Will Kyle Schwarber’s quick return help Cubs locate missing mojo?
That didn’t take long.
Still mired in a seasonlong rut and with few places left to turn, the Cubs on Thursday pulled the Kyle Schwarber lever, recalling the struggling young slugger after 11 games of feasting on minor-league pitching.
They’re not counting on him to necessarily be their leadoff hitter again anytime soon, and team president Theo Epstein said they’re not even counting on big results right away.
They didn’t get any, either. On his first day back from Class AAA Iowa, Schwarber struck out twice in eight- and 10-pitch at-bats and grounded into the right-side shift twice in an 11-2 loss to the first-place Brewers.
“This was more about a reset for him than it was a rebuilding,” Epstein said. “In the couple of weeks that he was down there, he accomplished what we wanted him to accomplish.”
That included a minor adjustment to his swing and an emphasis on a middle, opposite-field approach.
“Let’s just take it one game at a time,” manager Joe Maddon said.
Once Schwarber had success with Iowa, bringing him back four games before the All-Star break had as much to do with restoring clubhouse cohesiveness and normalcy.
“He’s huge, man,” Kyle Hendricks said. “Just having him in the clubhouse, period. The light he brings in here, the energy. He’s always in the dugout, ‘Rah-rah,’ having a good time. That’s what we need right now in the dugout, that positive energy and putting up those good ABs and start rolling.”
Schwarber was greeted enthusiastically by teammates Thursday morning, including an especially long hug from locker neighbor Albert Almora Jr.
“He’s a big part of our culture here,” Maddon said. “He established that over the last couple years. It does mean a lot. You kind of feel more whole when he’s back here.”
For a team that fell below .500 again — and a season-high 4½ games out of first place — it’s going to take a lot more than a clubhouse vibe to keep the defending champs relevant through the second half.
Nobody’s asking the Cubs’ two-time postseason hitting hero to be the savior for a sagging lineup.
But the powerful lefty said he feels right again at the plate and ready to contribute.
“And I’m ready to clean the slate and get back to business,” said Schwarber, who had lobbied to return for the series against the Rays earlier in the week. “Whatever the number’s going to say, it’s going to say, but I’m looking at it as 0-for-0. It’s going to be the same every day.
“We’ll see how all this goes, but I’m planning on just being me, having fun competing, going out there with the boys and grinding it out. I’m ready to start playing with these guys again and start winning some ballgames.”
Schwarber, who hit .343 with a 1.192 OPS and 12 strikeouts in his minor-league stint, dropped to .168 with a team-leading 77 strikeouts on the big-league club.
Maddon, who is emphatic that putting Schwarber at the top of the order to open the season had nothing to do with his struggles, hasn’t ruled out a return to the leadoff role. He batted him fifth Thursday.
Schwarber said he’s staying upbeat and ready for anything, the same way he approached going to Class AAA.
“I’m not a pouter. I’m pretty dang confident in myself,” he said. “I feel like this was a really big learning experience for me. Now knowing what I have to do to get back, if things start going wrong again, whatever it is, I feel really confident I can [adjust quickly].”
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