MESA, Ariz. — A leaner, meaner Kyle Schwarber has the early stolen-base lead in the Cactus League. Is that a sign of things to come for the slugging left fielder, the result of all his work during the offseason?
‘‘It’s not a big goal,’’ Schwarber joked. ‘‘The situation just dictated it [Sunday against the Giants].’’
Whether Schwarber has what it takes to reach a career high in steals with, say, four this season, his real goals involve how he moves in the outfield and how much difference that makes in his playing time and overall production.
Schwarber said he doesn’t know how much weight he has lost (at least 20 pounds) since embarking on an offseason program that had as much to do with nutrition and portion sizes as weight training and running. What he does know is that he’s moving better, whether it’s on the bases or in the outfield.
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‘‘I feel that’s going to be a big key for me,’’ said Schwarber, who also has been cleared to ditch the knee brace he wore all last season after having knee surgery in 2016. ‘‘I would say a goal is to be really good at defense. I want to be a really solid defender out there and be out there and make those plays and go shake hands at the end of the game.
‘‘I don’t want to be the National League DH, know what I mean?’’
Most Cubs fans know exactly what he means. For all the talk about his first-half struggles — in and out of the leadoff spot — last season, Schwarber finished with a strong second half and a 30-homer season that eased many would-be concerns about his hitting as he prepares for 2018.
If his fielding can catch up, more at-bats are almost sure to follow because he might not get lifted for a late defensive replacement as often.
Schwarber has been putting in extra time with outfield coaches Doug Dascenzo and Will Venable and paying close attention to how the Cubs’ more accomplished outfielders do their jobs.
‘‘I just want to go out there and finish that game,’’ he said. ‘‘I take pride in what I do. I’m an outfielder now; that’s my job. I want to go out there and be really good in the outfield and not leave anything out.
‘‘That was kind of what this offseason was about. It wasn’t the year I wanted it to be [last season], so try to control what I can control. That’s what I’m doing now. Just go out there and work on defense and just try to keep getting better.’’
NOTE: The Cubs might get their first look at Shohei Ohtani, the two-way free agent who got away this winter, when they face the Angels on Friday. The Angels say Ohtani will pitch that day. Still to be determined is whether that will be against the Cubs or in a ‘‘B’’ game also scheduled that day.
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