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Schwarber ready to work back in minors after 'perfect' situation with Cubs

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Schwarber ready to work back in minors after 'perfect' situation with Cubs

MINNEAPOLIS - Kyle Schwarber dug in the left-handed batter's box at Target Field, staring down Twins southpaw Aaron Thompson with an 0-2 count.

The Twins had just intentionally walked Chris Denorfia to load the bases with nobody out in the eighth inning of a 2-0 ballgame.

On Thompson's 0-2 delivery, Schwarber stuck his bat out and dinked a soft liner into left-center, padding the Cubs with two insurance runs and proving he would head back to the minor leagues in style.

That situation Sunday was essentially a microcosm of Schwarber's little vacation in the big leagues.

[MORE - Jake Arrieta on point as Cubs cruise past Twins]

The Cubs' next big thing will head to Triple-A Iowa to continue to work on his defense behind the plate, but he used the six-game stint to prove he will be back in the majors...at some point.

"I loved the fact that he just competes," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after Sunday's 8-0 win over the Twins. "He had a couple tough at-bats, but he competed the entire game. And that's what you notice.

"As it moves down the road when he gets back up here, the fact that he's a competitor, that matters. A lot, actually. So I was really pleased with that."

Schwarber finished the week with a .364 average, .982 OPS and 6 RBI on a homer and a triple, drawing a high compliment from Maddon, who said the rookie handled everything "perfectly."

After striking out in his debut Tuesday, Schwarber announced his arrival by going 4-for-5 in Cleveland Wednesday, helping to lead the charge in the Cubs' 17-0 slaughter over the Indians.

But he finished just 2-for-12 over his last three games, including that two-run single. He struck out six times during the three games in Minnesota, too often expanding the zone and helping Twins pitchers get him out.

"The stuff [from MLB pitchers] is really good," Schwarber said. "That's when your approach has to come in. You can't be chasing pitches. I got myself into the trouble the last couple days by chasing some pitches out of the zone.

"It's time to get back to being patient and swinging at pitches in the zone. That's when I'm going to have success - swinging at strikes, not balls."

On one occassion Saturday, Schwarber expanded the zone again, striking out with only one out and a runner on third when the Cubs could have used a run in the sixth inning of a tie game.

The Cubs were actually glad Schwarber experienced some adversity in the big leagues, since he hasn't endured much in the way of struggles in the minors (.333 average, 31 homers, 92 RBI, 1.042 OPS in 130 games since being selected No. 4 overall in the 2014 Draft.)

"I love the fact that he had some success and maybe struggled just a little bit so he can understand it's not that easy to do all this," Maddon said. "He's gonna know he has to make adjustments. He's gonna know the way this league works, how teams will scout and analyze him until they find that little thing and then you have to guard against it and make an adjustment.

"Primarily, he was just swinging at the ball up and he knows that and [the Twins knew] that. So he's just got to stop doing that. They're balls. And he'll be fine."

[MORE: 'Iron Horse' Coghlan has become unheralded contributor for Cubs]

The Cubs want Schwarber to go back down to the minors and work on his defense as a catcher, learning how to frame pitches, call a game and everything else that comes with the most demanding position on the field.

Barring a drastic rule change in Major League Baseball, the Cubs won't have the benefit of the designated hitter for more than a few games a season, so if he's going to be a big part of the future, Schwarber has to be more than just a guy who can hit.

But he knows that.

"[Hitting] was fun, but before games, I was always trying to get better defensively, because obviously I have to play a position," Schwarber said. "I had to take advantage of my time beforehand or in games, whether it's good at-bats and always trying to learn even when you're not hitting, thinking along with the catcher."

Schwarber only caught one inning during his brief trip up with the Cubs, coming in to receive the ninth inning of Tuesday's game.

But he spent the week sitting alongside the Cubs veteran catching duo - Miguel Montero and David Ross - as well as catching instructor Mike Borzello before and during games, trying to soak up anything he could.

The Cubs let Schwarber catch veteran starter Jason Hammel's side session in Minnesota and the 22-year-old also hopped out to warm up Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta in between innings while Ross and Montero put their gear on.

"It was nice," Schwarber said of learning from Montero and Ross. "Being able to sit by them, talk to them during a game while one's catching and one's on the bench and sitting next to Borzello, thinking along with the game.

"It's great. Shows how much attention to detail they put into the game-calling. It is kind of an art. It's really cool to see how they do it."

Schwarber stood at his locker Sunday evening, insisting he wasn't disappointed by his assignment back to the minor leagues.

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The Cubs had made it very clear from the start: This was only six games and that's it. Not even a full week of MLB time. No matter what the kid did - good or bad - he wasn't going to stay in the big leagues. Not as a catcher, outfielder or left-handed bat off the bench.

"We talked before [Sunday's] game about what was going to happen next," Maddon said. "Of course, he got it. I think we set it up properly before he came here. There was no gray area. He knew, regardless of how well he did, he was going back.

"And as you can see, there are different things to work on next. He definitely contributed, helped us win a couple games. He did an outstanding job. Him and [Borzello] got a chance to work defensively and we talked about all that stuff.

"It really doesn't happen often that a guy like that, a player like that, gets this opportunity for a finite moment, knows exactly what's going on, the fit is perfect and then goes back down with some specifics to work on. It really couldn't have turned out better."

Schwarber still has to answer the long-term questions about his ultimate position (catcher? left field? somewhere else?), but he's still determined to make it as a backstop.

And despite his advanced approach at the plate and early success, Schwarber knows he still has plenty to learn on the hitting side of things.

"It was a great experience," Schwarber said. "I can't thank these guys enough for being accepting, letting me come up and play with 'em. I'm glad I got to help the team win a couple games.

