Noise reduction: Kris Bryant plans to ‘chill’ to get hot for surging Cubs

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Bryant after scoring in the first inning Monday in Miami.

MIAMI — Cubs star Kris Bryant admits he might have started thinking too much at the plate. Maybe he even put some extra pressure on himself as he returns from last year’s shoulder injury.

And most days, the former National League MVP hasn’t looked especially upbeat at the ballpark.

But all the intense scrutiny over his slow start? All the “What’s wrong with Bryant” handwringing in mid-April?

“It doesn’t surprise me, it really doesn’t,” Bryant said as the Cubs wrapped up a three-game sweep of the Marlins this week. “It’s not just me. It’s everybody.”

The season wasn’t even three weeks old when the Cubs left Miami after a 6-0 victory Wednesday night.

And the former Rookie of the Year who has been the Cubs’ best hitter — when healthy — during his four years in the big leagues is drawing as much attention for his struggles as the bullpen is for its turnaround via social media, local airwaves and deep-dive analytics sites.

“It’s getting more [like that]. It’s just where the world’s going, not just sports but just life in general,” he said. “Everything is scrutinized. You’ve just got to accept it for what it is and try not to pay attention to it.”

If anything, the noise is just one more challenge many players deal with in a game already considered the most mentally challenging among major team sports, with nearly every franchise employing a sports psychologist and mental-skills team.

Perhaps the most important thing fans and worriers need to know is that Bryant emphasized again how healthy and strong the left shoulder feels.

And this: The two-time All-Star has been through slumps before. And he has come out the other side at a high level. Every season he was healthy, the Cubs reached at least the NL Championship Series.

Some of the solution to his early pressing might be as simple as remembering that himself.

“Exactly. Exactly,” he said. “I’ve done a lot in this game.

“It’s just mentally at the plate. It’s about not trying to do too much, not trying to think too much. It’s crazy. As I continue to play, more and more I feel like we put more and more pressure on ourselves just to go out there and perform when I feel it should go the other way.

“That’s kind of where I’m at: Just kind of chill, take it easy, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and go out there and see the ball and hit it. After that, you can’t control what happens.”

Bryant hasn’t hit a home run since Opening Day, and he’s batting just .219 with a .668 OPS. He’s striking out at his highest rate (24 percent) since his rookie season.

His Bryzzo partner, Anthony Rizzo, is off to an even tougher start — .159 with a .629 OPS. Rizzo got off to a similar start last year and wound up hitting .283 with 25 homers, 101 RBI and an .846 OPS.

It happens. Often.

And that’s what Bryant tries to keep in mind daily, including Monday, when he reached base three times, once on a double into the left-field corner, and Wednesday, when he lined a single to left-center with one out to open a four-run third


His mechanics with the big uppercut swing have been off by a half-click early, and he has missed a lot of pitches in the strike zone. But Bryant, manager Joe Maddon and the eye test suggest he’s getting closer to a turnaround.

“We’ve been talking a lot,” Maddon said. “When he permits himself to relax, then I see what I had seen for so many years. And then there’s other times he’s trying just a little bit too hard.

“All I want from him is to [stop] attempting to please everybody, including the game, and just please himself.”

The Cubs have won six of eight games as they open a six-game homestand Friday. Most of their NL Central-best plus-18 run differential is about a lineup averaging 6.1 runs, and that’s with the 2-3 Bryzzo part of the order struggling.

“It’s a tough game, a very tough game,” Bryant said. “It’ll humble you really quick. It’ll make you feel great for 30 seconds and make you feel awful for a full day. That’s just how the game works, and we all experience it here. And we realize it’s part of the job, and we get compensated so good for what we do, so it’s a fine line to talk about it.

“It’ll wear you down, mentally, physically, all of that.”


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That’s why he makes sure to stay away from information overload and what he called in spring training the Twitter “rabbit hole” and remembers where he has been as the roster’s most decorated hitter.

And maybe even have fun again.

“I’ve been feeling pretty good the last week,” he said. “I had some balls that I’ve squared up really well [last week], seeing the ball really good. Just trying to simplify things, trying to make this game easier, which is easier said than done.”

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