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Daniel Descalso isn't the type of player whose true impact can be summed up by looking at the back of his baseball card.

In a lot of ways, he's the prototypical "Cardinals" player. Cubs fans know the type — fundamentally sound and doesn't really excel in one area, but is solid across the board. Jon Jay is another player in that same mold and won over the North Side of Chicago during his brief one-year stint here in 2017. (Jay is also good friends with Descalso.)

Descalso came up in the Cardinals system and spent his first five MLB seasons in St. Louis. Friday marks the first time he's getting a taste of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry from the other side.

When the Cubs signed Descalso to a free-agent deal a week before Christmas, he was heralded as a clubhouse leader and a strong veteran presence who works solid, consistent at-bats. Heading into the winter, nobody thought Descalso would be the biggest addition the Cubs would make before the 2019 campaign, but the 32-year-old has been exactly as advertised.

"He's a professional, man," Joe Maddon said of Descalso earlier this season. "This guy knows what he's doing out there. He can play on any team in any generation. He's just a good baseball player. He works a great at-bat."

The Cubs went into the offseason with a lot of quality position-player depth, so it was unknown exactly how much Descalso would play this year, even though he could suit up at essentially any position on the diamond. 

 

Friday marked his 20th start for the Cubs in their first 29 games and he's on pace for 451 at-bats. Ironically, Descalso's versatility hasn't even been a factor yet, as every start he's made and defensive inning he's played has come at second base. It helps that Ian Happ has spent the entire first month of the season in Triple-A Iowa and Ben Zobrist is also so flexible and a solid defender in the outfield.

However, Descalso's approach at the plate has also necessitated more playing time. 

He's been one of the most clutch hitters on the Cubs over the first five weeks of the season, hitting .385 (5-for-13) with 2 outs and runners in scoring position and batting .310 (13-for-42) with 7 RBI in high- or medium-leverage situations.

"My approach is gonna be dictated by pitcher on the mound, situation out there, if I'm familiar with the guy, how I'm feeling," he said. "So I don't try to do anything any differently [with 2 outs]. As simple as it sounds, I just try to get a pitch to hit and don't miss it."

Descalso is also seeing a lot of time in the leadoff spot now for the Cubs, with both Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. off to slow starts in their timeshare atop the Cubs order. Maddon said part of that is he wants to get Descalso as many at-bats as possible in a game because he thinks "good things are going to happen."

That's exactly what played out Friday, as Descalso laid off a couple of close pitches from Jack Flaherty and drew a 1-out walk before scoring the first run of the game a few pitches later on Anthony Rizzo's 3-run blast.

For Descalso, he doesn't care where he hits, but it's certainly not a bad place to be in front of Kris Bryant, Rizzo and Javy Baez.

"I just try to go up there and have good at-bats," he said. "I'm trying to get on base any way I can, wherever I'm hitting. Whether it's leadoff in front of KB and Tony and Javy or whether it's down in the order, my goal is to get on base and try to swing at good pitches, take my walks when they're there and just have good at-bats."

This marks Descalso's 10th season in the big leagues and he's become more of a weapon at the plate with each passing year. Last season with the Diamondbacks, he set career highs in homers (13), RBI (57), walks (64), on-base percentage (.353), slugging percentage (.436) and OPS (.789). 

Entering play Friday, he's on pace to approach those numbers once again — 12 homers, 64 RBI, 58 walks, .341 OBP, .397 SLG, .738 OPS.

"I feel like I've always had a pretty good feel for the strike zone," Descalso said. "Maybe I chased a little more when I was younger. Maybe I missed some pitches I should've hit and put myself in less advantageous counts. I just feel like I have a better understanding of myself and what pitchers are trying to do to me now that I've been around for a while.

 

"I think it's a combination of being around for a while — you have a good idea how teams are trying to approach you — and you should know what you do well and what you don't do well and be an honest self-evaluator. Try to go up there and swing at pitches you can handle, try to cover the whole plate, stick to a plan up there and try to execute it."

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