Cubs are adding unexpected ‘tool’ to Christopher Morel’s ‘toolbox’

Morel’s splits show that he hits better when he’s also playing in the field.

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Being a DH presents its own challenges for the Cubs’ Christopher Morel.

Being a DH presents its own challenges for the Cubs’ Christopher Morel.

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

SAN DIEGO — The designated-hitter spot gets a bad rap for requiring less work. But for some players, performing at the plate without having to worry about playing defense is actually harder than doing both.

The Cubs’ Christopher Morel is one of those players.

“If I miss one at-bat, I think too much, and I try to see what I did, why I need to be better, what I’m doing this at-bat, or [if] I need to be better for the lefty or righty pitcher,” Morel said Monday before the Cubs’ 5-0 loss to the Padres to split a four-game series.

Morel had 75 at-bats entering the series, with dramatic splits. He only had five hits in 32 at-bats as the DH (.156). In the rest of his at-bats combined, he had 15 (.349).

The Cubs started testing another way to get Morel on the field, giving him reps at first base before the game Monday.

It was just an initial step, to see how he might take to the position. And Morel isn’t expected to seize regular playing time there, since the Cubs have plenty of options between Matt Mervis, Trey Mancini and Edwin Rios. But if Morel gets to the point where he’s comfortable at first, he could, for example, pinch-hit for Mervis with a lefty reliever on the mound.

“The strength of [Morel] has always been his ability to move around,” manager David Ross said. “There’s also a lot that goes into every position that has to be learned. And we’ve thrown a lot at that young man in a short amount of time in his big-league career. And we’re just going to continue to try to see how many tools we can put in his toolbox.”

Morel went on a tear when he was first recalled last month, hitting nine home runs in 12 games, which included a five-game homer streak. He has cooled down since and is now hitless in his last 18 at-bats after going 0-for-3 Monday while batting ninth and playing center field.

“They’re going to throw something for chase,” Morel said of opposing pitchers’ approach against him. “If I swing at that pitch, they’re going to [keep throwing] me that pitch.”

In his first two games against the Padres, he drew three walks.

Ross tossed

Frustrations boiled over early Monday, leading to Ross’ ejection by plate umpire Phil Cuzzi in the second inning after Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks (0-2) got behind in the count 2-0 against the Padres’ Gary Sanchez.

Ross appeared to take issue with the inconsistency of Cuzzi’s strike zone. Cuzzi had established a wide zone early, calling strikes for Padres starter Blake Snell (2-6) up to a ball’s width off the outside edge of the plate. But Hendricks wasn’t getting those calls as consistently, and Ross gave Cuzzi an earful.

“I just thought our guys were grinding some really good at bats early on, first two innings,” Ross said after the game. “That guy’s got a high walk rate to righties and there were just some balls that weren’t strikes called strikes on the on the outer edge. And just wanted to try to voice that a little bit and probably got a little too aggressive with it.”

Hendricks said he did make a gesture, but only because he didn’t see what the call was.

“It was definitely a ball,” he said. “It was in. And so I went back to Rossy, but he said he wasn’t reacting to me at all. It was off our hitters.”

With Ross out of the game, bench coach Andy Green, a former Padres manager, took over managerial duties for most of the final game in San Diego.

Hendricks went on to allow four runs in six innings. All but one scored in the second inning.

“I just kind of lost my rhythm a little bit in the second,” Hendricks said. “And it’s tough with the pitch clock; once things start getting out of control, it’s tough to rein it back in.”

Hendricks committed three pitch clock violations. But he got back into rhythm and retired the last 10 batters he faced in order.

Stroman player of the week

Cubs right-hander Marcus Stroman was named National League player of the week, MLB announced Monday. Stroman made two starts last week and didn’t allow an earned run in 15 innings.

His first start was a complete game shutout against the Rays, leading the Cubs to a 1-0 victory. He held them to one hit.

Then on Sunday, Stroman limited the Padres to one unearned run in the Cubs’ 7-1 victory.

Stroman secured player of the week honors for the first time in his career. No Cub had taken home player of the week in over a year (Seiya Suzuki in April 2022).

CUBS AT ANGELS

Tuesday: Hayden Wesneski (2-2, 4.81 ERA) vs. Tyler Anderson (2-1, 5.47), 8:38 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.

Wednesday: Jameson Taillon (1-3, 7.05) vs. Jaime Barria (2-2, 1.59), 8:38 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.

Thursday: Drew Smyly (5-3, 3.56) vs. Reid Detmers (0-5, 5.15), 8:38 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.

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