MESA, Ariz. — The Jason Hammel reboot could include the Cubs making Kyle Schwarber his personal catcher.
After getting healthy, changing the diet and following a different offseason program, the Cubs think Hammel can again become the All-Star-level performer they saw in the first halves of the last two seasons, and not the pitcher who faded down the stretch.
Even with two veteran catchers in place, the Cubs haven’t given up on the idea of Schwarber behind the plate, believing it would make sense to pair him up with a particular pitcher while he also works on his outfield defense.
“Find a way to get big bats in the lineup,” Hammel said after throwing to Schwarber during a 15-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Sloan Park. “If that’s the way it ends up playing out, I welcome it 100 percent.”
Hammel gave up one run in four innings and now has 11 strikeouts against one walk through three Cactus League starts. Miguel Montero and David Ross will handle most of the catching responsibilities this year, but Hammel did work well with the rookie catcher last season (3.86 ERA in five starts).
“He’s a student of the game,” Hammel said. “He’s ready to learn. He made a lot of adjustments over the course of the offseason and then even in the early part of the spring with game-calling.
“He’s also lowered (his stance). You’re seeing him stick his leg out and giving a lower target than he was last year. It only helps the guys like me with tall leverage where I need that little extra sight line down to drive the ball down.”
Hammel hasn’t had the personal-catcher talk yet with manager Joe Maddon and the coaching staff, but he’s willing to listen.
“You see the same thing every time,” Hammel said. “Decision-making becomes quicker and smarter, because you kind of know what the other guy’s thinking. (You’re) on the same wavelength.”