Maddon keeps Kris Bryant on bench as Cubs lose 1-0 to first-place Brewers
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MILWAUKEE — What’s wrong with Kris Bryant?
The Cubs’ slumping third baseman apparently has sunk so deep into a funk that manager Joe Maddon chose light-hitting backup catcher Chris Gimenez to bat in the ninth inning Wednesday rather than use Bryant off the bench in a one-run game with first place on the line.
Gimenez struck out against Brewers closer Corey Knebel for the second out. Willson Contreras then struck out to end the game.
And Bryant remained the only bench player Maddon didn’t use in a 1-0 loss that extended the Brewers’ lead in the National League Central to 1½ games.
It was the most conspicuous (non-)event of a game that featured Maddon toggling relievers Steve Cishek and Brian Duensing in and out of left field to navigate a tough part of the Brewers’ order in the eighth.
Bryant is in an 0-for-16 slump and hasn’t homered in a month. But assuming good health, he clearly presented the better choice in the ninth to try to tie the score. His mere presence at the plate would have commanded respect from Knebel, who has
allowed Bryant to reach six of 11 times against him in their careers.
Maybe one game in June isn’t worth compromising the day off Maddon committed to Bryant ahead of the Cubs’ scheduled day off Thursday.
Maybe. But then why go through all that trouble with the relievers in the eighth to keep the game at 1-0?
Why not follow that success by taking a one-at-bat shot with a guy who has 102 home runs in less than 3½ seasons instead of a
career backup with none in 153 combined plate appearances this season in the minors and big leagues?
‘‘That’s easy to say,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘He’s been struggling a lot. Theoretically, it sounds wonderful. I thought Gimenez had some good swings today. [Javy] Baez [leading off the ninth] hit the ball hard. Willson had some good hacks, also. It’s an easy dialogue to try to conjure up, but I really was trying to give him the day off.’’
Maddon also said that if the game had gone to extra innings, he planned to use Bryant the next time that part of the order came around.
It’s only one game in June that’s almost certain to be forgotten in two months, if not a few days. More important is Bryant’s state of mind and body as the season wears on. And maybe the full day off for one of the Cubs’ workhorses will prove that important.
Bryant downplayed his slump after the game Tuesday.
‘‘It’s just the ebb and the flow of the game,’’ he said. ‘‘Sometimes it’ll continue to eat you up, and you’ve just got to go with it and realize that things will turn around. It’s not fun, but it’s really where you find out what you’re made of.’’
Bryant, who has one extra-base hit this month, used the word ‘‘frustrating’’ and has looked at times as though he could use a mental break as much as a physical one.
‘‘I’m not really concerned about that,’’ Maddon said before the game Wednesday. ‘‘He’s just been off with his swing a little bit and he just looks fatigued a little bit, so I want to get him off his feet.’’
Bryant said he actually ‘‘felt great’’ at the plate Tuesday on a night the Brewers’ Chase Anderson pitched seven strong innings.
‘‘The last three or four games haven’t been great, but I think there’s a lot of people that would want to be in my shoes,’’ said Bryant, who’s still hitting .281 with a .391 on-base percentage. ‘‘Sometimes it’s all about perspective and how you look at things. It’s hard when the scoreboard’s right in front of your face.
‘‘But my expectations are really high. That’s the greatest and worst thing in the world. That’s how I look at it.’’