Cubs mull return to leadoff for Kyle Schwarber despite past flop there

Anthony Rizzo might have proclaimed himself the greatest leadoff hitter of all time, but recent lineup trends suggest that he might not be used there anymore.

In the team’s never-ending search for an adequate answer at the top, manager Joe Maddon suggested Wednesday he is not against recycling hitters, leaving the door open for leadoff flop Kyle Schwarber to hit there again when he returns from the minors.

In fact, Maddon said Schwarber’s lengthy struggles leading off are “of zero concern” when it comes to making that decision.

“I’ve thought about it,” said Maddon, who used Willson Contreras as his leadoff hitter for the second time Wednesday. “I haven’t decided what I want to do with that yet.”

Kyle Schwarber at AAA Iowa.

After Schwarber was sent to the minors June 22 with a .171 average (.185 with a .304 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot), Maddon said he still looked at Schwarber as his best choice once he got his hitting approach right again.

By then, Rizzo was Maddon’s regular leadoff man, with Jon Jay taking over duties recently against right-handers as regulars returned from the disabled list.

After rumblings this week that Schwarber hasn’t been ruled out for a return by the end of the weekend, Maddon emphasized that Schwarber also could return to the leadoff spot.

“He would have struggled in the [No.] 8-hole,” Maddon said. “That had nothing to do with where he was hitting in the batting order. I find no connection between his struggle and where he was hitting in the batting order. It was just that he was struggling. Just missing his pitch. Fouling it off. That had nothing to do with placement in the batting order because he was not trying to be any kind of a different hitter. He was not trying to accept more walks. It was just a matter of he was just not hitting.

“I would not be concerned with putting him back there, just depending on what he looks like when he gets back.”

The Cubs rank ninth in the National League with a .321 on-base percentage from the leadoff spot and 13th in runs scored (51).

For what it’s worth, Maddon’s choice of Contreras against a left-handed starter goes back to “something I’ve been toying with all summer, wanting to do this.”

With switch hitter Ben Zobrist back at cleanup to protect Rizzo (back in his usual No. 3 spot), Maddon doesn’t see a lot of obvious choices.

Contreras led off with a single and later walked. In his other start, June 26 in Washington, he led off the game with a home run and went 2-for-4 in a victory.

Rizzo’s leadoff numbers in 13 -career starts there from June 13-28: 15-for-49 (.306) with six walks (.379 OBP), five homers (.694 slugging percentage), 11 runs and 12 RBI.

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

RELATED STORIES

Cubs reach .500 but anticipate more success.

MORRISSEY: Why do Cubs players need rest?