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Bryant goes 3-for-4 in first game batting leadoff

'Change of scenery' for third baseman boosts Cubs' offense
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- In his first game as leadoff man, the Cubs' Kris Bryant made it look easy.

Bryant, who was inserted into the leadoff spot on Friday afternoon for the first time in his pro career, hit the first pitch from the Pirates' Chad Kuhl in the first inning for a single. In the Cubs' 3-1 win, Bryant finished 3-for-4 with a run scored.

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CHICAGO -- In his first game as leadoff man, the Cubs' Kris Bryant made it look easy.

Bryant, who was inserted into the leadoff spot on Friday afternoon for the first time in his pro career, hit the first pitch from the Pirates' Chad Kuhl in the first inning for a single. In the Cubs' 3-1 win, Bryant finished 3-for-4 with a run scored.

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"I try to do that now and again with different guys to get them unearthed a little bit," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before the game. "I just want him to play the game, do something to help us win. Don't worry about hits, homers, anything else."

Bryant hasn't exactly been scuffling. He's riding a seven-game hitting streak, and he is batting .419 (13-for-31) in that stretch.

"My expectations of myself are high and I get frustrated with myself easily, because I expect a lot of myself and my teammates expect a lot of me and I want to give it all I've got," Bryant said. "Sometimes, when you don't feel right in terms of mechanics and stuff like that, it's frustrating. That's kind of where I've been at. I think there are a lot of people who would love to trade what I'm doing this year, and that's my perspective now."

Video: PIT@CHC: Bryant on hitting leadoff, approach changes

Bryant admitted that his heart was beating a little faster when he stepped into the batter's box in the first inning.

"I was pretty nervous for the first at-bat," Bryant said. "Thankfully, it worked out. I [led off] in college, so it wasn't completely new, but it's a completely different level and much better pitching."

Bryant joins Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo as players who have gotten spot starts in the leadoff spot.

"It's a change of scenery," said Maddon, who sent Bryant a text message on Friday morning. "Put them in a different seat, see what they feel like."

Bryant wasn't surprised by the change.

"I figured it would happen at some point this year," Bryant said. "[Maddon] likes to change things up, and I haven't been playing the way I want to lately. I was talking to him earlier, and he usually does that when guys don't feel 100 percent."

If there's any flaw, it's that Bryant's home run totals are down. He's now gone 20 consecutive games without a home run, matching his longest drought since starting his career in 2015.

Video: PIT@CHC: Bryant on leading off, Happ on solid defense

"If I was a one-dimensional player, that would be a problem. I know I'm not," Bryant said. "I impact the game in a lot of ways -- baserunning, defense. I just want to be an all-around player. Sure, I don't have as many homers as I'd like, but the hits are there, I feel like the defense is great, baserunning is great, and that's something Joe preaches to me is go out there and do something to help the team win every day. And that's always my goal, and I feel that I do that."

So, will Bryant lead off on Saturday? Maddon is leaning that way.

"Let's just play it out," Maddon said. "What I did see was a different stance at the plate, approach at the plate. I thought he looked really comfortable on defense. That might have been a residue of the at-bats."

Hopefully, Bryant's heart won't be beating quite as fast if he does so on Saturday.

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