Cubs

Cubs: Kris Bryant tries to see big picture in middle of mental grind

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Cubs: Kris Bryant tries to see big picture in middle of mental grind

Kris Bryant had already crushed a Felix Hernandez changeup in the first inning when he homered a second time against the Seattle Mariners. Billy Williams turned to Rick Sutcliffe during that Cactus League game in March and said: “We got to call him Roy Hobbs.”

Williams is a Hall of Famer who first joined the Cubs organization in 1956. Sutcliffe is the ESPN analyst who won Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards and threw almost 2,700 innings in the big leagues. Moments like that set the baseline expectations: Bryant would do unbelievable things for the rest of his career.

“The Natural” has become it’s natural for young players to wear down and look lost while trying to find their way out of slumps. The mental grind is so intense that Bryant has said you almost feel “brain-dead” at the end of every day.

“I don’t want to come out here and be Babe Ruth in my first season,” Bryant said. “I want to embrace the struggles and learn from it. I think I’m setting a benchmark so that I can improve on a lot of areas.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs will find out how they measure up to Giants dynasty]

Bryant generated so much buzz as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Baseball America’s top prospect heading into this season and a national story in spring training.

But Bryant is trending in the wrong direction now, heading into Thursday’s huge game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field with two homers since the Fourth of July, watching his batting average drop to .246 while his OPS plunged 86 points down to .786. His 130 strikeouts led the National League.

“It’s probably a combination of first time in the big leagues and really good pitching and making adjustments,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “And also probably some fatigue, both mental and physical. He’ll snap out of it.

“We’ve seen Anthony (Rizzo) have a swoon and come back out of it. We’ve seen Addison (Russell) start to come back out of his struggles. I have no doubt Kris will as well. Guys go through it, and he’s really kind of going through it for the first time.”

[MORE CUBS: Are Cubs trying to phase out Starlin Castro as everyday shortstop?]

Bryant comes across as so polished that it’s easy to forget this is only his second full season in professional baseball. And remember the Cubs looked at the service-time clock last year and didn’t make him a September call-up, pulling the plug after 138 games combined at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.

“I do believe you hit a wall, but I also believe you do catch a second wind,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s so talented. He’s going to be good for so many years. But when your confidence takes a hit, how do you get it back?

“And then furthermore, playing more games, under more scrutiny, going to the All-Star Game, being part of the Home Run Derby, family in town, text (messages), phone calls. It’s crazy. So get back into your routine, take a deep breath and understand what’s going on here.

“Part of catching a second wind is being in things — like having a legitimate shot to win.”

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

Bryant carried so many responsibilities as the Cubs emerged as a potential playoff team, hitting in the middle of the order, going all-out while running the bases and playing good enough defense at third base. All this for a marquee franchise in a major market with all eyes on him.

“It’s good to go through the struggles,” Bryant said. “I’ve been through struggles in every year of my life in baseball, and I’ve learned from it. I’m going to come back here stronger from this.

“It’s all a learning process. We’re winning along the way. My teammates are picking me up — and that’s all I can ask for.”

Reds pitcher Amir Garrett apparently held a grudge against Javy Baez for a year

Reds pitcher Amir Garrett apparently held a grudge against Javy Baez for a year

Baseball players don't forget grudges. Javy Baez and Reds pitcher Amir Garrett gave an example of that on Saturday.

Garrett struck out Baez in the seventh inning of the first game of the Cubs-Reds doubleheader. Garrett showed some excitement with the strikeout and then said something to Baez. They both started jawing at each other and suddenly the benches cleared.

At first glance, it looked like Garrett was a bit too excited to get a strikeout with no one on base. Turns out Baez had his own bit of swag for Garrett last year (Friday was the one-year anniversary) in the form of a grand slam at Wrigley Field.

This time Garrett got Baez and wanted to even things up a bit.

Things didn't get too feisty despite the benches clearing, but Anthony Rizzo did rush to Baez's side at some speed. This could be a matchup to keep an eye out for in the future.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The greatest Cubs moments at Great American Ballpark

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The greatest Cubs moments at Great American Ballpark

Siera Santos, Kelly Crull, and David DeJesus go into the audio archives to break down the biggest games for the Cubs in Cincinnati.

David DeJesus gives us his top 3 ballgames with such gems as The Schwarber Game, The Kris Bryant Game, Starlin Castro’s debut, and Jake Arrieta’s second no hitter.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: