WASHINGTON – At one point after writers gathered in the Cubs’ clubhouse around the guy who hit three home runs in three innings and raised his OPS 72 points in one night, an awkward silence persisted for a few seconds.
“I’m not going to ask about the bat,” one writer said. “Not gonna ask.”
“The bat? The axe bat?” Kris Bryant said. “Yeah, don’t ask.”
Bryant these days is doing all his talking with his attitude, his hitting eye and his swing – including four more hits and a second career three-homer game Friday as the Cubs beat the Nationals 14-6 to open a three-game series in Washington.
He said before the game too much has been made of his recent use of an axe-handle bat, one of several variations of style and weight he has and expects to use over the course of the season and his career.
If anything, some of the criticism and conjecture that surfaced as he came off a shoulder injury last season that sapped his power might have more to do with what’s happening now than any bat style.
He talked in spring training about finding himself in social media “rabbit holes” that caused him to unplug. And he seems, if anything, on a mission this year reach MVP form again – if not find even higher levels in his game.
Just listen to how he shot down a question Friday night about finding extra satisfaction from bouncing back from the injury.
“Not at all,” he said. “Maybe from some of the stuff that I’ve heard and read and saw there’s maybe a little bit of extra satisfaction. But inside I always had that confidence in me, and I’ll continue to have that until I’m done playing.”
In his last 19 games, Bryant is hitting .329 with 10 home runs, 23 RBI, 16 walks and a 1.273 OPS. And he has reached on a hit or walk in 26 straight games.
“He looks like he had a couple years ago, and he’s also reacting with the same kind of confidence,” manager Joe Maddon said. ”It’s a good thing to watch right now.”
Bryant wasn’t the only Cub to tee off on Nationals pitching – especially once the Nats’ worst-in-the-majors bullpen took over. Five of the Cubs’ six home runs and 11 runs came in the final three innings after Nats ace Max Scherzer left the game, trailing 3-2.
Kyle Schwarber, for instance, looked for a night like the leadoff man the Cubs envisioned entering the 2017 season, drawing three walks and delivering a game-changing home run in the eighth after fouling off seven two-strike pitches to homer on the 13th of the at-bat.
“One of the best at-bats I’ve ever seen in person,” Bryant said.
“He Bernie Carbo-ed him, man,” Maddon said, referring to the Red Sox pinch-hitter’s historic eighth-inning home run after fouling off 2-2 pitches in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. “I was telling [Anthony] Rizzo the entire tale of Bernie Carbo in the ’75 World Series as that at-bat was in progress..”
Schwarber’s two-run shot extended a one-run lead, and when Bryant followed two pitches later with another homer, the rout was on.
By the time Bryant was done, he had his first three-homer game since his 2016 MVP season.
The late-inning spree pushed him into a tie for the team lead with 11 homers – the earliest in a season he has hit No. 11 during his five-year career and just two short of his season total during the injury-hampered 2018.
He also leads the team with 29 walks.
“I’ve always known how good he is,” said Cubs starter Cole Hamels, who last season saw only a struggling, aching Bryant after joining the Cubs in a trade last July. “He’s finally starting to get around to what I think everybody else [has been] used to seeing.”
And if anyone wants to say his monthlong run is reminiscent of 2016?
“That ended up pretty good,” Bryant said. “Let’s compare it to that.”