Cubs

Cubs: Kris Bryant flashes star potential in win vs. Pirates

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Cubs: Kris Bryant flashes star potential in win vs. Pirates

PITTSBURGH – Kris Bryant doesn’t feel like he’s putting a target on his back. He already knows he’s good. He feels very comfortable in the spotlight.

Bryant brings some star power to the Cubs. You saw that again during Monday night’s 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. There was nothing scripted or focus-group-tested about his performance.

A clever new Red Bull commercial shows Bryant literally twiddling his thumbs in the dugout during his 12-day sentence in the minors. Adidas put up the “WORTH THE WAIT” billboard across the street from the Wrigley Field marquee. Super-agent Scott Boras and the Major League Baseball Players Association made service time a huge national story in spring training.

The Cubs got their extra year of club control – and a new face of the franchise.

[MORE: Cubs calling up Addison Russell in another aggressive move]

“I definitely think it comes with the territory,” Bryant said. “But I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. I try to go out there and do things the right way – on and off the field – and get better every day. I think these special things that come along with it are just icing on the cake. I really am focused on what I have to do here.

“If I go about things the right way, then I’ll earn that respect. And that’s all that I ever want.”

Image isn’t everything for Bryant, a baseball gym rat who knows how to keep a low profile in the clubhouse. He’s also a hard-to-miss, game-changing force.

Bryant broke this one wide open with two outs in the seventh inning, driving a ball that bounced off the base of PNC Park’s left-center-field fence. Bryant rounded second base and hustled to third as Jorge Soler scored easily – and Anthony Rizzo scored as the ball bounced away from catcher Francisco Cervelli.

Bryant took another wide turn at third and tried to run back to the base before sprinting to home plate. Cervelli couldn’t handle the throw and all of a sudden the scoreboard showed: Cubs 4, Pirates 1.

“Rizzo told me: ‘You just hit a Little League home run,’” Bryant said.

[ALSO: Bryant touches them all in wild play vs. Pirates]

Bryant also said he didn’t know about the adidas marketing stunt until Rizzo sent him a selfie in front of the billboard.

“Down on the Farm” shows Bryant in his rain boots, hanging out in a barn. He also does a Tiger Woods impression, repeatedly bouncing a baseball off his bat before crushing it.

Bulls star Joakim Noah offers some advice: “Chicago fans can be tough, Kris. Good luck with that.” Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan, former Cubs third baseman Ron Cey and what appears to be the friendly staff at Wiener’s Circle – “Who the (bleep) is Kris Bryant?” – also make appearances.

It ends with Bryant petting a goat, about to board a bus headed for Chicago. Da Coach, Mike Ditka, looks into the camera and says: “Now’s your time. The wait is over.”

Bryant shot the Red Bull spot on April 14, or two days before he found out he would be getting called up to make his big-league debut at Wrigley Field. The timing coincidentally worked out because Triple-A Iowa’s game in New Orleans got rained out that day.

“It turned out great,” Bryant said. “I didn’t want to be like the center of attention. I think they did a good job of barely showing me, because I don’t want that attention, being the young guy here.”

A reporter responded: But it was all about you.

[RELATED: Watch Bryant's Red Bull ad on life before call-up]

“It was, but there was a lot of other guys in there,” Bryant said. “I think it was more so about the excitement of where the organization is headed. The whole city of Chicago is excited, and I was happy about that.”

Forget the Q rating, Bryant is already putting up numbers. He went 3-for-4 with a walk and also delivered a clutch two-out RBI single in the fifth inning. He’s put up a 1.150 OPS through his first four games in The Show.

Bryant apparently only looks rattled around animals.

“I’m not a farm boy – I’m a city boy,” Bryant said. “My emotions were very much on point. I had no clue what I was doing. The goat wanted to run around and it was kind of hard to keep it by my side. It was definitely pretty funny.”

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."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.