MILWAUKEE – The Cubs dugout emptied suddenly in the third inning Saturday night while Kris Bryant circled the bases after hitting a home run for the first time in his 21-game Cub career – teammates scurrying into the clubhouse to prank the rookie.
“Get to the dugout and nobody’s in there,” Bryant said. “It was pretty funny.”
Bryant quickly caught on and jogged through the tunnel toward the clubhouse, where he was met and assaulted by the uniformed mob – “kind of like a mosh pit,” he said, “punching me, all that stuff. It was fun.”
They might as well have turned down the lights, turned up the house music and danced the rest of the game away, for all the dissonance that followed in a 12-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.
If the first career homer for the top prospect in the game is the start of bigger things for Bryant (and by extension the Cubs), it also happened to serve as a dividing line Saturday night between this aspiring club’s potential and the significant flaws that have reared early in the season.
“It’s kind of been awhile. I did it. It’s a cool feeling. We had fun with it,” Bryant said. “It would have been nice to get a win out of it. But it will still be a day I’ll be able to remember.”
Bryant’s three-run shot to left-center off Kyle Lohse, in his 74th career at-bat, drove in rookie Addison Russell and Dexter Fowler for a brief 3-2 lead that turned out to be the high-water mark of the night – the Cubs’ first homer of the season that was worth more than two runs, no less.
After that, well, suffice to say the party was over by the time the team returned to the dugout after pounding on Bryant.
Russell’s error in the bottom of the third – the Cubs’ second of the game – turned into two unearned runs and a reminder that the Cubs rank last in the National League in fielding.
And when starter Travis Wood (2-2) lasted just four innings, it completed a second full turn through the rotation in which only Jon Lester and Jason Hammel reached six innings in a start.
Heading toward mid-May, media and barstool baseball conversation already is turning toward pitching that might be available near the trade deadline (Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels? Lohse?).
But Maddon’s not even glancing that direction, he said, despite recent struggles from Wood (4.96), who took a step back last year from his 2013 All-Star performance, and second-year Kyle Hendricks (5.61), who starts Sunday after struggling in all but one of five starts – and very questionable depth in the organization after that.
“You just keep putting them out there, man. You put your guys out there until it happens,” he said. “The work’s good. The work’s great, actually. For some of the guys, it’s just not playing all the way through yet. But it will.”
By that logic, Edwin Jackson and Chris Volstad should still be in the rotation.
“Obviously, you’ll talk about things internally and try to figure out if there’s a better way to do things,” Maddon said. “But our job is to make the guys out there as good as they possibly can be.”
Until then, catcher David Ross gets called to eighth-inning duty Saturday to preserve some bullpen arms and lend some 74-mph levity to the dispiriting look of things during a 2-6 slide.
And infielder Jonathan Herrera puts on the wrong road jersey before entering the game in the sixth inning — the “Chicago” (instead of everybody else’s “Cubs”) at least providing some direction for the club once it’s done in Milwaukee Sunday.
“We haven’t really hit any kind of a stride yet,” Maddon said, adding that it’s coming – the better pitching, the three-run homers like Bryant’s.
“All that stuff’s in our future.”