Kyle Schwarber walked into Wrigley Field around 12:58 p.m. on Tuesday — or more than six hours before first pitch — to study video of Bronson Arroyo and the Cincinnati Reds bullpen, hit in the cage and go through his normal pregame routine. This had nothing to do with his .179 batting average and says everything about why the Cubs have so much faith in him.
“I always get here around then,” Schwarber said. “It’s just me. I don’t feel like being rushed. I always want to settle in.”
Schwarber isn’t going anywhere and you could already see this kind of 9-5 slugfest coming — a 40-year-old finesse pitcher on the mound, 87-degree weather, 20-mph winds and the defending World Series champs playing a team that lost 94 games and used a No. 2 overall draft pick last year.
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein called it before Schwarber snapped an 0-for-17 streak in the second inning by crushing a 74-mph Arroyo pitch that landed near the top of the right-center field bleachers. The Statcast projections came in at 462 feet and 107.4-mph exit velocity.
“If anyone wants to sell their Kyle Schwarber stock, we’re buying,” Epstein said. “If they want to sell low, we’ll buy low. He’s going to have tremendous production at the end of the year. He’s going to have a lot of big hits to help us win games. It just means there’s a lot of hits out there for the rest of the year.
“He hasn’t gotten on track yet, but we have no doubts that he will.”
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It became personal for Epstein when the Cubs drafted Schwarber and made him untouchable in trade talks last summer, even as he recovered from major surgery on his left knee. It didn’t matter what the rest of the industry thought of the Indiana Hoosier or if it might be perceived as a reach with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft or what the best team in baseball needed at the deadline.
Schwarber gave Epstein flashbacks to his time with the Boston Red Sox — a combination of David Ortiz’s left-handed power and Dustin Pedroia’s energy, intensity and clubhouse influence.
So there would be no overreacting to a leadoff guy now hitting .187 after a 2-for-4 night in the middle of May. Schwarber is still among the National League’s top 10 in walks (24) and pitches per plate appearance (4.4) this season — to go with his five career homers in 14 playoff games and unbelievable 7-for-17 comeback during last year’s World Series.
“I don’t blame ‘em,” Schwarber said of the doubters. “I wish that they could feel what I feel. Obviously, I feel terrible when you’re not helping your team or anything like that. But I’m going to go out there every day and I’m going to help my team win. Today was a good day.”
Epstein sounded surprised/annoyed when a reporter asked: At what point does the slump become deep enough — or how long — before you consider the possibility of sending Schwarber to Triple-A Iowa?
“When we feel like that’s the right thing for him and the team,” Epstein said. “When we think he’s not giving himself a chance up there. We don’t think he’s close to that at all. If you look at his (at-bats) lately, there are still some ones where he’s kind of missing heaters that he normally clobbers. But there was a ton of contact this weekend (in St. Louis). I think he’s really close.”
That’s how Epstein views the 19-19 Cubs as a whole — on the verge of a breakout that will overwhelm the blah start to the season. After building the franchise around hitters through draft picks, trades and free agents, Epstein so far only sees Kris Bryant as a “net positive” offensively through mid-May.
“We have a ton of supremely talented offensive players,” Epstein said. “They’re going to reach their level by the end of the year and the numbers on the back of the baseball card are going to look like they always do. So what it tells me is we’re going to have five or six guys get really hot at the same time.
“Like I said with Schwarber, the same applies to the team. If people want to sell low on the Cubs, sell their stock, we’ll buy. We still really believe in this team. We know how good we can — and will — be when we get it locked in.”