Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)

Change in approach aids ‘O’


When asked about third baseman Christophe­r Morel’s approach at the plate, Cubs manager Craig Counsell brought up the Rangers as an example.

‘‘You see it with the Rangers and how they approach offense,’’ Counsell said. ‘‘The league is always a pendulum with offense and pitching. There’s a big portion of the league that’s, ‘Just get to two strikes,’ from the pitcher’s perspectiv­e. One way to counteract that — if the pitchers are going to be in the zone early — is to be superaggre­ssive early.’’

Morel — and, by extension, the Cubs — have taken to the Rangers’ approach to improve an offense that scored the sixthmost runs in the majors (819) last season.

The Cubs have succeeded in engineerin­g long at-bats. Entering Saturday, they rarely had chased pitches outside the zone (20.5%) and had swung at the highest percentage of pitches in the zone (69.9%).

They’re producing while second baseman Nico Hoerner and center fielder Cody Bellinger are struggling at the start of the season. Hoerner is hitting lower in the lineup, but Counsell said he doesn’t think where a player hits matters as much as putting together a quality at-bat.

‘‘Offenses are good, ultimately, because you string together good at-bats from all nine positions in the lineup,’’ Counsell said. ‘‘One guy is going to hit a line-drive out or swing at a bad pitch, and other guys are going to pick each other up.’’

One way for the Cubs’ lineup to improve from last season was through internal developmen­t and unlocking Morel.

‘‘I’ve got to give the credit to the coaches there,’’ Morel said of the offense’s strong start. ‘‘We’ve gone out there and do what we do. We have a lot of trust in each other.’’

Counsell said he sees similariti­es between Morel and Rangers star Corey Seager at the plate. Morel had swung at first pitches 46.7% of the time; Seager was at 60.9%. Both are also above the majorleagu­e average in the percentage of swings they take in the strike zone.

‘‘That’s how Corey Seager hits,’’ Counsell said. ‘‘In a little snippet here, that’s what you’re seeing with Christophe­r.’’

Wicks’ learning curve

Facing the Dodgers was another developmen­t step for left-hander Jordan Wicks. He learned from his previous outing against the Rangers and allowed two runs in 4⅔ innings Saturday.

Wicks used his slider, which he developed during the offseason, often against the Dodgers because he said his changeup didn’t feel right. The slider gives him another option in his arsenal.

‘‘It’s nice when you work on things like that in the offseason,’’ Wicks said. ‘‘It gives you the ability to pivot to something like that in a big game like this.’’

Wicks was able to learn how to persevere against a championsh­ip contender.

‘‘Everybody knows me for my fastball and changeup,’’ Wicks said. ‘‘You have days like this every now and then where it’s not exactly where you want it to be. Being able to pivot to plans B and C is huge because it allows you to get through some jams.’’

Injury update

Third baseman Patrick Wisdom began his rehab assignment at Triple-A Iowa, the Cubs said. Wisdom’s back stiffened up in spring training after it sidelined him for a week.

 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? Manager Craig Counsell likes to see Christophe­r Morel (above) being aggressive at the plate.
GETTY IMAGES Manager Craig Counsell likes to see Christophe­r Morel (above) being aggressive at the plate.

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