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.”

How David Ross plans to keep Cubs 'sharp' after Cardinals series postponed

How David Ross plans to keep Cubs 'sharp' after Cardinals series postponed

One phone call Friday morning set in motion a reversal of the Cubs’ weekend plans. Instead of battling the Cardinals in a three-game series at Busch Stadium, they were heading home to Chicago and had four off days to fill before their next game.

“I think it's a little bit of a reset for us,” Cubs manager David Ross said Saturday, “ … and we’ve got continue to try to stay as sharp as we possibly can, get back to maybe work on a few things we might want to clean up in this downtime, and use it to our advantage as best we can.”

With the Cubs’ weekend series against the Cardinals postponed, due to three more members of the Cardinals organization testing positive for COVID-19, Ross said he gave the Cubs position players the option to take Saturday off. For the pitchers, it was a light workout day, a chance to throw a bullpen.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

The Cubs plan to play a simulated game Sunday and have a “fun” competition on Monday, Ross said.

Other aspects of the Cubs’ path forward remain unclear, like when will they make up the postponed series. And even more pressing, which pitcher will start on Tuesday at Cleveland?

Ross said he and his coaches have talked about how the schedule adjustment will affect the starting rotation, but there are still discussions to be had with the pitching staff.

Left-hander Jon Lester, who was supposed to start on Friday, was among those scheduled to throw a bullpen session Saturday.

“Jon especially, a veteran guy, knows how to take care of himself and knows how to back off or give a little more,” Ross said. “…There's no substitute for competition. I think we all know that. And getting out there against another jersey is important. It is important to stay sharp, physically and mentally, and staying ready. But we have a ton of professionals.”

He pointed to the almost four months of off time between the cancellation of Spring Training and the start of the regular season.

 Kyle Hendricks, for example, prepared for the accelerated summer camp so well that he threw a complete game on Opening Day. Any reshuffling of the rotation’s schedule couldn’t be nearly as much of a challenge.

“It's 2020, where we know we've got to take it one day at a time,” Ross said. “… We were planning to play St. Louis, they told us we weren't, so we came home and we adjusted. And we'll do that as best we can to continue this season.”

Ross had been hoping for a different kind of phone call on Friday morning. The Cardinals traveling party produced no new positive COVID-19 tests for consecutive days before MLB cleared the team to return to St. Louis and resume their schedule. The week prior, 13 players and staff members had tested positive.

“Going into it, with all that was going on, we were hoping to hear some news that morning, or just a reassurance,” Ross said, “and they had assured us that they were going to communicate every detail of why they thought we should be on the field.”

Instead, the Cubs received word that Friday’s game had been postponed. Ross described Major League Baseball’s communication as “outstanding.”

The Cubs support staff adjusted on the fly. Director of Major League travel and clubhouse operations Vijay Tekchandani contacted United Airlines to set up a return flight. Team dietitian Jordan Brown arranged for meals at the hotel that weren’t originally on the schedule.

“A lot of adjustments on their part,” Ross said, “and making sure everybody was comfortable and had some downtime but had some space to just get out of their room.”

Tekchandani had chosen a hotel with an outdoor patio that the players could use without running into other hotel guests and while practicing social distancing.

Around 5 p.m., the team learned that the rest of the series had been canceled. Less than an hour later, a bus was at the hotel to take the Cubs to the airport. They were back in Chicago before 8 p.m..

“Everybody was good yesterday,” Ross said of the players. “If I go back to my playing days, no matter what, you kind of welcome an off day in the middle of a long stretch. So, the first off day is always nice, nice and relaxing.”

The Cubs were off to a 10-3 start, in what was originally scheduled to be 17 straight games without an off day. Between a rainout in Cincinnati and the COVID-19 related postponement this weekend, that hasn’t been the case.

Now, the Cubs face a different kind of challenge: carrying momentum through a weekend off.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE CUBS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.

How David Ross plans to keep Cubs 'sharp' after Cardinals series postponed

How David Ross plans to keep Cubs 'sharp' after Cardinals series postponed

One phone call Friday morning set in motion a reversal of the Cubs’ weekend plans. Instead of battling the Cardinals in a three-game series at Busch Stadium, they were heading home to Chicago and had four off days to fill before their next game.

“I think it's a little bit of a reset for us,” Cubs manager David Ross said Saturday, “ … and we’ve got continue to try to stay as sharp as we possibly can, get back to maybe work on a few things we might want to clean up in this downtime, and use it to our advantage as best we can.”

With the Cubs’ weekend series against the Cardinals postponed, due to three more members of the Cardinals organization testing positive for COVID-19, Ross said he gave the Cubs position players the option to take Saturday off. For the pitchers, it was a light workout day, a chance to throw a bullpen.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

The Cubs plan to play a simulated game Sunday and have a “fun” competition on Monday, Ross said.

Other aspects of the Cubs’ path forward remain unclear, like when will they make up the postponed series. And even more pressing, which pitcher will start on Tuesday at Cleveland?

Ross said he and his coaches have talked about how the schedule adjustment will affect the starting rotation, but there are still discussions to be had with the pitching staff.

Left-hander Jon Lester, who was supposed to start on Friday, was among those scheduled to throw a bullpen session Saturday.

“Jon especially, a veteran guy, knows how to take care of himself and knows how to back off or give a little more,” Ross said. “…There's no substitute for competition. I think we all know that. And getting out there against another jersey is important. It is important to stay sharp, physically and mentally, and staying ready. But we have a ton of professionals.”

He pointed to the almost four months of off time between the cancellation of Spring Training and the start of the regular season.

 Kyle Hendricks, for example, prepared for the accelerated summer camp so well that he threw a complete game on Opening Day. Any reshuffling of the rotation’s schedule couldn’t be nearly as much of a challenge.

“It's 2020, where we know we've got to take it one day at a time,” Ross said. “… We were planning to play St. Louis, they told us we weren't, so we came home and we adjusted. And we'll do that as best we can to continue this season.”

Ross had been hoping for a different kind of phone call on Friday morning. The Cardinals traveling party produced no new positive COVID-19 tests for consecutive days before MLB cleared the team to return to St. Louis and resume their schedule. The week prior, 13 players and staff members had tested positive.

“Going into it, with all that was going on, we were hoping to hear some news that morning, or just a reassurance,” Ross said, “and they had assured us that they were going to communicate every detail of why they thought we should be on the field.”

Instead, the Cubs received word that Friday’s game had been postponed. Ross described Major League Baseball’s communication as “outstanding.”

The Cubs support staff adjusted on the fly. Director of Major League travel and clubhouse operations Vijay Tekchandani contacted United Airlines to set up a return flight. Team dietitian Jordan Brown arranged for meals at the hotel that weren’t originally on the schedule.

“A lot of adjustments on their part,” Ross said, “and making sure everybody was comfortable and had some downtime but had some space to just get out of their room.”

Tekchandani had chosen a hotel with an outdoor patio that the players could use without running into other hotel guests and while practicing social distancing.

Around 5 p.m., the team learned that the rest of the series had been canceled. Less than an hour later, a bus was at the hotel to take the Cubs to the airport. They were back in Chicago before 8 p.m..

“Everybody was good yesterday,” Ross said of the players. “If I go back to my playing days, no matter what, you kind of welcome an off day in the middle of a long stretch. So, the first off day is always nice, nice and relaxing.”

The Cubs were off to a 10-3 start, in what was originally scheduled to be 17 straight games without an off day. Between a rainout in Cincinnati and the COVID-19 related postponement this weekend, that hasn’t been the case.

Now, the Cubs face a different kind of challenge: carrying momentum through a weekend off.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE CUBS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.