Big-swinging Javy Baez scores big (twice) and small as Cubs rout upstart Pirates
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If this is what Javy Baez is going to do in April, with game-time wind chills in the 30s during a week that has included snow and rain, what might he do in June?
“I feel really great, especially [considering] the weather,” said Baez, whose two homers Wednesday gave him four in two games. He also played a key small-ball role in the Cubs’ four-run sixth inning in a 13-5 rout of the division-leading Pirates.
Baez, who hit a go-ahead, three-run shot to right-center in the second and a solo shot to left in the eighth, is the first Cub with back-to-back two-homer games since Alfonso Soriano in May 2008.
“I’m a guy that I keep warming up during the season,” Baez said. “I know that. So I don’t have any pressure. I’m not rushing to get hot. I’m just trying to see the ball and make good contact.”
That doesn’t mean he’s not swinging out of his helmet at times when he thinks a 3-0 cookie might be on the way — as he nearly did one pitch before the second-inning home run — or any number of other times in the game.
“He had the long-drive contest out tonight. He had his John Daly hat going on,” manager Joe Maddon said.
With no apologies.
“I’m going to swing hard most of the time,” said Baez, who is hitting only .229 but has a .714 slugging percentage because only one of his eight hits is a single. “I’m trying to stay under control, but it’s really hard for me. As long as I stay under control, I’ll be real good.”
Baez has been productive enough on the bases, in the field and at the plate in the early going to provide some of the Cubs’ bigger impact moments.
“His whole game is spectacular,” Maddon said. “Now as he matures as a hitter, I have no idea what he’s going to do. Because he is one of the more exciting players in the game right now.”
Baez struck out swinging big at a wild pitch leading off the sixth but got out of the box fast and was able to reach first easily.
After taking second on a grounder to first, he stole third. He later scored the go-ahead run on a grounder to drawn-in second baseman Josh Harrison, who double-pumped and threw wide of the plate.
The Cubs would then pounce on the Pirates’ bullpen on a night starter Jon Lester labored to get through five innings with the game tied at 4.
For all of the Cubs’ highlights, Baez was a spotlight for what this game showed in his approach-minded return to being himself at the plate — and a growth moment involving a teammate in the dugout.
“I’ve been working on focusing on just me and the pitcher out there and forgetting about the whole field — everything really,” he said. “Launch angle, the [velocity] off the bat. I was hitting with all this stuff [in my mind]. I cleared my mind, and it’s all about competing. That’s how I’ve been taking it, and it’s been great for me.”
But then came the seventh inning, when he swung big with a runner at second and nobody out for a high pop to short. He then flipped his bat nearly as high in frustration before slow-boating it to first.
“You know what I really got out of today?” he said. “How ugly I looked on that [play]. And one of my teammates came up to me and he said it in a good way, and you learn from it.
“After I hit that fly ball and I tossed the bat really high, I was kind of mad — not because of the fly ball, but just the way I looked for the kids and for everybody that follows me. That’s not a good thing.”
Said Lester: “I’m glad he’s on our side.”