s Bread & Butter,” is his way of sharing the fried seafood he enjoyed dating to his youth in South Boston, Va.

“I’m trying to bring it around and let people know,” Jeffress said. “A good meal goes a long way, and it’s cheap too. Don’t worry — it’s not expensive.”


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