PITTSBURGH — Now playing center field ... Kris Bryant?
At 6-foot-5, Bryant doesn’t exactly look the part. The Cubs also believe he has a strong arm and enough athleticism to be able to stick at third base, where his monster offensive projections would create so much value.
The thinking is you keep him there for as long as you can. But Dexter Fowler’s injury and some late-game maneuvering forced the Cubs to tap into Bryant’s versatility during Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Bryant had been exposed to center field at the University of San Diego, where he developed into the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft.
But could you handle it for an extended run?
“Yeah, why not?” Bryant said. “I probably played there five games in college. I actually like center a lot better than the other two, just because you don’t have to deal with the hooks of a righty smashing one down the left-field line or a lefty smashing one down the right-field line.”
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On a night where snow swept through PNC Park, the Cubs played it safe with Fowler, who left the game with right groin tightness. Fowler didn’t know if he would be able to play on Thursday, but he also didn’t think it would be a serious lingering issue.
“It’s more a precaution than anything on a cold day,” Fowler said. “We’ll see how it feels when I wake up in the morning.”
Fowler led off the game with a bunt single and immediately felt something in the first inning. Fowler made the turn when the throw sailed wide of Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez. Fowler then had to scramble back to the base when the ball didn’t bounce far enough to allow him to take second. The tightness didn’t stop Fowler from stealing the base moments later.
But the Cubs decided to have Chris Denorfia pinch-hit for Fowler in the third inning. Bench coach Dave Martinez later asked Bryant where he felt comfortable in the outfield. Bryant took over center in the eighth inning, and of course the first batter (Neil Walker) hit it right to him.
Nothing seems to faze Bryant, who handled this with the same attitude that’s helped him deal with all the great expectations and nonstop attention that comes with his mega-prospect status.
“It was cool out there — center field’s fun,” Bryant said. “If you’re kind of getting used to the outfield, it’s a good spot to get some flyballs in, just to read it off the bat.”