By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The return to the Cubs for outfielder Kyle Schwarber was earned through hard work mostly around the mental side of the game.
After an 11-game stint at Triple-A, the 24-year-old Schwarber believes the end result of his demotion was to obtain a stronger idea about the visual and mechanical transfer amid his swing and how he reacts.
“It was more about shortening everything down again,” Schwarber said. “I need to trust everything. I have a lot of confidence in what I do. Now that I was able to go down (to Triple-A) and hash everything down where it is second nature, stop thinking about it, I think it was an all-around positive experience for me.”
Schwarber was demoted on June 22 as he was hitting .171. He handled the process by hitting .343 with an 1.192 OPS in his 11 games at Triple-A, but the statistics were secondary to finding his proper strike zone balance and a plan to go along with it. Initially, the search for Schwarber was to rediscover the keys to the approach that made him a dangerous force as a rookie in 2015 and in his surprising return to the World Series last season.
The Cubs have four games left before the All-Star break and believed it was a smart time to bring him back up to the big leagues for several reasons. In addition to him playing well, the Cubs are scheduled to face right-handed pitchers over the next four days. The break will then provide a chance to rest afterward.
It remains unclear how manager Joe Maddon will use Schwarber long term. Maddon’s approach will be to take it one game at a time with Schwarber, his role and where he bats in the order.
On Thursday, the lefty-swinging Schwarber was playing left field and hitting fifth. He was tabbed with the lead-off role coming out of spring training before his prolonged struggles caused Maddon to move him down in the order. Recently, Maddon didn’t close the door on a return to the lead-off spot for Schwarber.
“More than anything, Kyle got a little long with his movements,” Maddon said. “He was fouling off his pitches and probably trying to do too much. ‘Trying easier’ is a really good phase. It is difficult to get highly competitive young players to try easier. That is what he really has to do.”
Schwarber’s struggles are unexpected given the talent he has but not unprecedented by any means. It’s worth remembering that he had 278 plate appearances in the big leagues entering this season.
Schwarber has had 261 plate appearances this season. When comparing his 2015/2016 to 2017, his strikeout and walk rates are similar (79 strikeouts to 37 walks in 2015/2016 and 75 strikeouts to 36 walks this season). So in some ways, he’s much the same player.
The glaring difference is Schwarber’s batting average, as he’s made less solid contact. He hit .246 as a rookie in 2015. As the Cubs have pointed out, some of the trouble has been traced to Schwarber fouling off too many pitches he used to handle well and drive.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.