Take it from Patrick Wisdom, Mike Napoli: There’s more to playing first base than you might think
Wisdom has been playing first base more regularly as the Cubs’ infield undergoes a late-season shuffle.
CINCINNATI — As Patrick Wisdom took reps at first base before a game at Great American Ball Park, first-base coach Mike Napoli stood next to him, watching his footwork as Christopher Morel and Zach McKinstry threw across the diamond.
‘‘I believe in my athletic ability and being able to be put in any spot and do well,’’ Wisdom told the Sun-Times. ‘‘I think just trusting that, trusting my baseball awareness to put me in a good position right now, and just keep building on that.’’
Wisdom has proved the kind of power he can add to the Cubs’ lineup. He hit his 21st home run in the Cubs’ 8-5 loss Sunday to the Reds, his second consecutive season with more than 20 homers.
Now Wisdom’s defensive versatility and willingness to move positions have given the Cubs different ways to keep his bat in the lineup while shuffling the infield.
The Cubs are using the last couple of months of the season to evaluate some of their younger talent, such as outfielder Nelson Velazquez, utility men Morel and McKinstry and second baseman Nick Madrigal, and get them more big-league experience. So Wisdom, who has played mostly third base this season, has started playing first more regularly.
Wisdom already had a little experience there but had made a total of 24 major-league appearances at the position before this season.
‘‘Knowing where you need to be, balls inthe gap, cutoff man,’’ manager David Ross said, listing the challenges of transitioning to playing first base regularly. ‘‘Everybody has different movements to the ball, just like pitchers, infielders have the same kind of different actions. And continuing to work on his pick, his footwork over there. There’s going to be some challenging stuff where, at times, it’ll stand out that he’s inexperienced over there. But we’ll work through it, and we’ll take the good with the bad.’’
Getting used to all that takes repetition. But at this time of the season, especially as the Cubs embark on a stretch of 20 games in 19 days, players have to balance the value of side work with the toll of a long season.
‘‘Making sure they’re quality reps,’’ Wisdom said when he was asked about the key to navigating this stretch. ‘‘Not just kind of going through the motions. Maybe taking five to 10 really good ones, as opposed to 20 [in] rapid fire.’’
Wisdom played third base in the ‘‘Field of Dreams’’ game Thursday. So Saturday, before sliding over to first for the rest of the series, he took some of those intentional reps.
Through the transition, Wisdom has leaned on bench coach Andy Green and assistant coach Jonathan Mota, who work with the infield, and Napoli, a former first baseman. Their biggest focus has been footwork.
‘‘Being out there more, he’s gonna feel more comfortable and know what he can do over there,’’ Napoli told the Sun-Times. ‘‘A lot of people think you can just stow a big body over there, and it’s going to be pretty easy. But there’s a lot of things you’ve got to know about the position.’’
First basemen have to keep their eyes on the play in front of them, so finding the base has to be second nature. A lot of people don’t understand that, Napoli suspects. Then they have to time their stride with their read of the throw, which isn’t always on-target.
‘‘He had a nice pick the other night, and we’d worked on it that day,’’ Napoli said. ‘‘It’s nice to see your work going into the games.’’