Cubs hope Kris Bryant’s powerful return from DL is sign he can shoulder load
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SAN FRANCISCO — As if to remind people what the Cubs have been missing the last three weeks, Kris Bryant announced his presence with authority upon his return from the disabled list Wednesday against the Giants.
It wasn’t enough to prevent the Cubs’ second extra-inning walk-off loss in the three-game series — this one a 5-4 defeat after Buster Posey’s two-out drive off the right-field wall in the 13th inning to send home Brandon Belt from second.
But Bryant, who was on the shelf with a sore shoulder, delivered a two-run homer to straightaway center off Johnny Cueto in his third at-bat, closing the Cubs’ deficit to one in the fifth in a game they trailed 4-0.
It might have been the most significant development of the day for the Cubs, considering some of the questions surrounding Bryant’s power decline this year and whether it was related to the left shoulder soreness he played through until seeking treatment in June.
“I actually felt really, really good at the plate today, seeing the ball,” said Bryant, who also walked twice, including with two outs in the sixth to load the bases for Anthony Rizzo, who grounded out. “I think if I keep doing that, everything will come back really quick.
“[If] I [can] find a way to hit the ball on the fat part of the bat more often, I’ll hit a lot more home runs. It’s as simple as that.”
It was the first time Bryant and Rizzo have been in the same lineup since June 22 and only the 57th time in 90 games.
It’s one of the reasons the lineup has tended to follow a feast-or-famine pattern this season.
If anything, this week’s performance against the Giants — seven runs in 33 innings — underscores the importance of the Cubs getting their 2016 MVP back healthy and productive for the second half.
“We’ve gone through these stretches this year where the offense disappears for a couple days,” manager Joe Maddon said, bemoaning the 16 strikeouts Wednesday and absence of opposite-field hitting this week. “And they didn’t necessarily have a lot of strikeout pitchers going against us today, either. I just think we got out of our approach.”
Exacerbating the issue is another slump for Rizzo, who takes a 0-for-19 skid into Thursday’s off day.
It’s just one more reason the Cubs will need Bryant as a steadying force in the lineup for a possible second-half run.
And that could take a pain-management, body-maintenance program like he has never experienced in an otherwise remarkably healthy baseball career.
“I’m sure there’s going to be days in the future where it’s sore and stuff like that, but right now it feels pretty good,” Bryant said of the shoulder he originally hurt on a head-first slide in May.
“It’s just something where I’ve got to keep strengthening it as well as my other shoulder, too,” he said. “Just a matter of maintaining our bodies. That’s something that I’ve learned along the way, that I’ve got to take care of stuff like this. That’s all it’s really going to be the rest of the way.”
Maddon isn’t sure how it’ll play out down the stretch.
“We’re going to find that out,” he said. “I don’t know that all the discomfort has gone entirely, and it might be something he has to figure out how to play with. I may have to be more proactive giving him a day off now and than.”
Bryant homered and singled in two minor-league rehab games before joining the team in time to play four games this week just ahead of the three-day All-Star break.
“That’ll be good for me to just kind of get back in the swing of things,” he said. “The scheduling really worked out great.”