PHOENIX — Kris Bryant won’t admit that it has anything to do with his recent power outage.
But the sprain he suffered at the crease in his left hand between the pinkie and ring fingers persists as a painful, daily issue he treats and plays through — and might play through the rest of the season.
For a team that just lost its hottest hitter, Willson Contreras, to a hamstring injury, a compromised Bryant could prove even more costly to the Cubs for the slack the reigning MVP was expected to help pick up in Contreras’ absence — fair or not.
“It’s only fair if he’s really feeling 100 percent,” manager Joe Maddon said before the Cubs lost to the Diamondbacks 6-2 to lose sole possession of first place in the National League Central.
“Otherwise, I’ll take what he’s got. I’ll absolutely take what he’s got,” Maddon said. “Even if you’re not getting everything he’s capable of, it’s still probably a lot more than the average guy gives.”
Maddon’s point was underscored the first two games of this weekend’s series at Chase Field, where Bryant reached base in 9 of 10 trips to the plate. He has six hits, two walks and took a pitch off his elbow.
The streak ended when he flied out to end the seventh inning.
Bryant’s persistence has not prevented the Cubs from losing seven of their last 10 games. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have won eight straight to forge a virtual tie for first.
Maddon said he sees Bryant rediscovering his “niche” at the plate. But it has been a painful, sometimes tedious process, and so far has seemed to cost some of the natural power that resulted in 39 home runs last year.
“It’s brutal,” said Bryant, who suffered the injury when his hand caught third baseman Johan Camargo’s cleat as he slid head-first into third July 19 in Atlanta.
“Every day it swells up,” he said. “It’s actually kind of annoying to have to go into the training room every day and just do all this work just to feel good. But sometimes you’ve got to go through that.”
Bryant, who sat out the next game after the injury, hasn’t missed another game since.
“I feel fine [at the plate],” he said after reaching all five trips to the plate Friday. “I’d like to get the ball in the air a little more but it’s tough to complain with a day like that.”
Whether his inability to drive the ball in the air more often the last three weeks is because of the pain and swelling in his bottom hand on the bat, he’s not saying. But even the off day Thursday didn’t do much to alleviate it, suggesting it could persist as long as he plays through it.
Meanwhile, Bryant has found a way to do more with less power. When he legged out a double in the third inning, it was only his seventh six extra-base hit since the injury — only one of those a homer.
“Obviously, it has some impact. There’s no question about that,” said Maddon, who talked to Bryant before Friday’s opener in Phoenix to offer a day off if he needs it. “But I don’t know exactly how well or how bad he feels on a game-by-game basis. But even when he’s not 100 percent, he still contributes to winning.”
Despite the power drop, Bryant is 27-for-78 (.346) with six walks and a .398 on-base percentage since the injury and has been sharp at third base. That included a 5-3 double play to get Jon Lester out of a jam in the first inning of a game that remained scoreless until the sixth.
“There’s no excuses,” Bryant said. “You deal with stuff like this all the time — the sores, the aches, the pains. This year just happens to be my hand. But I wouldn’t use that as an excuse for anything.”
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