No homers for Kris Bryant? No worries, say Cubs

SHARE No homers for Kris Bryant? No worries, say Cubs

Kris Bryant doesn’t have any homers, but he’s been all over the bases for the Cubs since his debut -- including 5 times Monday

ST. LOUIS – So the guy who led professional baseball in home runs last year has none in his first 17 games in the big leagues?

So what?

“Is he struggling? I don’t think so,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of prized rookie Kris Bryant.

Bryant, in fact, was moved up to the No. 3 spot in the Cubs order to see if it would make a difference in forcing pitchers to chance the strike zone a little more often with him. This after Bryant walked four times and singled in Monday’s loss to the Cardinals.

“That’s his whole season, what you saw [Monday],” Maddon said. “I give Kris a lot of credit for not expanding the zone, because they did not want to throw him a strike.”

Bryant didn’t get called up for his big-league debut until the ninth game of the season, but he led the team with 16 walks through Monday – a 22.2-percent rate uncommon not only for a rookie but especially for one thirsting for his first big-league homer. It bumped his .291 average up to a .458 on-base percentage.

Even on a Tuesday night in which he struck out his first two trips to the plate, the second one came on a checked-swing strike that otherwise would have taken the count full.

It’s obviously a small sample size – and speaks more to his reputation as a hitter to fear than a natural-grinder approach – but the last time he walked this often he was terrorizing college pitchers and out-homering most teams in the nation as a junior at the University of San Diego.

“My junior year I had a pretty good amount of walks, and I think it made me a better player,” Bryant said. “It kind of made me the player I am today. Just taking the same approach up there now.”

(In 773 minor-league plate appearances, Bryant walked 12.8 percent of the time.)

“If he keeps on-basing .450 I’ll be pretty happy,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “I think we’ve seen a lot of respect. [Monday] night in a 10-8 game with two outs and no one on [in the ninth] they threw him a 3-2 slider and let the tying run come to the plate rather than challenge him. I don’t think you see that very often with rookies.

“I think he’s done an unbelievable job of staying patient. It shows a lot of maturity. I’m not worried at all. … I don’t think he’s lost his power.”

Bryant, who’s the first Cub since Anthony Rizzo in April last season to walk four times in a game, takes pride in that.

“A lot of our job is to get on base and give your team a chance to score a run. I trust anyone hitting in front of me or behind me,” he said. “There’s more to the game than just hitting home runs, especially nowadays with a lot being said about getting on base and on-base percentage. If I’m on base I’m giving my team a chance.”

Batting behind Rizzo (which isn’t new) and ahead of Soler on Tuesday, Bryant singled home a run in the fifth in five at-bats as the Cubs lost 7-4 to the Cardinals.

“Listen, he’s done everything well,” Maddon said. “He’s going to hit his homers. He’s going to hit for a good average. By the end of the season, you’re going to see how good this kid actually is.”

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