Cubs' Kyle Schwarber has carefree day in return to outfield

Most of the Cubs regulars were hanging at Sloan Park with the championship trophy Saturday, taking their bows for last year's World Series success at one of their two Cactus League openers.Some of the others were sent 7.6 miles north to Scottsdale Stadium,...

Cubs' Kyle Schwarber has carefree day in return to outfield

Most of the Cubs regulars were hanging at Sloan Park with the championship trophy Saturday, taking their bows for last year's World Series success at one of their two Cactus League openers.Some of the others were sent 7.6 miles north to Scottsdale Stadium,...

25 February 2017 Saturday 21:03
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Cubs' Kyle Schwarber has carefree day in return to outfield

Most of the Cubs regulars were hanging at Sloan Park with the championship trophy Saturday, taking their bows for last year's World Series success at one of their two Cactus League openers.

Some of the others were sent 7.6 miles north to Scottsdale Stadium, where the Cubs played the Giants.

"The varsity is here," Anthony Rizzo said Saturday morning at Sloan Park. "The J-V is on the road."

Of course any J-V with Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Albert Almora Jr. and top prospect Eloy Jimenez on the roster isn't too shabby, and they also played before a sellout crowd of 11,515.

Missing out on the festivities at Sloan Park didn't bother Schwarber, who was playing the field for the first time since ripping up his left knee in the third game of the 2016 season.

"It looked cool over there," he said. "I heard they had the trophy out there, so that was cool, and I'm sure the boys got some big ovations over there. The next couple of games are going to be some pretty good ones, Cleveland coming in (Sunday) and the White Sox, too."

The "J-V game" wasn't as electric as the varsity game, but there were some interesting moments. Coach Eric Hinske dodged a bat Buster Posey let fly in the first inning. Jimenez scored from first on Baez's double to right in the fifth, after Justin Ruggiano's throw to second got away. Baez and Munenori Kawasaki turned a couple of nice double plays. And first baseman Chris Dominguez forgot to cover first on a grounder to second.

Of most importance, no one got hurt.

Schwarber didn't see any action in his four innings in left field. No big deal.

Photos of Cubs catcher and outfielder Kyle Schwarber.

"No action, but I felt comfortable out there," he said. "Staying mentally sharp out there, running plays in my head and everything, knowing where the ball should be going and things like that. It was good."

In his debut replacing Dexter Fowler as the Cubs' leadoff man, Schwarber was hitless in two at-bats, not including a second-inning trip to the plate when he was 0-2 before Mark Zagunis was thrown out trying to steal second to end the inning. Schwarber grounded out to second on six pitches in the first, and did the same on a 3-2 pitch in the third.

In other words, no new additions to the legend, though Schwarber will be back at it Monday against the Sox.

"The Schwarber legend? Yeah, he will get a lot of good first pitches to hit," Rizzo said. "What I like about it is there is no first pitch grooving (against him) because (the pitcher) knows it can be 1-0. So that pitcher has to grind a little more early. Schwarber is going to go up there with an aggressive attack, but he also has a really good eye

"And Dexter has a really good eye. Both are going to grind out at-bats. Schwarber obviously has a little more power."

Schwarber said he's not likely to change his approach batting first.

"It's just a spot in the order," he said. "You get to lead off the game, then you hit anywhere. I'm not too worried about it at all."

Photos as the Cubs practice at spring training in Mesa, Ariz.

Rizzo called the term "leadoff" hitter "overrated" because it's almost an anachronism.

"You don't have a lot of leadoff hitters stealing a ton of bases anymore," he said. "A handful of guys are stealing 30 or more, and they're not all leadoff hitters.

Manager Joe Maddon agreed, and said the prototypical leadoff man of the 1960s, '70s and '80s — Lou Brock, Maury Wills, Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson — is practically extinct.

"That's the whole point," Maddon said. "What do you want? If you have this speed guy who's maybe a high on-base guy that can create havoc, please, absolutely, by all means (lead him off). But if you don't, and just because somebody looks like a leadoff hitter someone thinks he profiles in a method that's just based on what you think and not necessarily what you know? I don't get it.

"I just like (Schwarber's) skill set there, and getting him up there more often, building the bottom of the lineup if we can, possibly to feed him a little more significantly. What does a leadoff hitter look like anymore? There are not many high on-base percentage, base-stealing types.

"They just don't exist that often any more. Guys don't want to run as much because it beats their bodies up. It's not easy to be a 50-bag guy or more, because of what it does to your legs, of if you're a head-first (slide) guy, what it does to your rib cage, your wrist, your hands."

So instead of just saying "in steps the leadoff man" when Schwarber starts a game, perhaps it's best to just simplify it to "in steps the Man."

"Hey, if it works it works," Rizzo said. "It doesn't matter who hits there."

psullivan@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @PWSullivan

Caption Jason Heyward on level of comfort with new swing, support from Cubs

Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward discusses his comfort level with his new swing and the support from the organization on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward discusses his comfort level with his new swing and the support from the organization on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Caption Jason Heyward on level of comfort with new swing, support from Cubs

Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward discusses his comfort level with his new swing and the support from the organization on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward discusses his comfort level with his new swing and the support from the organization on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Caption Mike Montgomery on his expected role with Cubs, first exhibition start

Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery discusses his upcoming role with the team this season and reacts to his first exhibition outing in which he threw one scoreless inning on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery discusses his upcoming role with the team this season and reacts to his first exhibition outing in which he threw one scoreless inning on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Caption Manager Joe Maddon on the Cubs' first games, at-bats and lineups

Manager Joe Maddon talks about the Cubs' first games, at-bats and lineups. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Manager Joe Maddon talks about the Cubs' first games, at-bats and lineups. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Caption Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer on Pedro Strop's contract extension

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer discusses the contract extension of reliever Pedro Strop on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer discusses the contract extension of reliever Pedro Strop on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Caption Joe Maddon on the Cubs' relay and bunt drills

Cubs manager Joe Maddon discusses Jason Heyward's progress as well as the team's relay and bunt drills on Feb. 24, 2017, in Mesa, Ariz. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Cubs manager Joe Maddon discusses Jason Heyward's progress as well as the team's relay and bunt drills on Feb. 24, 2017, in Mesa, Ariz. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

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