Cubs

Cubs fall to Padres as Kris Bryant goes 0-for-4 in debut

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Cubs fall to Padres as Kris Bryant goes 0-for-4 in debut

Even an 0-for-4 afternoon with a trio of strikeouts isn’t likely to dampen Cubs fans’ excitement over the newly arrived Kris Bryant.

And it didn't dampen Bryant's enthusiasm, either.

Bryant had a rough time at the plate in his first day in the big leagues, striking out three times and stranding five runners in the Cubs’ 5-4 loss to the visiting San Diego Padres on Friday at Wrigley Field.

But the No. 1 prospect in baseball has the right attitude, still all smiles while talking after the game, talking about what a glorious day it was to be a big leaguer even if there were no results at the plate.

“It was fun. Sure, I could’ve done a little better," Bryant said. "There’s two sides to the ball. I thought I did well on defense, didn’t come around hitting. But I helped my team out as much as I could. But I just absorbed everything. It was just a fun moment, all the smells and the sounds and playing in front of 30,000 people. I think that’s the biggest crowd I’ve played in front of. And they’re all cheering for you. It was just a really cool moment for me.”

[MORE CUBS: The wait is over: Kris Bryant arrives at Wrigley Field]

As he alluded to, Bryant’s defense was great, nearly making up for his offensive struggles. He had a busy day at the hot corner, but he made nearly every play that came his way, including starting a pair of double plays and making a highlight-reel diving snag on a rocket off the bat of Derek Norris.

And though the spotlight was squarely on him Friday, Bryant wasn’t the one who surrendered a go-ahead three-run homer to Wil Myers in the top of the seventh, the hit that turned the game around and earned Joe Maddon his first ejection as Cubs manager.

Thanks to a pair of two-run innings, the Cubs had a 4-2 lead in the seventh. But the Padres responded, tagging Jason Hammel for back-to-back singles and chasing the Cubs starter. After Zac Rosscup retired the only hitter he faced, Brian Schlitter surrendered a three-run home run to Myers, which flipped the game around and gave San Diego a 5-4 advantage.

The homer followed a pitch that many in attendance believed should have been the third strike of the at-bat, which was called a ball. Maddon apparently agreed with the assessment of the booing fans, as he walked out to the mound, started arguing with the home-plate umpire and earned the first ejection of his Cubs managerial tenure.

“That was intentional, absolutely," Maddon said of his ejection. "We still have to execute better in the moment, but I can’t permit that to happen without saying something. I really believe even prior to the (fourth-inning) home run by (Will) Middlebrooks that was a strike, also. I let that one slide, and I just couldn’t let it slide twice. However, even though we probably should’ve gotten a call there, we still have to make a better pitch on the next pitch, that’s part of this game. You’re not always going to get the calls that you’re looking for.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs, Kris Bryant say there’s no bad blood after service-time issue]

But years from now, if Bryant becomes the type of big league star the Cubs and their fans envision, the seventh-inning homer and the fact that the Cubs lost the game will be nothing more than the answer to a trivia question.

Bryant earned a standing ovation when he strolled to the plate for the first time, something that wowed the 23-year-old kid from Las Vegas but was hardly unexpected by his manager.

“It was more than I could have ever imagined," Bryant said. "For them to believe in me that much is pretty cool, it gives me that extra boost of confidence stepping into the box. At the same time, I feel like I was trying to do a little bit too much just because I was hearing that stuff. I’m usually pretty good at blocking that out. I think as time goes by, I’ll get better at it. But it was pretty special to hear that today.”

“The Cub fans understand what’s going on here," Maddon said. "This is a young man that’s done extremely well in the minor leagues getting to this point in his career. Our fans are very savvy, and they recognize that. I thought it was great.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Kris Bryant jersey right here]

Bryant's three strikeouts and bounce out to third base will earn plenty of attention and likely some sarcastic "sky-is-falling" remarks on social media.

But like the front office that drafted him, Bryant is playing the long game. Friday was Day 1 of what's expected to be a long major league career. Heck, it's only game No. 9 of an 162-game campaign.

“Obviously it’s frustrating when you’ve got guys in scoring position and you don’t get the job done. But I’ve been in that position a lot. I’ve had some good moments and plenty of bad moments," Bryant said. "I think you’re going to get more bad moments in this game, and it’s all about keeping that level head and realizing that this game’s hard and it doesn’t always come to you right in the first three at-bats. But if you have the right attitude and go about your business the right way, I think it usually comes around. So no reason to hang my head.”

“Believe me," Maddon said, "he’s going to be fine, and he’s going to be very productive here. That’s just one game.”

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."