Cubs

Kris Bryant provides Fourth of July fireworks in Cubs win

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Kris Bryant provides Fourth of July fireworks in Cubs win

Kris Bryant didn't want to wait until after the game to see some fireworks, so he created some of his own.

The Cubs rookie slugger smashed a pair of homers in his first two at-bats — including a grand slam the second time up — and drove in six runs as the Cubs cruised to a 7-2 win over the Miami Marlins in front of 37,898 fans on the Fourth of July at Wrigley Field.

"It was him. That was our offense today," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Without that, this game's entirely different. It was nice to get him going tonight."

Bryant became the first Cubs rookie to hit two grand slams in a season since Billy Williams in 1961. He also was the first Cub to hit a grand slam on July 4 since Wildfire Schulte did it in 1911.

[MORE CUBS: Reinforcements coming for Cubs offense as Soler nears return]

The Cubs offense had been struggling, with only 17 runs in the last 10 games before Saturday, when seven of the first 12 batters came around to score. But after Bryant's grand slam, Marlins pitchers set down 19 of 20 hitters, with the only blemish being Anthony Rizzo's hit-by-pitch in the fifth inning.

"Anytime you get that many runs that early, not that you can take your foot off the gas pedal, but kinda just cruise control," Bryant said. "It's always fun to score early."

The two blasts were Bryant's first since June 22, and he has only five since May 26. But he's still on pace for 25 homers and 100 RBIs despite the fact he started the season in the minor leagues.

The Cubs are still waiting for Bryant to get red-hot and have a stretch like he did in spring training this year, when he clubbed nine homers in 14 games.

"We talk about the word 'grind' a lot. He definitely is grinding it out," Maddon said. "He's gone through some tough stretches in at-bats. He's made a lot of adjustments on the major-league level, and that's not easy to do. I'm really impressed.

"For a first-year guy to be pitched at the way he is really speaks a lot about the way the other team thinks about him. He's gonna get, like, spring training hot again during the season at some point.

"It's just an experience thing. Addison (Russell)'s gonna do the same thing. They're gaining experience, they're handling the day properly and it's really impressive to watch."

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

Bryant's fireworks helped former White Sox pitcher Clayton Richard pick up a win in his Cubs debut. Richard had a nice outing, allowing only two runs on eight hits and a walk in 6 1/3 innings while striking out four. It was the first big league action for Richard since 2013 with the San Diego Padres.

After the game, the 31-year-old lefty couldn't help but feel content.

"It was a great deal of fun, and my family got to be here," Richard said. "You can't beat that. ... This game's a lot of fun. I'm very fortunate right now to be getting this opportunity here. It's very tough for me not to smile sometimes."

The Cubs will not need a fifth starter until after the All-Star Break, and Tsuyoshi Wada might be back by then from his shoulder injury, so Richard's future is up in the air. But he left a solid first impression with Maddon and the Cubs.

"I thought Clayton was outstanding," Maddon said. "Really put the ball on the ground; had a really good sinker working tonight. Threw strikes, was unflappable, had a really good way about him. Demeanor, everything was outstanding.

"It's a great first time out for him. We'll see how it's gonna play out for the rest of the stay here, but for right now, he really picked us up tonight."

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.