June has been the month for Joc jams.
After a slow start in April and early May, Joc Pederson is on fire. His two home runs Friday night marked his sixth and seventh of June, and he has hit the ball harder than he has in a couple of years.
What manager David Ross most enjoys about his left fielder is the vibe he has brought to the team.
“He’s just set the tone for us,” Ross said. “He has such a good way about him, and you see the fun that he has, the smile, the kind of swagger he plays with. He’s got a really good perspective on the game. He’s good for these guys, and it’s a really nice tone at the top.”
Pederson has hit at the top of the order in 29 games, where he has a .265 average and has hit nine of his 11 homers. His multifaceted home-run trot has garnered a lot of attention, and Ross sees it as an extension of Pederson’s mindset.
“It’s a very easy way,” Ross said. “It’s good for a lot of our guys who put a lot of pressure on themselves. He’s just got this swagger. He carries himself, he’s fun. It makes me smile every time he does something on the field.”
Ross said Pederson’s improvement from the first several weeks has come from getting himself better in sync at the plate. Pederson said after the game Friday that working with the Cubs’ hitting coaches on getting himself into position and going after pitches he can handle has helped.
“Early on, it just looked like the hands and the backside weren’t really working together, not in rhythm,” Ross said. “I feel like he’s just changed his entire rhythm at the plate, how aggressive he is, how the body is working together within the swing.”
Pederson hit .137 in April, but his average jumped to .314 in May. In June, his slugging percentage was .673 going into Saturday, and his rate of hard-hit balls has spiked from 28.1% in April to 51.2% this month.
Alzolay returning Monday
Right-hander Adbert Alzolay (blister) has not pitched since June 7, but Ross said he is slated to start Monday against the Indians, barring any setbacks.
There won’t be a pitch limit, but Ross will be mindful of easing Alzolay in for his first start back from the injured list.
“He’s been one of the guys who has given us consistent starting pitching,” Ross said. “Real swing and miss. [Alzolay] has been a real asset to our rotation this year, so getting him back on the mound and starting games for us is a big piece and a step for us towards getting back to full strength.”
Alzolay has the highest strikeout rate (26.7%) and lowest WHIP (1.04) among Cubs starters.
Bote, Nico, Steele progressing
David Bote (shoulder) took grounders and did some running on the field Saturday. Nico Hoerner (hamstring) is up to full baseball activities and took batting practice for the second consecutive day. Justin Steele (hamstring) is set to throw a bullpen session Sunday.