Cubs star Kris Bryant said he can’t be sure if he’ll be ready to return from his wrist injury Saturday when he’s eligible to come off the injured list.
But he’s already sure about one thing: If the Cubs don’t need him in the leadoff spot anymore, he’ll gladly move down in the order.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Rizz was saying the leadoff spot here’s cursed.”
Bryant, who was declared the Cubs’ 2020 leadoff man by first-year manager David Ross during spring training, laughed when he mentioned the joke he and first baseman Anthony Rizzo shared.
But he was serious about welcoming a return to the No. 2 spot or anywhere else the Cubs might need him if Ian Happ continues to perform well in a leadoff spot that has become an Achilles heel for the Cubs lineup since Dexter Fowler left as a free agent following the 2016 championship.
“I’ve embraced the challenge. Honestly, I’ve kind of enjoyed the challenge,” said Bryant, who has hit just .177 with a .271 on-base percentage in 16 games this season, all leading off.
“But it’s different for me in my career to tackle that. And if Ian’s swinging the bat well, and he’s going to be the leadoff guy, wherever I’ve got to go to play, I’m up for that.”
Bryant, who has a career .382 OBP and .894 OPS, had seven big-league games as a leadoff man, in 2018, before this year in his career.
In addition to the struggles at the plate since moving up this year, the wrist injury that put him on the IL already is the third ailment that has sidelined him for at least a game this year -- fourth if you add the game he missed after self-reporting possible COVID-19 symptoms (he subsequently tested negative).
Talk about cursed.
“It’s a challenge,” he said. “All the guys we’ve had out there since [Fowler], you have really seen first hand just how tough it can be. You feel like you’re hitting every single inning. If you’re going good, that’s great. But if you’re going bad, it’s like, ‘Oh, man, here’s another at-bat to really get this right and figure it out. It’s a mental grind for sure.”
The Cubs have used 19 different players in the leadoff spot since Fowler held the job in 2015 and ’16, including eight who have made at least 30 starts there.