ATLANTA — Cubs manager Joe Maddon raved again Monday afternoon that left fielder Kyle Schwarber’s back-to-college swing mechanics look so good that Maddon could envision taking the platoon label off Schwarber at some point.
It didn’t take long Monday night for fans to start wondering why Maddon hadn’t done it already.
With the left-handed-hitting Schwarber on the bench and rookie right-handed-hitter Mark Zagunis starting in his place for the second time in four games, left field turned into a drop zone for baseballs in the first inning. It set a sloppy tone for the opener of a three-game series against the Braves.
Two pitches into the game, Zagunis dropped a foul pop for an error. Ender Inciarte hit the next pitch over the wall in right-center.
Five batters later, with two outs, Zagunis failed to call for a routine fly that dropped in among him, shortstop Javy Baez and center fielder Albert Almora Jr. for a double. Brian McCann followed with a two-run single.
“It’s a good opportunity to keep him sharp right now,” said Maddon, who, as he did on Opening Day, deferred to the left-right platoon in starting Zagunis.
Which brings it back to Schwarber.
He’s already in the lineup for the second game of the series Wednesday against right-hander Julio Teheran.
But what about leaving him in left field daily, unless he needs a day off?
The converted catcher isn’t going to contend for a Gold Glove anytime soon, but he has turned himself into an average fielder in left. And the bat that hasn’t produced enough against left-handers to justify an every-day job looks a lot different since Schwarber decided before spring training to go back to the more comfortable stance and swing he used in college at Indiana.
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“I was squattier in college; I think that’s what everybody sees with the naked eye,” Schwarber said of the new old look, which helps produce a quicker, cleaner path to the ball. “It helps me stay through the ball, use my hands more. And, obviously, it’s something that’s comfortable.
“It feels good right now.”
Those mechanics by definition should make him more effective against lefties, and the tiny sample size of the last month appears to bear that out.
“He’s showing a better way to not give in to the lefty,” Maddon said. “His whole stance and everything he’s doing is different. So I’m curious to see how this plays out.”
Maddon pointed to the full-count walk Schwarber drew Sunday after the Rangers brought in left-hander Kyle Bird to face him with two outs and two on in the Cubs’ big sixth inning.
“Kyle’s making some great strides right now,” Maddon said. “Heads up, because what he’s doing right now can play against both sides.”
Maybe sooner rather than later?
Schwarber said getting away from his old swing in professional ball “just kind of evolved from getting more upright, more upright, more upright, and then trying to adjust to the high fastball, things like that.”
After two years of big-league experience that included a .356 on-base percentage and 26 home runs last year, he decided the path to his next level was the path most traveled.
“Just saying screw it, I’m going to go back to what I know, and put the foot down and go hit,” he said.
What he won’t do is go so far as to predict this might be a breakout year for him hitting left-handers.
“I feel good at the plate in general, and whoever I’m out there against, I’m going to go out there and compete against,” he said. “It doesn’t matter right or left, I just want to go out there and put in good quality at-bats for the team.
“But, like I said, I feel good at the plate [against] both.”