CLEVELAND – On a night the Cubs lost 4-3 to the mediocre Cleveland Indians, and bad weather caused two lengthy rain delays, and the Cubs gifted a first-inning run to the Indians on a passed ball, Cubs starter Jason Hammel seemed in awe of his team.
“This is the best group of young kids I’ve been around for sure,” said Hammel, who lost a chance to pitch more than four innings when the second delay hit in the fifth.
“Without a doubt. Especially with the impact that they’re making so fast.”
On this night it included the meteoric three-day rise of Kyle Schwarber from Class AA to fan-favorite for an extended stay in the majors.
Schwarber stepped to the plate with a man on and one out in the fifth inning and quickly fell behind 0-2 against Indians pitcher Danny Salazar – then laid off three straight balls and cracked a tying, two-run homer the opposite way to left field on the 3-2 pitch.
“There were a lot of cool emotions in there, just being able to tie a ballgame up and contribute,” said Schwarber, who was 2-for-4, the night after going 4-for-5 with a triple in a 17-0 win.
He’s 6-for-10 in three days in the majors. And even if he goes 12-for-12 with six homers the next three days, he’s headed back to the minors to catch everyday following Sunday’s final interleague game with the DH spot available.
Hammel suggested a growing lobby group in the clubhouse to try to keep Schwarber’s bat around longer. “We always want to lobby for guys who are hitting the ball hard like he is,” he said. “But it’s obviously not our realm.”
“He’s a tough out right now. That’s pretty impressive for a young guy that’s just coming up and getting his feet wet,” Hammel said. “We were expecting to maybe just get a look at him, but he’s actually made a pretty big impact in just the few games we’ve had him.”
Schwarber is the fourth of the Cubs’ top-four ranked prospects to play for the Cubs during this season of early success – the third to make his major league debut, joining Kris Bryant and Addison Russell.
When Hammel calls this group the best he’s been around, that’s not light and idle chatter.
The big right-hander came up in Tampa Bay and played on that 2008 World Series team that included 22-year-old rookie Evan Longoria, and other young stars Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist, an all-26-and-under starting rotation and a late season callup named David Price.
He then went to Colorado, where young Troy Tulowitzki was just getting established in a group that included a 23-year-old Dexter Fowler and a second-year Carlos Gonzalez.
And then he spent 2012-13 with the Baltimore Orioles, where Matt Wieters, Chris Jones and a 19-year-old Manny Machado were starting to make impacts.
What has set apart this Cubs group, so far, is the lack of weeks-long failure out of the chute in their careers – a rarity for any player, much less four in one group.
“Kudos to the front office for continuing to go through the draft and pick out great players,” Hammel said, acknowledging that sucking for several years helped create some especially high draft picks.
Among them is Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013, who is a leading Rookie of the Year candidate and who extended the longest active hitting streak in the majors to 14 games Thursday.
Right-fielder Jorge Soler, another rookie, batted in the top part of the lineup almost every day until a sprained ankle put him on the DL two weeks ago. And Addison Russell needed just four tough days after his debut before settling into a consistent production level – including sometimes spectacular play at second.
“It’s a great group of kids, and they’re going to be together for a long time,” said Hammel. “The sky’s the limit for this team.”
— Starlin Castro was fine after being hit with a pitch on the left forearm in the eighth inning Thursday night – fine except for the large, swollen bruise on his arm. He stayed in the game after a scary moment involving a quick exam by the trainer.
— Schwarber eventually got the ball he hit into the left-field seats Thursday, but only after a head-scratching ransom. “I had to sign a ball for the other guy,” he said of the standard part. “And I guess [Cleveland pitcher] Trevor Bauer had to sign a ball. Thanks, Trevor Bauer.” Must have just been a fan of Bauer, who didn’t pitch in either game of the series.