CLEVELAND — Is there any potential scenario where the Cubs keep Kyle Schwarber around longer than this six-game audition?
“No,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Unless we move to the American League.”
The Cubs usually like to parse language, overthink things and keep all options open. But they haven’t left any wiggle room with Schwarber, who is maximizing his time as a designated hitter before heading to Triple-A Iowa to continue developing as a catcher.
Schwarber has already shown that he can handle big-league pitching, blasting his first home run during Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians in front of 15,891 at Progressive Field. The Cubs are getting instant offense with Schwarber, who has six hits in his first 10 at-bats in The Show, scoring five runs and driving in four more.
“It’s surprisingly not that much different,” Schwarber said. “It is better stuff. But you just got to go up there with a good approach. I’m just trying to get my pitch. And when I do get my pitch — don’t miss it.”
Not that the Cubs had any doubts about Schwarber’s left-handed bat after watching him pile up 31 homers and 92 RBIs in his first 130 games in the minors. But keep in mind this is someone who didn’t make his professional debut until June 13 last year after getting drafted fourth overall out of Indiana University.
This is what the Cubs envisioned, Schwarber working a 3-2 count and launching Danny Salazar’s 96 mph fastball 375 feet into the left-field seats for a two-run homer in the fifth inning.
It counted after a second rain delay that lasted one hour and 16 minutes and knocked out starting pitcher Jason Hammel, who gave up three runs in four innings and labeled Schwarber as part of “the best group of young kids I’ve been around, for sure.”
“He puts the barrel on the ball real nice,” said Hammel, who pitched in the playoffs for the Colorado Rockies and Baltimore Orioles and went to the 2008 World Series with the Tampa Bay Rays.
“He’s got a very, very good approach at the plate, as you can see. It’s a tough out right now. It’s pretty impressive for a young guy that’s just come up and kind of getting his feet wet.
“We were expecting to maybe just get a look at him, but he’s actually made a pretty big impact just in the few games so far.”
Is there any buzz in the clubhouse about lobbying to keep Schwarber around?
“Oh yeah, we always want to lobby for guys that are hitting the ball hard like he is,” Hammel said. “But that’s obviously not our realm. He’s a great kid. He’s going to be good for a long time.
“Hopefully, he stays, but obviously that’s something for the front office.”
The media flocked to Schwarber before and after his big-league debut on Monday night at Wrigley Field. Reporters did the same thing again on Wednesday inside the visiting clubhouse.
Schwarber, who grew up outside Cincinnati, had about 40 or 50 guests here in Cleveland, and he must be hearing the what-if questions from all angles.
“I always just try to keep my head buried, man,” Schwarber said. “I don’t like to think about that stuff, because that can mess with me when I’m up at the plate.”
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Schwarber sees the organization’s big picture and wants to finish his education at catcher. He’s not looking to transfer to left field next week, even if it meant playing against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Wrigleyville.
“(Catching is) something that I want to do, personally,” he said. “If it takes more time, it takes more time. That’s what I want to do. I’ve always done it. I have a true passion for it.”
Still, Schwarber will be only one phone call away in Des Moines, and the Cubs (35-29) will be playing to win. There will come a point — maybe in August — where he will have caught enough this season and won’t have anything left to prove as a hitter in the minors.
Until then, enjoy these three DH games against the Minnesota Twins. The Schwarber Show is coming to Target Field.