MESA, Ariz — Have you heard about all that weight Kyle Schwarber lost since last year? He’s so skinny people have mistaken him for Carl Edwards Jr. all spring. So fast he’s burning divots and skid marks into the outfield grass. Sometimes he even eats kale.
But you probably knew all that.
“I could care less about that at this point,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “I’m glad he did it. But that was very six weeks ago.”
Now it’s about baseball. And that means Thursday, when the Cubs open the season in Miami and the last two months of fascination over Schwarber’s svelte, new look dissolves into scrutiny again.
“Yeah, I lost however much weight it was, but I’ve still got to be able perform out on the field,” Schwarber said. “That was just kind of that precursor of what I really want to do as a player.”
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It was the one thing he could control during the offseason.
But it won’t matter if he starts this season like he did last year, when he slumped as the leadoff man, let his swing get longer and eventually needed a trip to Class AAA to get his head and swing right — casting sudden doubt on all those Babe Ruth and Paul Bunyan comparisons.
“I’m just going to go out there and be me,” Schwarber said, making no promises about what fans might be able to expect after the winter overhaul and surprisingly agile and productive spring.
“That’s all I can be.”
And that’s the thing. Until last year, anybody watching the Cubs seemed to know what being Schwarber meant.
It pretty much meant “legend.”
He arrived with that short powerful swing in 2015 and raked his way into the playoffs and a franchise postseason record for home runs. Then, after a heart-breaking, season-ending knee injury the third game of the 2016 season, he returned as DH in the World Series to add another 7-for-17, championship-winning chapter to the legend.
If Schwarber had something to prove when he broke in, or after the injury last year, that’s even more the case this time around.
“Obviously it’s spring training, but to me he looks sort of like the guy we expect,” Hoyer said, talking about the swing, the approach and the performance this spring against both right-handers and lefties.
“The one thing I’m seeing,” manager Joe Maddon said, “is that he’s not swinging as hard. I think he’s more under control. More hands, less arms, and with that he’s doing it easier.”
Whether opening last season in the leadoff spot took Schwarber out of his comfort zone and led to some of the struggles, he can’t be sure. He said he doesn’t think it did, and Maddon has insisted that it made no difference.
Regardless, Schwarber won’t be in that spot this season, at least early. In Monday’s exhibition against the Red Sox he batted fifth, where he’ll probably open the season — just high enough in the order to be deadly, just low enough to cause some unsuspecting souls to perhaps sleep on him as the season begins.
Not that they’ll even re-cognize him at first.
“This stuff that’s going to be able to translate possibly on the baseball field, which is the first-step quickness, being more explosive, being able to feel better, things like that,” said the skinny left fielder. “I don’t go, ‘Ooh, I lost 20 pounds, I’m going to hit .500.’ ”
He has looked more agile in left, and he also has worked this spring on technique. He said he bounces back with more energy day to day.
And once the season starts, if the whole thing translates the way he believes, could he even become an everyday player — one who doesn’t get lifted for a defensive replacement late in games?
“I don’t want to be the National League DH,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m going to work my butt off. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. But I’m planning on it working out.”
Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.