How Cubs’ Edwin Rios unlocked his swing in spring training

In his last 10 games, Rios has six hits, including three home runs, which is tied for the team lead. He’s in position to claim an Opening Day roster spot.

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The Cubs’ Edwin Rios runs the bases after hitting a solo home run against the Padres in Peoria, Arizona.

The Cubs’ Edwin Rios runs the bases after hitting a solo home run against the Padres in Peoria, Arizona.

Charlie Riedel/AP

MESA, Ariz. — The last time the Cubs played the Padres, Edwin Rios entered the game hitless. On Sunday, he stepped into another matchup with San Diego leading his team in home runs this spring.

“He is a guy that is on the radar that … with a chunk of at-bats could put up some real big power numbers and really help us out,” manager David Ross said.

Rios has shown just that in his last 10 games, logging six hits, including three home runs, and putting himself in position to claim an Opening Day roster spot.

The Cubs signed Rios a few days before full-squad spring-training workouts began, and he joined the team the day his addition became official.

When Rios came into camp, the Cubs identified that he had a bigger leg kick than in the past. That, Rios said, was on purpose.

“I feel like I’ve always hit the fastball well,” he said, “but I wanted to be more consistent with other pitches.”

He saw getting into his back leg more as the way to solve that problem, and a leg kick was going to force him into his back hip.

Rios’ intention was right, and it felt good off a tee and in practice. Once he got into games, the leg kick was messing with his timing. He had a slow start, going 0-for-7 in his first three Cactus League games.

The Cubs had him cut the leg kick in half to what hitting coach Dustin Kelly refers to as a “knee tuck.”

“He has big-time power,” Kelly said. “And we all know that. And he doesn’t need to try and hit the ball any harder than he already does. … Sometimes that leg kick, there’s a give and take. Some of the give is the power, but some of the take is the balance.”

Rios isn’t forfeiting that focus on his back leg that he was hoping to get out of the leg kick. Instead, he’s already engaged in his back hip when he goes to tuck his knee.

“That opened up a lot of things,” Rios said, “and made me see the ball and see the ball a lot longer, and being able to make a decision and not pre-swinging or stuff like that.”

He doesn’t regret trying to add the leg kick. Even though he scrapped it, taking reps with a bigger leg kick might have helped him get the feeling of engaging his back hip.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to try things,” he said.

His decision-making, which goes hand-in-hand with his mechanical changes, has been another piece of his strong run this spring. The Cubs have put an emphasis on swinging at the pitches he can do damage on, rather than -catering too much to the pitcher’s weaknesses.

Results only mean so much in spring training. Rios’ focus is on “quality at-bats.”

“That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “Sometimes you get caught up in, ‘Oh, man, I haven’t got a hit in a couple of days,’ or stuff like that. I just feel if you’re having a quality at-bat and you’re hitting the ball hard, everything will take care of itself. When you start jumping into, ‘Oh, man, I need a hit here,’ … and you start being result-oriented, that’s when you get yourself in trouble.”

As the spring winds down, and roster -decisions are on the horizon, Rios provides an -intriguing option. He can play both corner infield spots and in the outfield. And at the plate, he provides power from the left side.

“I’m just excited,” Rios said. “We have a great group here. I’m excited to win, and I’m excited to go to war with these guys. I think it’s going to be a fun year.”

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