MORE HEAT ON HIT­TERS

With short­ened sea­son, Cubs must have game plan against op­pos­ing pitch­ers

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - RUS­SELL DORSEY rdorsey@sun­times.com | @Russ_Dorsey1

The mind of a hit­ter can be a chaotic place over the course of a 162-game sea­son. Keep­ing track of pitch­ers, pitches, me­chan­ics and ever-chang­ing sit­u­a­tions within games can get even the most vet­eran hit­ters off track from time-to-time.

Those things will be mag­ni­fied in a 60game sea­son, and with ad­di­tional health and safety pro­to­cols thrown in the mix, the men­tal ap­proach to the game is go­ing to be just as, if not more im­por­tant than, the phys­i­cal ap­proach — even for a vet­eran ball­club like the Cubs

“That’s how you do it dur­ing the sea­son when a guy’s not feel­ing good. He feels like he’s let­ting him­self down. He’s let­ting the team down. Emo­tions play into the break­down of the me­chan­ics of the swing,” hit­ting coach An­thony Iapoce said. “You can pin­point his el­bow, his hip, but emo­tions break down a swing and un­til you dig down deeper, what he might be feel­ing. And dur­ing this time, it could be any­thing. It could be that miss­ing the fam­ily is caus­ing this guy to not get hits today. Feel­ing that he’s be­hind his work, maybe rush be­cause it’s a shorter day. So deal­ing with all those types of things first be­fore you even talk about hits.”

Even in a sea­son where statis­tics don’t hold the same weight, play­ers are go­ing to have to fight through the same highs and lows of a sea­son. For hit­ters like Kyle Sch­war­ber, the prepa­ra­tion also will have to be in­ten­si­fied.

As play­ers spend less time at the ball­park while play­ing through the pan­demic, it puts big­ger at­ten­tion on study­ing op­pos­ing pitch­ers.

“I think that’s gonna be up to the hit­ters,” Sch­war­ber said. “Ev­ery­one al­ways says the pitch­ers are catch­ing up, but I think with the way the game is go­ing now there are so many plusarms in the bullpen. I think it’s gonna be a lit­tle chal­lenge . ... Some pitch­ers might be on pitch count early. They might only be at

70 pitches and that could be three in­nings or four in­nings. Usu­ally you’re plan­ning on a starter to stay in there for five in­nings. But it could be three in­nings for a starter and six in­nings for a bullpen. “You got to nav­i­gate and have a great plan against these guys. It’s go­ing to be like Septem­ber base­ball all over again. I think with the ex­panded ros­ters here early in the year, I think there’s go­ing to be more bullpen arms and you’re go­ing to have to get used to see­ing some names out there you’re not used to see­ing, but you know, I think it’s go­ing to be a plus over­all [for hit­ters].”

Sch­war­ber slashed .238/.341/.471 with 13 homers in his first 60 games in 2019 but fin­ished the sea­son on a tear, hit­ting .285/.374/.622 with 13 dou­bles, 16 homers and a .966 OPS in his fi­nal 60.

The Cubs have been no­to­ri­ous slow starters over the last few sea­sons, and with only 60 games in 2020, a fast start will be more im­por­tant than ever.

While a two-week slump wouldn’t be the end of the world over 162 games, with this year’s con­densed sched­ule, two weeks could be the dif­fer­ence be­tween stay­ing in the Na­tional

League Cen­tral race and climb­ing out of a big deficit.

“[Slump] is one of the words we don’t use. If you could get a guy out of a slump when­ever you wanted to, he’d never go in one, right? It’s like im­pos­si­ble,” Iapoce said. “So you just re­ally [fo­cus] on the team game, you bring the team as­pect, like how can you help this team win today and in these next 60 days.

“I think prob­a­bly dur­ing this time, for hit­ting coaches, you’re gonna prob­a­bly talk about the swing as lit­tle as pos­si­ble. Dur­ing this time, it’s prob­a­bly what ev­ery­body is go­ing to do. Keep check­ing in with guys, but you just sell the team fac­tor and it’s the same ap­proach as when a guy’s not feel­ing good dur­ing the sea­son. Small vic­to­ries through­out the day.”

AP

An­thony Rizzo re­turned from a back in­jury and hit a two-run homer in his first at-bat against the Twins on Wed­nes­day at Wrigley Field.

AARON GASH/AP

Kyle Sch­war­ber

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