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Bryant reflects on hometown in Vegas return

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

Third baseman Kris Bryant returned home to Las Vegas on Saturday for the Cubs' weekend split-squad games, and a chance to play in front of family.

"It's been a big evolution from the first time I've played here," Bryant told the media at Cashman Field before the Cubs' 11-4 win. "Now, I have a great time and I really enjoy it."

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Third baseman Kris Bryant returned home to Las Vegas on Saturday for the Cubs' weekend split-squad games, and a chance to play in front of family.

"It's been a big evolution from the first time I've played here," Bryant told the media at Cashman Field before the Cubs' 11-4 win. "Now, I have a great time and I really enjoy it."

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Bryant was asked about the new NHL team in Las Vegas as well as the Cubs' chances this year.

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"I think we're going to be really good," Bryant said. "Just seeing in Spring Training the buzz we have around our team right now, it's way different than it was at this point last year. So, I think we're all really excited to see what we're going to do this year."

Bryant, who won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2015, then followed that with winning the NL Most Valuable Player Award in '16, said the Cubs' goals are to win the World Series again.

"The individual [goals] are a little more complex," Bryant said. "They're all really lofty and I really, often, I don't get them, but it's nice to have those goals that you strive for. But, I do set them every year. I type them out onto my phone so I can see them every day."

Both Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo have had to deal with horrific shootings in their hometowns. Last October, there was the shooting at the concert in Las Vegas, and on Feb. 14, 17 people were killed at Rizzo's high school in Parkland, Fla.

"It's unfortunate that myself and him had to go through something like that," Bryant said. "But, I think seeing after what happened here, and how much the community came together and still is coming together, it just makes me so proud to be from this city. And he certainly feels the same way. He brought Parkland together. It's just nice to see people coming together like that."

Injury updates
In his first game since March 8, second baseman Javier Baez went 1-for-3 with a single and also made an acrobatic defensive play to rob the Indians' Erik Gonzalez of a possible base hit in the Cubs' first split-squad game Saturday, a 5-1 loss to the Indians in Mesa. Baez, who had been sidelined because of a cramp in his left hamstring, said everything went well in his return.

"I saw the ball good off the bat playing defense," Baez said. "Getting out of the box was good today. I've been running the bases early in the morning. Everything's been good. I feel great. No more sugar drinks."

The cramps were believed to be caused by dehydration. Baez said he didn't hesitate running.

"Everything was good," he said. "I'm back to 100 percent."

On Sunday, Baez was expected to start at shortstop.

• Reliever Anthony Bass has been sidelined with a strained right lat but said Saturday he's feeling better and was expecting to get back into a game on Monday.

"It's unfortunate this thing flared up on me," said Bass, a non-roster invitee. "It's still early. It's not about March 18, or whatever day today is. It's about getting to October and being healthy. It's about getting to be 100 percent going into the year."

• Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. had a tough day Friday. He fouled a ball off his right knee and also tweaked his left wrist catching Jose Abreu's line drive.

"It'd be better if I got a couple hits," Almora said.

• Reliever Pedro Strop, who has been slowed because of a tender left calf, threw a bullpen session on Friday and needs to have a live batting practice session before he gets into a game. Strop's comeback was slowed when he became ill.

• Reliever Justin Wilson downplayed the blister on his left thumb, saying it may have been because he trimmed his nails too short. The lefty struck out one in one inning of relief Saturday against the Indians.

Kyle Schwarber has had a good spring, and manager Joe Maddon has noticed a difference in the outfielder's swing.

"The one thing I'm seeing is that he's not swinging as hard," Maddon said. "You'd have to get all the data to validate what I think I'm seeing. It's more hands, less arms, and with that it's easier -- he's doing it easier."

Maddon also has noticed that Schwarber is making better adjustments in two-strike counts. Hitting with more hands and less arms is helping.

"Just think about Vladimir Guerrero," Maddon said of the Hall of Fame outfielder. "He could hit a ball nose to his toes and it was all about his hands. I thought it was like hitting a pinata at a birthday party. His hands are always adjusted to where the ball was. That's what a good handsy hitter does and that's what I'm seeing from Schwarbs."

Camp battle
If the Cubs go with 13 pitchers, there seems to be one spot open in the bullpen. Justin Hancock, a non-roster invitee, is one of the candidates for that spot and on Friday against the White Sox, he struck out three of the four batters he faced, beginning with Jose Abreu.

"It was the perfect hitter for Hancock to face," Maddon said. "He's been working on some things and was uber aggressive, which I loved. I said, 'Do you realize that's one of the top 10 hitters in the American League?' [Hancock] has got that kind of stuff. He's got A-lister stuff. I wanted him to know that's what he's capable of doing on a more consistent basis."

Video: CHC@CWS: Hancock freezes Abreu to end the 8th

Bass is another option the Cubs are considering.

"Everyone's familiar with the opening in the bullpen," Bass said. "I just have to keep doing what I'm doing and put pressure on Joe and the decision-makers. That's all I can do. I'll go out there and give it everything I've got."

When he came to camp, Maddon told Bass to use his breaking ball more and it's working.

"I think that's helped me put guys away," he said. "I've only thrown in four games but I've had success with it so far."

Up next
The Cubs have split-squad games on Sunday at 3:05 CT, with half the team in Las Vegas and the other half at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona. On Sunday, Tyler Chatwood will start in Mesa against the Royals and Rob Zastryzny will face the Indians in Las Vegas. Both games are available on MLB.TV

Looking ahead, Jon Lester will start Monday against the Reds in Goodyear, Arizona. 

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Kris Bryant