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Day off for Bryant might be a beneficial break

@MLBastian
April 13, 2019

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant's name was absent from Saturday's batting order against the Angels, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon emphasized that the respite was always part of the plan. One change for Maddon this season has been prepping multiple lineups in advance of each series, so there are no surprises

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant's name was absent from Saturday's batting order against the Angels, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon emphasized that the respite was always part of the plan. One change for Maddon this season has been prepping multiple lineups in advance of each series, so there are no surprises for his players.

That said, there is no denying the day off might provide a helpful mental break for Bryant.

"He's actually in a good place," Maddon said prior to Saturday afternoon's game in Chicago. "Of course, it's not going great for him right now, so maybe the day's going to help him a little bit."

Bryant launched a towering home run on Opening Day, but the star third baseman's slugging percentage has remained in neutral since that blast. Maddon said Bryant’s work behind the scenes has stayed consistent in an effort to tighten up a swing that has been off out of the gate. And while the power has not been there, Maddon has been encouraged that Bryant has still been contributing in other ways.

Through 13 games played, Bryant has reached base in 11 games and recorded a hit in 10 games. During Friday's 5-1 win, he hit a 102-mph single through the shift in the first inning that helped spark a three-run rally for the Cubs. So, while his batting average (.231) and slugging percentage (.365) have not been where he or Chicago expected to start the season, his on-base percentage (.333) has been respectable.

"He's able to do something to help you win even though he's not striking the ball like he normally does," Maddon said. "Even if you're not hitting, there's other ways for him to impact the game in a positive way. And that's what I really want him to understand. I want them all to understand that."

Entering Saturday, Bryant was hitting .303 with a .485 slugging percentage in 39 plate appearances that have ended in fastballs, according to Statcast. The main issue has been against breaking balls and offspeed pitches. While the sample size is small, the third baseman has hit .105 (2-for-19) with a .158 slugging percentage against those types of pitches so far.

Bryant has also seen his contact rate on pitches in the strike zone drop to 69.1 percent so far -- down from his career rate of 77.9 percent and 2018’s rate of 80.3 percent.

"He’s able to eke out a hit or a walk almost every night," Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce said. "It's not the 4-for-5 yet, or the homers or anything like that. But he's still competing at the plate, putting the ball in play, going the other way with two strikes ... getting some walks here and there. Those are things that keep guys going until they really start to feel comfortable in the box and start getting bigger and broader hits."

Worth noting

• So far, Maddon has liked the method of giving his players the lineup a series in advance. That is a change from the past, when the manager would let players know the planned lineup the night before a game. One benefit that Maddon did not consider was that players now know that starting on the bench is not a reaction to a performance (good or bad) in the previous game.

"They know then that the day off is planned," Maddon said. "I never even thought of it in those terms until it was brought to my attention. I never even thought the fact that guys might read it as though, 'Man, I had a bad day and that's why I'm not playing the next day.' Never. I've never even made a lineup according to that thought. It's either you're the right guy for today or you're not."

• Maddon said having three more off-days this month (Thursday, April 22 and April 17) will help with handling the playing time for catcher Willson Contreras, as backup Victor Caratini (fractured left hamate bone) is out for the next four to six weeks. Maddon wants to get catcher Taylor Davis involved in some games, but expect Contreras to keep shouldering a heavy workload.

• With rain and possibly snow in the forecast for Sunday, Maddon said the Cubs have discussed contingency plans if the game against the Angels is in jeopardy. As of now, righty Tyler Chatwood is slated to start Sunday, but Chicago may revert back to its four main starting pitchers and leave Chatwood in the bullpen if the game is postponed due to poor weather.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.