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Walk this way? Cubs free swinger Javy Baez seeks better pitches, not walks, in effort to improve

The two-time All-Star drew more walks in his first 13 plate appearances this spring (four) than he did in June or July last season.

Baez homers in the fifth Sunday.
John Antonoff photo

MESA, Ariz. — It happened again Sunday, quietly, with one out in the third inning and a runner on first, against a minor-league pitcher in the Mariners’ system.

Cubs shortstop Javy Baez walked, this time on four pitches.

Big deal? Maybe not. But that’s four walks this spring for the free-swinging Baez, compared with three in June, two in July and five in August last season.

And if it’s something he can add to his game this season with any regularity, imagine the places that .321 on-base percentage and .865 OPS over the last two All-Star seasons might go.

‘‘Yeah, but I’m not going to look for it,’’ said Baez, who drew those four walks in 13 plate appearances this spring after drawing 28 in 561 plate appearances last season. ‘‘I’m just trying to see the ball; I’m not going to look for a walk.’’

Baez, the runner-up in National League MVP voting in 2018, is expected to bat third this season behind Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

‘‘I’m the same guy,’’ he said.

That showed in his first trip to the plate Sunday, when he swung at all six pitches he saw, eventually lining a rocket single to center.

That’s also what his manager wants to hear.

‘‘Javy is at a point now where he is an established veteran and professional,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘He’s working on some things, for sure. You can see the mindset working. But we do revert back to our tendencies as players, right?

‘‘I don’t ever want to take Javy away from his free-swinging abilities. His unpredictability at the plate is what’s so scary when you’re catching or on the other side.’’

Ross acknowledged, however, that Baez might draw a few more walks just as a function of trying to have better at-bats.

Homecoming

Angels manager Joe Maddon will make his first appearance Monday against his former team since being fired after arguably the best five-year run by a manager in Cubs history.

The Cubs host the Angels at Sloan Park in the afternoon half of a day-night, split-squad doubleheader, with many of the regulars expected in the lineup for the home half.

‘‘I think we’ve talked about Joe a lot this spring — and probably more than he wants us to talk about him,’’ Bryant said. ‘‘It’s natural because he’s a big part of the success here. Hopefully he gets a warm welcome from everybody because he might deserve it more than anybody here.’’

Said Ross, who played for Maddon in 2015-16 before retiring: ‘‘I’m excited. He lifts me up when he’s around — his energy, who he is, just the way he carries himself. It’ll be fun around here. A lot of the boys will be excited to see him. A lot of great memories with him and me around here. Can’t wait to talk to him, give him a big hug and see him.’’

Joe Maddon
John Antonoff photo