Cubs

Cubs move Kris Bryant to center field after Dexter Fowler's injury

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Cubs move Kris Bryant to center field after Dexter Fowler's injury

PITTSBURGH — Now playing center field ... Kris Bryant?

At 6-foot-5, Bryant doesn’t exactly look the part. The Cubs also believe he has a strong arm and enough athleticism to be able to stick at third base, where his monster offensive projections would create so much value.

The thinking is you keep him there for as long as you can. But Dexter Fowler’s injury and some late-game maneuvering forced the Cubs to tap into Bryant’s versatility during Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Bryant had been exposed to center field at the University of San Diego, where he developed into the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft.

But could you handle it for an extended run?

“Yeah, why not?” Bryant said. “I probably played there five games in college. I actually like center a lot better than the other two, just because you don’t have to deal with the hooks of a righty smashing one down the left-field line or a lefty smashing one down the right-field line.”

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

On a night where snow swept through PNC Park, the Cubs played it safe with Fowler, who left the game with right groin tightness. Fowler didn’t know if he would be able to play on Thursday, but he also didn’t think it would be a serious lingering issue.

“It’s more a precaution than anything on a cold day,” Fowler said. “We’ll see how it feels when I wake up in the morning.”

Fowler led off the game with a bunt single and immediately felt something in the first inning. Fowler made the turn when the throw sailed wide of Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez. Fowler then had to scramble back to the base when the ball didn’t bounce far enough to allow him to take second. The tightness didn’t stop Fowler from stealing the base moments later.

But the Cubs decided to have Chris Denorfia pinch-hit for Fowler in the third inning. Bench coach Dave Martinez later asked Bryant where he felt comfortable in the outfield. Bryant took over center in the eighth inning, and of course the first batter (Neil Walker) hit it right to him.

Nothing seems to faze Bryant, who handled this with the same attitude that’s helped him deal with all the great expectations and nonstop attention that comes with his mega-prospect status.

“It was cool out there — center field’s fun,” Bryant said. “If you’re kind of getting used to the outfield, it’s a good spot to get some flyballs in, just to read it off the bat.”

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.