Second coming of Schwarber not enough to lift Cubs from doldrums

SHARE Second coming of Schwarber not enough to lift Cubs from doldrums

ATLANTA – This is where it’s supposed to start getting easier for the Cubs.

Fresh from a much-needed break. Seventeen games in a row against sub-.500 teams.

Second coming of Kyle Schwarber.

So what in the name of Herman Franks is going on around here?

Despite three hits from slugging prospect Schwarber in his heralded return from the minors, the rest of the lineup combined for just four hits in Friday night’s 4-2 loss to the pedestrian Atlanta Braves in the first game back from the All-Star break.

It’s the 14th time in the last 20 games the Cubs have scored two or fewer, a trend that led in part to the decision to recall Schwarber – who also made his first big-league start behind the plate.

“Tough game, close game. We’ve played a lot of them,” said Kyle Hendricks, who saw his 22 1/3-innign scoreless streak end with an unearned run in the first, but allowed only one earned run – his first since June 24 – in 5 2/3 and left with a no-decision.

“[Schwarber] was awesome,” Hendricks added. “We talked a lot before the game just to get that rapport going. He picked it all up and followed the game plan great. Very mature. Very mature.”

It was Schwarber’s throwing error on Nick Markakis’ steal that led to the unearned run, and he was called for catcher’s interference to extend the sixth.

“But for his first start catching in the big leagues, pretty damn good,” Hendricks said. “You’ve got to give it to him.”

Pitching for the first time since giving up Jhonny Peralta’s winning ninth-inning homer 10 days earlier, Pedro Strop loaded the bases in the eighth with two out, then surrendered a two-run double to Eury Perez for Friday’s winner.

“The stuff is there. I feel good. Nothing hurts,” Strop said. “It’s just not going my way right now.”

Manager Joe Maddon said, “I still believe he’s one of the best,” and plans to keep using Strop.

Meanwhile, the Cubs seemed to have little response Friday for the meeting Maddon held before the game, reminding of what’s at stake the final 2 ½ months and the playoff position they currently hold.

“It’s up to us to make sure at the end of the season the same thing can be said,” Maddon said. “And our goal is to win the division. Our goal is not simply to qualify.”

That’s going to have to start with the next 16 against these teams.

“It’s just fundamentals. That’s what it gets down to,” Hendricks said. “Hopefully, we can get that roll going against these teams in the second half and get off to a hot start.”

If there was a bright spot, it was Schwarber, who’s back in place of the injured Miguel Montero (sprained thumb), who was placed on the disabled list Friday.

His 3-for-4 game, which included a double, makes him 11-for-26 (.423) including his six-game debut as an interleague DH last month.

“He swung the bat well, and really actually caught very well, too. I liked what he did a lot,” said Maddon, who added the 22-year-old rookie was getting help from the dugout handling the game. “We were working with him. But he did really well. I liked his trips to the mound. He showed great composure and poise.

“When he went out there and talked, he was not taken by the moment. He was really good.”

Maddon downplayed the errors and talked up the blocked ball in the dirt in the eighth.

“I felt good back there today,” said Schwarber, whose catching skills have been questioned by evaluators since he was drafted last year. “I had that one get away from me. That’s going to happen sometimes. You’re going to make some bad throws here and there. You’ve got to limit those.

“But I felt like I received the ball good back there. And Kyle was doing a great job. …

“I tried to get here a little early and go over the scouting report. And I did my own and then I tried to compare notes with Kyle’s. We had some disagreements here and there [on pitches during the game], but it wound up being the right pitches. At the end of the day it’s what our pitcher wants. But we always try to stay on the same page as much as possible.”

How much time Montero will miss is up in the air. He saw a hand specialist in Chicago Thursday was to see another one this weekend in Arizona before starting his rehab work at the team’s facility there.

Unlike his last “pit stop” for the interleague games, Schwarber may have an opportunity to earn a roster spot through the end of the year.

“It’s all in my hands,” he said. “I want to help this team win, and I want to do what I can to be productive. So there’s no added pressure on me. I’m just going to go out and play my game and help this team win, do the little things right. I feel like if I’m being a good team guy, I’ll put myself in a good situation.”

He played 36 games in left field last year, and could wind up getting time there, too, if he keeps hitting and Maddon feels the need to have his bat in the lineup more often.

Maddon said the team has planned for him to get time behind the plate in a rotation with David Ross and Taylor Teagarden, but there are no plans for Schwarber to catch at least two of the veteran “stuff” guys at the front of the rotation, Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta.

If Friday was any indication, Maddon will be looking for every chance to get Schwarber regular at-bats. He had three of the five hits against Braves starter Julio Teheran, who couldn’t finish the fifth before leaving with his pitch count at 90.

And still they scored only twice against him and a soft middle of the Braves pen.

“We do have to become more offensive, there’s no question,” Maddon said.

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