No return date for Dexter Fowler, but Cubs can't wait to get him back

No return date for Dexter Fowler, but Cubs can't wait to get him back

Dexter Fowler has missed the last 14 games. And the Cubs have lost 10 of them.

While there are plenty of other reasons the Cubs have recently made fans sweat with ugly sweeps at the hands of the Cardinals and Mets and dropping three of four to the Marlins, Fowler's absence is among the most glaring.

The center fielder and leadoff guy is in all likelihood going to be voted into the starting lineup for the National League All-Star team, but when he finally returns to the Cubs' starting lineup remains a mystery. The updates that came Monday from Fowler and manager Joe Maddon regarding the center fielder's hamstring injury fell more into the speculation category.

"I can’t put a time on it," Fowler said. "It feels good. It’s getting better, it’s getting better fast. That’s a good sign. I can’t really look toward the future."

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

When Fowler initially went on the disabled list two weeks ago, it was billed mostly as precaution. He wasn't expected to need the full 15 days. But 15 days later, Fowler remains on the DL, and he might remain there a few days more, too.

What was certain Monday was that he'll go on a rehab assignment. When that will happen, however, was also unknown.

"He needs a day or two of rehab, getting out and playing. We don’t know when that’s going to be yet," Maddon said. "It’s not impossible to think that it can be by the end of this week. But it’s a day-to-day thing. He’s getting better, he’s feeling well. Obviously he’s motivated to play in the All-Star Game, that’s a big part of it. I understand that. We’ll just play out the rest of the week and see where it takes us. But there’s no definitive game strategy right now."

So if Fowler is one of three starting National League outfielders when the All-Star rosters are announced Tuesday, will he get a chance to play in the game?

Again, unknown.

"The thing with him is health. Maybe coincidentally you would send him out on those two days anyhow to play rehab, and it just happens to be before an All-Star Game. That would all be more coincidence more than we’re trying to push for him to play in an All-Star Game. That wouldn’t be it at all," Maddon said. "This might be the right time to do it. And then you know that he’s fine, and he goes (to the All-Star Game) and plays a couple innings out there, gets a couple at-bats, comes back and plays. I don’t know, this is all conjecture. But you don’t want to have the timing interfere with what you would have normally done anyway."

[MORE CUBS: Maddon expects Kris Bryant to be fine after scary outfield collision]

Here's what is a definite, though: The Cubs want Fowler back, and they could use him back in a big way. Again, his absence isn't the only reason the Cubs are experiencing a downturn from their white-hot start to the season. But losing an All-Star leadoff man has its obvious repercussions.

Fowler has led off every game he's started this season and posted a spectacular .290/.398/.483 slash line with 41 runs scored, 19 doubles, seven homers and 28 RBIs. Since his departure from June 18's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, a variety of Cubs hitters have led off, with Ben Zobrist taking over the role on a consistent basis of late.

And while Zobrist's numbers in the leadoff spot are similarly strong — .286/.394/.500 slash line — it's taking Zobrist's bat out of the middle of the lineup that's causing the offense to sputter at times, per Maddon.

"Zo’s done a great job in the one-hole. He’s done a really good job," Maddon said. "I think that there’s an argument to be made it’s been kind of equal. But then you don’t have Zo somewhere else. That’s the issue. So I think either one of those two guys do a wonderful job (batting leadoff). But when you’re unable to utilize Zobrist in a different spot, obviously because Dex isn’t there, that’s where I think the impact has been felt more than anything. Getting Dexter back is important."

So will Fowler go on rehab this week? Will he be back with the Cubs this week? Will he play in the All-Star Game? Or will none of that happen until after the All-Star festivities?

The Cubs' answers to all of those questions are the same: "We'll see."

But the answer to whether they want and need Fowler back is different. The answer is a resounding yes.

"I thought we could hold serve," Maddon said of the time without Fowler in the lineup. "We’re not far below .500 since this has all been going on, we just had a bad series in New York. You go three out of four in Miami, get yourself righted in Cincinnati, and then have a tough weekend. I’m fine. I don’t think there’s any reason to overestimate anything. We definitely want to have Dexter back, no question."

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


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.