For struggling Bryant, breakthrough feels close

April 18th, 2019

MIAMI -- Over the past two years, has gotten a crash course in -- of all subjects -- himself.

During the humbling moments, like the left shoulder inflammation that limited him to 102 games in 2018 or the tough start to this young season, Bryant tries to remember what he's capable of and what he has already accomplished.

"Just mentally, just at the plate, not trying to do too much, not try to think too much," Bryant said before Wednesday's series finale against the Marlins at Marlins Park. "It's crazy. I feel like as I continue to play more and more, I feel like we put more and more pressure on ourselves just to go out there and perform, when it should be going the other way. That's where I'm kind of at. Just chill, take it easy, don't put too much pressure on yourself. Go out there, see the ball and hit it. Put a good swing on it. After that, you can't control what happens."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon believes that the mental side of the game affects mechanics. That's what he has seen with the two-time All-Star and former National League MVP and Rookie of the Year Award winner.

"The great part about it is he has accomplished so much and he doesn't take any of that for granted," Maddon said. "He's not living in his past or sitting on his laurels. He wants more, and I love him for that. And it's coming. We always have to free up our mind thinking-wise, and the freedom comes from him not trying to please everybody else."

Bryant, who was given a scheduled day off on Saturday and got another with Sunday's snowout, has been encouraged by his recent swings and at-bats.

The frustrating part is not having much to show for it. On Tuesday night, for example, Bryant sent a liner to the warning track in right-center that outfielder Isaac Galloway made a racing catch on in the seventh inning.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled 381 feet, with an exit velocity of 100.5 mph. The launch angle was 26 degrees, and the expected batting average (XBA) .700. There was a 35 percent catch probability, making it a four-star catch.

"I've been feeling pretty good the last week," said Bryant, who went hitless in five at-bats on Tuesday. "I've had some balls I've squared up pretty well back to when we were playing at home. Seeing the ball pretty good, just trying to simplify things and make this game easier than it is. That's easier said than done. I feel like I've had some great at-bats, great swings, just nothing to show for it."

Maddon continues to remind Bryant that even a "bad game" by his high standards means reaching base three times, like he did in Monday's series opener (1-for-3, two hit-by-pitches, two runs). Bryant can also help his club with his baserunning or defense -- and not just his bat. He made a slick barehanded play and fired to first for an out in the first inning of Wednesday night's 6-0 win over the Marlins, and he was 1-for-4 at the plate with a run scored.

Despite his slash line (.217/.329/.350) entering Wednesday, Bryant has hit safely in 11 of 15 games and has scored in nine of them. Statcast shows that his numbers across the board are down, but it's a small sample in a marathon season. There's plenty of time for Bryant's luck to turn and for his rates to improve. His track record supports that.

"He's so hard on himself, that's the whole thing," Maddon said. "Part of that is because he always wants to please. That's great, but I want him to please KB first. That's where I am with him, and I'm trying to convince him of that."

Worth noting

Left-hander Xavier Cedeno (left wrist inflammation), who has been on the injured list since the season began, will pitch in a rehab game for Double-A Tennessee on Thursday.

Left-hander Mike Montgomery (mild left lat strain) threw two scoreless innings on Wednesday in his first rehab outing with Class A South Bend. He struck out four and allowed one hit, throwing 27 pitches (19 strikes).