Will big home run be springboard for struggling Kyle Schwarber?
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Kyle Schwarber called his problems at the plate a matter of ‘‘millimeters.’’ But his answer — at least for one night — looked closer to 400 feet.
Maybe that’s what Cubs manager Joe Maddon meant when he talked the last two days about sticking with his struggling slugger in the leadoff spot.
‘‘He’s scary, man,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘Every time he comes up, I think something good’s going to happen. Every time.’’
Schwarber’s tiebreaking three-run home run against right-hander Jeremy Hellickson with two outs in a four-run fourth inning was the big blow in the Cubs’ 8-3 victory Tuesday against the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field.
‘‘When anybody’s struggling like that, I often tell him, ‘It takes one at-bat to have a great night,’ ’’ Maddon said. ‘‘He had a great night.’’
Before then, Schwarber was 2-for-27 with two singles in the last week of games. His batting average had dropped below .200, and the decibel levels from amateur lineup advisers were rising.
‘‘To have that at-bat there and put the team up, it definitely feels good,’’ said Schwarber, a two-time postseason hitting hero who didn’t have a career at-bat in May until Monday. ‘‘I think my last at-bats were a little bit better. Obviously, I want to keep improving on that.’’
The homer was the 20th of Schwarber’s career. That it came in his 97th game made him the quickest to the 20-homer mark in Cubs history and underscored just how little experience he has after missing most of last season with a knee injury.
‘‘I think we all kind of forget that,’’ said starter Jon Lester (1-1), who survived five innings to earn the victory. ‘‘I think that has a lot to do with where he’s at right now. It’s just a matter of making adjustments [to pitchers and scouting reports].
‘‘Obviously, we all know what he can do, so it’s just a matter of getting going.’’
That’s part of why Maddon has no intention of dropping him from the leadoff spot anytime soon.
‘‘His struggles are not about where he’s hitting in the batting order,’’ Maddon said, referring to Schwarber’s recent trend of just getting under his pitch. ‘‘I know he’s going to hit. And as he hits, [his average is] going to climb. And everybody’s going to be happy.’’
Maddon said he talked Monday with Schwarber ‘‘about a couple of things I think he needs to get back to. Let’s just see how it plays out.’’
‘‘It’s a game of millimeters,’’ Schwarber said. ‘‘I feel like I’m putting some good swings on some balls, and I’m just fouling them right back.’’
Schwarber also said his issues had nothing to do with the responsibilities or mentality of batting in the leadoff spot. And he dismissed the outside noise from those calling for him to be moved down in the order.
‘‘I can’t let outside things affect the way I feel when I’m playing the game because that’s when even more negative things start happening,’’ Schwarber said. ‘‘I’ve got to worry about my process and worry about my team and everything like that and let the manager make his decisions.’’
If anything, it’s the lefty-hitting Schwarber’s lack of production against left-handers (5-for-26 with 11 strikeouts) that would seem to raise a bigger concern about where he hits in the order.
‘‘He should be able to hit the lefties better than he has to this point,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘That’s where the overall number comes down —
because of that side.
‘‘If it ever gets to the point where over a course of time it oppressively looked so different that you’ve got to do something against a lefty, then I probably would. But this time of year, it’s the right time to experiment with all that kind of stuff. . . . But I think he’s real close.’’
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