CHICAGO – Every time Cubs relief pitcher Steve Cishek takes the mound, he takes a moment to read the laminated card he keeps in his back pocket.
Cishek, a 32-year-old right-hander from Falmouth, Massachusetts, has carried the Bible verse with him to the mound since 2011. Handwritten on the card is Colossians 3:23.
“With whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as you are working for the Lord and not for men,” it reads.
For Cishek, it serves as one last way to calm himself before he throws his first pitch.
“There’s so much pressure in this game,” Cishek said. “More than you can imagine. When you’re out there and the lights are on, your heart’s pumping, I like to slow down and read it. It helps me put everything in perspective.”
When he was coming up through the Marlins' minor league system, Cishek carried a card commemorating a neighbor’s son who had died. As time passed, he sweat through the card. He still wanted to keep something in his pocket, so he wrote his favorite scripture on a new card.
Cishek sweat through that, too, and eventually a clubhouse attendant suggested laminating the verse. Since 2011, he has carried the same card with him every time he takes the mound.
“It’s just a sense of calmness comes over me,” Cishek said. “I’m really quiet, soft-spoken, but when I’m pitching I’m really intense. Sometimes I can get too far into it where I’m just too amped up, so I’ve got to just slow it down a little bit.”
Cishek has had plenty of opportunities to put the card to use since joining the Cubs as a free agent before the 2018 season.
Cishek pitched in 80 games last season, totaling 70 1/3 innings. Only Brad Ziegler (82 games) of the Marlins and Diamondbacks made more appearances than Cishek in 2018.
With 19 appearances this season, Cishek is not quite at the league-leading pace (that belongs to Milwaukee Brewers reliever Alex Claudio with 23 appearances entering play Monday), but he’s still the Cubs’ most frequently used relief pitcher.
“I always want to be available,” Cishek said. “That’s something I pride myself on, staying healthy, being available to help the team in any capacity. Last year, it worked out. I stayed healthy and got used in various roles. To me, that’s why I play the game, why they’re paying me: to do whatever they want me to do.”
Through 19 innings this year, Cishek has a 2.84 ERA and a 1.158 WHIP, while allowing only one home run. His strikeout and walk rates are similar to 2018. His ground ball rate, however, has increased 13 percent.
Cishek likes the workload. Last year’s 80 appearances were 11 more than his previous career high.
“I’m the type that if I have a lot of days off, it might not be the best thing,” Cishek said. “I understand, too, that you need to find rest. Trying to find a happy medium can be tough, but I like to work a lot, especially if I’m in a groove and throwing well, I like to keep it that way."