Cubs’ Kris Bryant ready to shoulder load of MVP-winning swing again
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MESA, Ariz. — All that stuff about Kris Bryant changing his swing and keeping both hands on the bat during his follow through because of his left shoulder problem last year?
When spring games start this weekend, the Cubs’ star third baseman vows to be the same Kris Bryant at the plate, with the same swing that helped him win a 2015 Rookie of the Year award, a 2016 MVP award and two All-Star selections.
“Last year, I could understand it. You’re trying to battle through certain things, maybe try to alleviate what I was feeling,” he said of the injured left shoulder he suffered on a headfirst slide May 19 that hampered him the rest of the season. “But I’ve been a really good baseball player with that swing my whole life.
“I’m not going to change anything just because I had an injury last year. I’m over the injury.”
Bryant went on the disabled list twice after the shoulder damage he said included a bone bruise and never was right when he returned.
In 38 games before the injury, he hit .311 with 24 extra-base hits and a 1.022 OPS. In 64 games after that: .249 with 20 extra-base hits and a .717 OPS.
“It’s 100 percent. I feel great. Awesome,” he said.
And from the outside?
“He looks normal, meaning the swing looks like it did a couple years ago,” manager Joe Maddon said Thursday. “He’s not restrictive with his left shoulder.
“I’m excited about watching him because he’s really shown up with a great mindset.”
Bryant, whose health might be the most decisive factor in how much the lineup improves since last year’s second-half slump, said by the time he started swinging the bat again this winter, he had done so much strength work his left shoulder felt stronger than his right.
“So I have no concern whatsoever in terms of my swing,” he said. “I only have to worry about what that guy’s throwing me and what he’s going to try to get me out. And I can put all my focus into that.”
Ben Zobrist remained an excused absence from camp three days after full-squad workouts began, and team officials remain vague about the “personal matter” involved and his timeline for a return.
Maddon said he has not been in contact with Zobrist throughout the week but team president Theo Epstein has.
Left-hander Mike Montgomery, who has had his bullpen work delayed because of shoulder stiffness, continues to play catch as he builds toward what the club calls an “imminent” first bullpen session of the spring.
The team said that the issue is not considered an injury and that he should have plenty of time to be ready for the start of the season.
This and that
Maddon would not divulge whether presumptive choice Jon Lester will be his Opening Day starter March 28 at Texas.
• The Cubs’ first two starters for Cactus League play are Jen-Ho Tseng on Saturday against the Brewers and Tyler Chatwood on Sunday against the Giants.
• New hitting coach Anthony Iapoce doesn’t teach situational hitting to his charges. He prefers “opportunity” hitting to describe such things as RBI situations, hit-and-run plays and bunting.
• All outdoor work in camp was rained out Thursday, and Friday is expected to be at least abbreviated by rain again. The impact on the Cubs’ schedule and timeline is “not horrible,” Maddon said. “But we weren’t able to use the ‘opportunity’ field as soon as we wanted [for bunting practice].”