Cubs: Does Kyle Schwarber have a future at catcher?

Cubs: Does Kyle Schwarber have a future at catcher?

MESA, Ariz. – Of course, Kyle Schwarber’s run-through-a-brick-wall mentality means he wants to be a catcher. That can always be his passion, but the Cubs have to take a more clinical view and try to protect one of their most valuable assets.

As pitchers and catchers formally reported to the Sloan Park complex on Tuesday, Schwarber was scheduled to meet with Dr. Stephen Gryzlo, the team’s orthopaedist. Even if Schwarber gets the green light in that examination – 10 months after he underwent surgery on his left knee to reconstruct his ACL and repair his LCL – the Cubs will still proceed with caution.

“We’re not going to give him too much,” team president Theo Epstein said. “His future is too valuable. We want him to have the longest possible career. He makes such a great impact on us with his bat – and with the person that he is – that we don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the length and impact of his career.

“We’re just going to walk before we run. Or walk before we squat, I guess, would be the appropriate thing to say with catching, and just really, really ease into it.”

It sounds like the ideal would be Schwarber leaving Arizona as a viable third catcher for manager Joe Maddon – more in case of emergency than as part of a rotation with Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero. 

“If he’s medically cleared today to start introducing some catching, as we expect him to be, we’re going to really go slow with it,” Epstein said. “Like one or two days a week in spring training. That’s it. His primary focus is going to be as a left fielder.

“The goal, if he is cleared, would be to have him ready potentially at the end of spring training to fill that role of third catcher, so if there’s something that happens in-game, Joe can move him back there, or if there’s a certain rare occasion where it makes sense for him to start a game behind the plate.”

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The Cubs are committed to Contreras as their everyday catcher of the present and the future, with Maddon essentially saying Montero will be a $14 million backup who might start only once or twice a week. Schwarber – a gym rat who worked on scouting reports, broke down video and sat in the draft room during his rehab last year – will meet with the catching group each morning.

“He will be there thinking through the drills with the catchers,” Epstein said, “communicating with the catchers, being a catcher. But physically only probably doing it one or two days a week.”

Schwarber, who will play with a brace on his left leg all season, showed how much he needed spring training by wrecking his knee in an outfield collision in Game 3 last April and making a shocking return as the World Series designated hitter, hitting .412 with a .971 OPS against the Cleveland Indians. 

“We all know what he did in the World Series last year,” Maddon said. “People are going to look at that and base their entire Schwarber world around those last two games. But he’s still coming off a really significant injury and we have to be very careful with that.

“I would like to see him be able to play an entire season. It would be kind of nice to get a full season of Kyle Schwarber in Major League Baseball.”

Cubs can't complete rally against Pirates in series finale

Cubs can't complete rally against Pirates in series finale

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Gift Ngoepe might not have had the weight of the world on his shoulders but he felt like a continent was counting on him.

Ngoepe, the first African to reach the major leagues, singled in his first plate appearance and Josh Harrison led off the bottom of the first with a home run Wednesday night to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 6-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

Ngoepe was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis and entered the game in fourth inning as part of a double switch and finished 1 for 2 with a walk. The 27-year-old South African, who signed with the Pirates in 2008 as an amateur free agent, led off the fourth with a hit off winless Cubs ace Jon Lester.

"To accomplish this only for me but for my country and my continent is something so special," Ngoepe said. "There are 1.62 billion people on our continent. To be the first person out of 1.62 billion to do this is amazing."

It was so special that Ngoepe nearly broke into tears when he trotted from the dugout to take his positon at second base.

"I told myself not to cry because I'm in the big leagues and I'm a big guy now," Ngoepe said with a smile. "(Catcher Francisco) Cervelli hugged me and I could feel my heart beat through my chest."

A year after winning 19 games in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title since 1908, Lester (0-1) is still looking for his first victory after five starts. The left-hander was tagged for six runs - five earned - and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.

"It's probably the best I threw the ball all year," Lester said. "That's baseball."

Wade LeBlanc (1-0), who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of rookie Tyler Glasnow, got the win.

The fifth leadoff home run of Harrison's career keyed a two-run first that included an RBI double by Cervelli. Andrew McCutchen and Phil Gosselin hit run-scoring doubles in a three-run third that pushed the Pirates' lead to 5-1.

After the Cubs got within two runs, Josh Bell gave the Pirates a 6-3 lead with a solo home run in the sixth inning off Lester. The rookie first baseman has reached base in 11 straight games.

Anthony Rizzo's two-run homer deep into the right-field stands in the eighth inning off Daniel Hudson drew the Cubs within 6-5. Tony Watson then got the last four outs for his seventh save in as many chances.

Glasnow remained winless in nine career starts, allowing three runs in 3 1/3 innings and requiring 89 pitches to get 10 outs.

Rizzo had four RBIs and Kris Bryant had three hits as the Cubs lost for just second time in eight games while stranding 13 runners. The Pirates won for the third time in nine games.

Cubs bullpen finding its form after early-season struggles

Cubs bullpen finding its form after early-season struggles

It was just over a week ago when Cubs fans were freaking out about the bullpen's struggles in a weekend series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It was understandable, given Cubs relievers allowed 11 runs in the course of blowing two late leads to end that three-game sweep at the hand of the Bucs.

But since then, the Cubs bullpen has been fantastic.

In eight games entering Wednesday night's series finale with the Pirates in Pittsburgh, the Cubs bullpen is working on a stretch where they've posted a 1.56 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over the last 28.2 innings.

In that span — in which the Cubs are 6 — relievers have allowed six runs (five earned) while striking out 33 batters and surrendering just one homer.

They've been especially stingy over the last three games, allowing just five baserunners in eight shutout innings, including three straight scoreless frames to close out a 1-0 victory Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Wade Davis has been the anchor at the back end of the bullpen the Cubs were hoping he'd be when they traded Jorge Soler for him over the winter. Davis is a perfect 5-for-5 in save opportunities and has not allowed a run in 9.1 innings, allowing just three hits and a pair of walks in the season's first month.

Setting up in front of Davis, Hector Rondon and Carl Edwards Jr. have combined to allow one run and three hits in 15.1 innings.

Brian Duensing — who started the year on the disabled list after a back issue sapped his spring training — is still searching for a rhythm and has surrendered six runs and 10 hits in 6.1 innings on the season. Over the last week-and-a-half, the 34-year-old southpaw has allowed more runs (three) than the rest of the Cubs bullpen combined.

Take Duensing's numbers away from that same eight-game stretch and the Cubs bullpen has been even more fantastic — 0.73 ERA and 0.81 WHIP.

Of course, it's still not even May yet, so this stellar stretch is just another small sample size. 

But just like that, the Cubs suddenly have a Top 10 bullpen, tied for the Colorado Rockies for ninth in Major League Baseball with a 3.07 relief ERA.