"It was a great experience and now it's time to go down and start working on all the things I need to work on and hopefully get back up here."

[RELATED - Kyle Schwarber making an instant impact for Cubs]

This six-game stretch wasn't a tryout or an audition for Schwarber. He didn't have to prove anything to anybody. This move back to the minors is really only a demotion in the literal sense.

"[He] got a nice taste," Rizzo said. "It's really nice that he goes down to Triple-A after having success up here and knows he can do it. Now it's [time to] go down, keep developing, keep building.

"He knows he can hit up here, so it's just keep doing your thing. Really, that's all you can say to him."

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Can Jon Lester get out of his slump?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Can Jon Lester get out of his slump?

David Haugh, Ben Finfer and Seth Gruen join Kap on the panel.

0:00- The Cubs winning streak is over as Jon Lester's struggles continue. Should fans be worried that he can't get out of this slump? Would he be a playoff starter right now?

8:40- The White Sox rebuild continues as Rick Hahn says fans might have to wait until next spring to see whether or not they'll be contenders. Is next year too early to compete?

15:00- The Bears backups get ready to face the Colts backups Saturday night. Is there any reason to have the preseason at all?

18:30- Mitch Trubisky's preseason is over. So is he ready for Week 1?

20:00- College football is back. The panel give their picks for Florida vs Miami in the Fanduel Friday Faves.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs rallying behind Jon Lester after another tough outing

Cubs rallying behind Jon Lester after another tough outing

There are three ways to look at the Cubs' 9-3 loss Friday:

1) Jon Lester had another rough outing and the sun is starting to set on his career as a front-of-the-rotation starter.

2) Lester gave up some hard contact, but also had some tough luck and pitched better than his final line indicated.

3) Meh.

To be honest, each of the three perspectives has an element of truth to it, but the third one is probably the main way to look at it as the Cubs tasted defeat for the first time in a week.

No, the team did not play well, but it went far beyond Lester.

The Nationals didn't get into town until the wee hours of Friday morning, yet it was the Cubs who looked sluggish Friday. They managed only two baserunners - a single and a walk - until the ninth inning when they put together a too-little-too-late rally thanks to some shoddy Washington fielding.

But even if the offense did come to play, the game was out of hand by the fifth inning, when Lester and Pedro Strop combined to allow 3 runs, extending Washington's lead to 7-0.

Lester was charged with 6 runs on 9 hits and a walk over 4.1 innings, but 8 of those 9 hits were singles. The only extra-base knock off the Cubs southpaw was Adam Eaton's line drive home run in the first inning that he smacked into the 18 mph wind howling in off the lake.

Of the singles, a couple were hard ground balls knocked down by Cubs infielders and one was a perfectly executed bunt by pitcher Anibal Sanchez with two strikes that the Cubs had no choice but to hope it would roll foul. At that point in the fourth inning, the score was only 3-0, but the Cubs' misfortune seemed to open the door for the Nationals.

"I'm telling you, I don't think he was that bad today," Maddon said. "We were a little bit unlucky with him. ... Outside of that last inning when they squared him up, I thought he actually threw the ball decently.

"I think he's gonna be fine. He will find a way to get himself back into the picture in the right way. There's a lot of time left with the playoffs, etc., so I'm counting on it. I believe in Jon."

Beyond the tough luck, the Nationals hit five balls more than 100 mph off Lester, including a 108.5 mph single on the final batter (Juan Soto) he faced in the fifth inning.

After the game, Lester couldn't do much but shrug and accept responsibility for the loss.

"I feel fine," he said. "Today sucks. Tomorrow, I'll wake up and start a new day and get ready for another start. That doesn't take the sting away from today. Joe's always said, 'you win hard, you lose hard' and losing for me is even harder than that. Sucking as a pitcher is even harder than that.

"It's my job to do better and I'm not. I let a five-game winning streak basically go by the wayside because I didn't throw the ball very well. It's frustrating, but tomorrow starts a new day and move on to the next one."

Friday's game marks the fifth time this season Lester has allowed at least 6 runs in an outing. This was his 25th start of 2019, so that means 20 percent of his appearances have resulted in putting his team in a major hole.

"I think we're getting to the point where you can't isolate [the rough games]," Lester said. "They're happening a little bit too much for myself. I felt pretty good about myself after the last one, just being able to continually execute pitches. I don't feel like stuff was much different than last time, just different results and that's the shitty part about this game and my job - it's results driven and it doesn't matter how I feel or what the gameplan was going in.

"You have to execute and get people out and keep them from scoring runs and I'm just not doing that."

Lester started the five-game winning streak for the Cubs with a performance befitting true "ace" or "stopper" status. After a pair of disheartening bullpen meltdowns, he took the ball last Saturday and shut out the Pirates through 6 innings, battling despite not having his best stuff (5 walks).

But even including that start in Pittsburgh, Lester has now allowed 23 earned runs in 24.1 innings in five starts in August.

For a 35-year-old with three World Series rings and a long track record of pitching well when the lights are the brightest, he isn't where he wants to be as September approaches in a tight playoff race.

"Better than this," he said. "Usually this is the time of year where I pitch a lot better than I have been. For whatever reason, I haven't hit that stride. I usually have ups and downs to every season, but usually more ups than downs.

"Right now, it's just continuing to go down. The old saying - one step forward, two steps back - is kinda what I'm doing right now. The positive is I physically feel fine. Can't blame it on that. Just have to be better. Tomorrow's a new day, prepare for the next one."

Even with the recent struggles, Kyle Schwarber said Lester is still the guy the Cubs would want to give the ball to in Game 1 of a playoff series.

"He'll bounce back," Schwarber said. "He knows how to handle himself really well. He's a leader out there and we always have his back."

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