Cubs’ Kris Bryant makes progress, expects to make impact on pennant race
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PITTSBURGH — The Cubs have gotten this far into the dog days of August in first place in the National League Central with an MVP third baseman tied behind their backs.
Now they should expect to get a charge for their playoff run when Kris Bryant returns to the lineup, possibly by the end of the month.
At least that’s the way Bryant is looking at the effect he can have after being sidelined for the last three weeks by a sore shoulder that has him on the disabled list for the second time this season.
‘‘I expect the same impact I’ve always had,’’ said Bryant, who spent Thursday tracking pitches after taking light swings earlier in the week for the first time since last month. ‘‘I’m just going to go out there and be myself, and I know that’s pretty good to me.’’
Manager Joe Maddon, who said he anticipates Bryant to return before September, recently implied he might not be 100 percent even at that point.
But Bryant said he expects to be at full strength and, after ‘‘three or four’’ rehab games, to be in position to help right away — and in peak form by the playoffs.
Bryant’s next step is to take batting practice on the field sometime in the next few days.
‘‘Just looking at the schedule, I think the amount of games we have left is plenty of time to get ready for hopefully a long playoff run, and hopefully I might be a little more rested than some of my teammates because they’ve been out there grinding every day,’’ he said. ‘‘Hopefully I can provide that nice little push and cause some separation between ourselves and some of the other [teams] out there and all through the playoffs. But I guess it’s yet to be seen.’’
Maddon: ‘Neanderthal’ stuff
Maddon joined a chorus of baseball insiders in rebuking Marlins right-hander Jose Urena for hitting Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. with his first pitch Wednesday after Acuna had homered in five consecutive games.
‘‘Had it happened to us, I would have been very upset,’’ Maddon said, recalling first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s streak of three consecutive games with homers last season. ‘‘Had somebody thrown at Rizz based on that, I’d have been irate. Just go ahead and walk him if you want to. Or just make a better pitch.’’
Major League Baseball suspended Urena for six games Thursday.
‘‘There’s a Neanderthal part of our game that has to go away,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘It’s not necessary. It never was necessary in the beginning. But now with even greater scrutiny, it’s even more necessary for it to go away.’’