CINCINNATI — Kyle Schwarber’s homecoming angle might feel a little different if he wasn’t replacing a two-time All-Star catcher and the Cubs weren’t in the middle of a pennant race.
The Cubs don’t yet know — or won’t publicly reveal — how serious Miguel Montero’s thumb injury is now. So Schwarber’s crash course in the big leagues will continue indefinitely.
“I’m happy that I’m back here in Cincinnati, but it’s time to do the job,” Schwarber said Monday afternoon, surrounded by four TV cameras and more than a dozen reporters in Great American Ball Park’s visiting dugout before a 5-4 loss to the Reds.
Yes, Schwarber grew up about 40 miles from here, rooting for the Reds, looking up to Ken Griffey Jr. and studying how Joey Votto approaches at-bats with such patience.
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Montero was scheduled to visit another hand specialist on Monday in Arizona to get a better idea of how long he might be sidelined. The Cubs have made it clear Montero will miss more than 15 days and don’t necessarily see his left thumb as a quick fix.
The impact hitter the Cubs add before the July 31 trade deadline might essentially be Schwarber, who had his bat from last week’s Futures Game in Cincinnati sent to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Schwarber earned the MVP award in that All-Star showcase event about 13 months after the Cubs drafted him No. 4 overall out of Indiana University. There were some doubts about whether or not Schwarber would be able to catch at the major-league level, a perception that maybe the Cubs reached for a designated hitter.
Good or bad, Schwarber doesn’t believe the hype.
“I really don’t pay attention to any of that — the prospect (stuff) or any other rankings,” Schwarber said. “I’m a ballplayer just like anyone else is — I’m trying to now stay here.
“I got here. Now it’s time to stay here. The easy part is getting here. The hard part is getting to stay here. So whatever I got to do to stay here, I’m going to (do it).”
Schwarber got a taste during interleague play last month, walking into a clubhouse filled with young talent (Kris Bryant, Addison Russell) and veteran leaders like catcher David Ross.
“That’s the good thing about this team,” Schwarber said. “All the egos are put aside at the door. We’re all out here to win. We want to win. And whatever it takes, we’re going to do it.
“Whenever we’re going over a report, or whatever situation comes up in the game, it comes down to me doing my homework (and) making sure the pitcher is on the same page.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m not a complete product at all. I always want to be a student of the game, always learning the game.”
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In front of his hometown crowd, Schwarber went 1-for-4 with a walk and scored a run. (The Reds also scored a run on Clayton Richard’s wild pitch in the fourth inning). Schwarber now has a .974 OPS through his first 10 games in The Show.
Schwarber hasn’t even completed his first full season in professional baseball yet, and he’s already forcing the issue. He’s out to show the Cubs that he’s here to stay.
“Outstanding,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You saw him go out to the mound and talk to the pitchers a couple times — very comfortably — and he always has a good message. I got to give the kid a lot of credit, man. He’s really understanding this quickly.
“He’s the one who has to be the sponge — willing to absorb — and then has to have the aptitude to put it in play. He’s got all that going on.”