Kyle Schwarber’s line drive was still racing up the right field line, and he showed no signs of hesitation as he rounded second base. He was going to third.
“As a manager the heart rate goes up just a hair,” Cubs skipper Davis Ross recalled of that moment in Sunday’s scrimmage, “and you’re really watching closely.”
No manager wants his players risking injury on the third day of Summer Camp. But there was no need to worry. Schwarber, who will be one of the players filling the Cubs’ new designated hitter spot this season, trotted into third standing. Ross's heart rate slowed, and he was pleased that Schwarber felt comfortable legging out triples so early in camp.
The addition of the universal DH this season gives the Cubs more flexibility with how they can utilize that confidence. The team is planning a DH-by-committee approach, so Schwarber will still play left field some games. Ross promised as much before Summer Camp opened.
“Trust me, I’m all for whatever he wants me to do,” Schwarber said Wednesday. “I’m just happy for the open communication he’s had with me, and I’ve been able to put in my head already what to expect going into the season.”
From utility player Ian Happ to general manager Jed Hoyer to Ross, people within the organization have raved about the opportunities the universal DH provides the Cubs.
As Schwarber put it: “It really helps our team with the fact that we have a great lineup as is, and now we can lengthen it and lengthen our defense even more.”
Between their two catchers and outfield platoons, the Cubs have more hitters than they can fit in the lineup.
“I think baseball’s at a point now where having nine hitters in the lineup in the NL is a good thing,” Happ said. “I think it’s a good thing for our baseball team specifically. It gives us a lot of flexibility in a few different spots, and I’m excited to see how it plays out this year.”
The universal DH has been long expected. So far, it's only guaranteed for this season, but during negotiations players and owners appeared ready to adopt the rule through 2021, the end of the current collective bargaining agreement. Because they could agree on little else, it was left on the table.
“Pitchers are starting to specialize from a very young age now,” said Happ, who serves as the Cubs' MLB Players Association representative. “You have guys at 10 years old or 14 years old who haven’t picked up a bat or haven’t hit, and then you’re asking them to do that at the highest level in baseball. I think that’s a little silly.”
The universal DH will likely be discussed in the next round of CBA negotiations.
“If the DH is here to stay, so be it,” Schwarber said. “But my job as a player is to prepare to play the field. At the end of the day it’s the manager’s decision to see who plays the field and who’s the DH.”
The Schwarber-should-be-a-DH contingent will no doubt grow louder this season as he steps into that role more often. But judging by Schwarber’s chuckle when a reporter brought up that school of thought, he doesn’t seem to mind.
“I know how people love to view me as a designated hitter,” he said, “but I’m going to still go out there and play my best defense and make really good plays.”