ATLANTA — As expected, Kyle Schwarber wasn’t in the Cubs lineup Saturday against the Atlanta Braves, with David Ross catching left-handed starter Jon Lester. Manager Joe Maddon said his first thought is to hold Schwarber out Sunday when right-hander Jake Arrieta starts, too, though he'll re-consider it tomorrow given the 22-year-old has 11 hits in 26 major league at-bats.
The Cubs will ease Schwarber into his role as the team’s primary catcher with Miguel Montero (sprained thumb) on the disabled list. Maddon said Friday that Schwarber would be available to catch any starter not named Lester or Arrieta, with Ross serving as Lester's personal catcher and Arrieta having a repertoire the Cubs don't want the 2014 first-round pick handling yet.
But what the organization won’t do is play him in the outfield to keep his bat in the lineup — at least not yet.
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“I don’t want to skip forward too quickly,” Maddon said. “There’s a plan in place. Let’s work the plan.”
Maddon doesn’t want to heap too many responsibilities on Schwarber too soon, which is partly why having him play outfield isn’t viable at this point. He’ll have to take some fly balls on days he’s not catching — a small, heavy thunderstorm rolled through Atlanta on Saturday afternoon, wiping out any chance for bench coach Dave Martinez to work with Schwarber in the outfield — before Maddon will feel comfortable considering sporadically moving him off catcher.
The Cubs have a solid defense, too, ranking fifth in team Ultimate Zone Rating. The left field platoon of Chris Coghlan and Chris Denorfia has combined to play above-average defense while Schwarber hasn’t played the outfield since spending 36 games in left last year.
And too, Maddon likes what Coghlan (.245/.341/.407, 1.6 WAR) and Denorfia (.301/.339/.381, 0.5 WAR) have shown offensively. Coghlan is third on the team with 1.6 WAR, for what it’s worth.
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“If there’s a left center fielder, that’d be okay,” Maddon laughed. “But the other guys have done really well too and they’re playing. Obviously if there was an injury involved that might precipitate moving that along a little sooner.”
Schwarber’s shown he can hit at the major league level and eventually the Cubs will have to find a permanent home for him. With the Cubs’ offense lagging for the better part of June and July (3.2 runs/game entering Saturday) the need for a hitting boost is clear.
But the Cubs are still looking at the big picture with Schwarber. Whatever decisions are made — whether that’s having him catch Arrieta or play the outfield — will be the result of a calculated process.
“It’s about what’s best for us and for him,” Maddon said. “We can not forget this guy’s still being developed. He’s being developed on a major league level.”