ATLANTA — There’s not an expiration date on Kyle Schwarber’s second stint in the major leagues, not with Miguel Montero’s sprained thumb expected to keep the veteran catcher sidelined for the foreseeable future.
MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo reported Montero may need six weeks to recover after injuring his thumb in last weekend’s Crosstown tilt against the White Sox, though the Cubs don’t have a definitive timetable just yet. Montero saw a hand specialist in Chicago on Friday and will be evaluated again in Arizona, where he’ll begin his rehab process when ready.
What the Cubs do know is Schwarber is here and will play a significant role in the club’s second-half playoff push. He showed how big an asset his bat can be on Friday night, when he hit second and went 3-4 with a double in the Cubs’ 4-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Starter Kyle Hendricks said Schwarber, who did make a pair of errors, was “awesome” to throw to as well.
“For his first start catching in the big leagues, it was pretty damn good,” Hendricks said. “You gotta give it to him."
While Schwarber was quickly back in the spotlight, for now he’ll only catch pitchers the Cubs are comfortable with him handling. Manager Joe Maddon said that means he won’t be in the lineup when left-hander Jon Lester — who usually throws to David Ross — or right-hander Jake Arrieta is on the mound.
It’s all part of the plan to give Schwarber a “soft landing,” as Maddon explained.
“He feels very good about it, he’s a very confident young man and I feel very good about him too, we all do,” Maddon said. “We want to try to make this adjustment as easy as possible.”
Schwarber blasted 16 home runs in 75 minor league games — spent with Double-A and Triple-A — before the Cubs recalled him Friday. He flashed his big offensive potential during a six-game major league stint in June, going 8-22 with a home run and six RBIs as a designated hitter against the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins.
The questions about Schwarber don’t focus on his bat, though. With Montero out, he’ll have his first real shot at proving he can be an every day catcher at the major league level.
“I’m going to be the most confident person back there and I’m not going to be second-guessing myself or anything,” Schwarber said. “You gotta go with your decision and you gotta have conviction with what you’re going to call and what you’re going to do.”
The Cubs don’t plan to use Schwarber in the outfield on days he’s not catching yet, though Maddon said eventually the 22-year-old could start taking some fly balls. He hasn’t played any outfield in the minor leagues this year and throwing him out there, at least in the near future, wouldn’t fit with the team’s calculated usage plan.
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Those questions about Schwarber’s ability to stay at catcher will follow him until he either establishes himself there or ultimately plays himself off the position. He committed a throwing error on Nick Markakis’ stolen base attempt in the first inning, leading to an unearned run scoring off Hendricks to break the right-hander’s 22 1/3-inning scoreless streak. In the sixth, Braves first baseman Kelly Johnson reached on a catcher’s interference that charged Schwarber with his second error of the game.
But an added benefit of having Schwarber up in the majors is a daily chance to pick the brain of Ross, a 14-year veteran and World Series winner.
“Schwarbs is very open,” Maddon said. “By no means does he think he knows everything. This guy knows he’s got a lot to learn. He’s insatiable in terms of gathering information. I think it’s a perfect match.”
The Cubs are putting plenty of faith in Schwarber to aid in the organization’s bid to reach the postseason for the first time since 2008. But with that six-game introduction out of the way, Schwarber feels ready to take on the task for however long the Cubs need him.
“It definitely helped get all the firsts away, all the nerves, just the awe factor of being here,” Schwarber said. “That kind of got away that first day when I was up here. So after that it was all about learning and showing why I’m up here, to go out and win and help the team compete for a playoff spot.
“I don’t know how long it’s going to be for, but I’m going to plan to be up here for as long as I can be.”