Bryant (HR!) picks up where he left off

May 15th, 2021

could not get out of Cleveland fast enough. During the Cubs' recent trip to Progressive Field, he not only battled illness but was hit by a pitch on the left wrist when he attempted to play again.

A day off to shake off that experience, plus a change of locale, did Bryant a world of good.

“He looked like the K.B. of old,” Cubs manager David Ross said after Friday’s 4-2 win over the Tigers at Comerica Park.

Specifically, Ross was referring to the classic Bryant swing that generated a two-run, opposite-field blast off Detroit lefty Tarik Skubal in the third inning. The home run jump-started a Cubs offense that labored to deliver the kind of breakthrough hit that could have avoided the pair of one-run losses to the Tribe.

Bryant’s home run in Detroit gave him 10 on the season, making him one of eight MLB players in double-digits on the year. It also gave him an MLB-leading 24 extra-base hits and helped Chicago’s superstar utility man boost his slugging percentage to an MLB-best .667.

Only Angels center fielder Mike Trout has a better OPS than Bryant (1.069), who ranks fourth in the Majors with 2.1 WAR (per Fangraphs). With a .309 average, .403 on-base percentage and 80 total bases, Bryant is looking very much like the National League MVP he was five years ago.

“I mean, Kris has shown what he can do over his career,” Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward said. “I feel like when you're an MVP, a down year looks like his 2019, when he was an All-Star. Some people called that a down year.”

Last weekend, when the Cubs were hosting the Pirates at Wrigley Field, Bryant said he began feeling under the weather. It was a bug (unrelated to COVID-19) that was going around his family and finally got the best of him late in Tuesday’s game in Cleveland.

“I just had trouble breathing in that sixth, seventh inning,” Bryant said. “I just couldn't catch my breath.”

Bryant was out of Tuesday’s game in the seventh and the Cubs went on to lose, 3-2, while he rested. On Wednesday, when Chicago was 1-for-15 as a team with runners in scoring position, Bryant came off the bench to pinch-hit in a crucial moment in the seventh against the Tribe.

Bryant’s bad week momentarily got worse when he was hit on the left wrist by a 95 mph fastball from Cal Quantrill. The Cubs’ star left the game -- that was going to be Ross’ move no matter how the at-bat turned out -- and Cleveland dealt the North Siders a 2-1 loss in 10 innings.

Following Thursday’s team off-day, Bryant talked things over with the Cubs’ medical team and opted against having imaging done on his wrist. He let Ross know he was good to go for Friday’s game in Detroit.

While Cubs starter was in the process of piecing together a quality start, Bryant’s wrist sure looked fine in the third. Skubal fired a 95 mph four-seamer to the outer edge of the zone and Bryant went with the pitch, hammering it out to right to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead.

Per Statcast, the home run represented Bryant’s first opposite-field shot off a left-handed pitcher since June 22, 2015, when he did the same against Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw.

“It’s a good swing going that way,” Bryant said. “But, I think there are more hits for me on the left side of the field.”

Bryant went the other way again in the seventh, this time attacking a first-pitch sinker from righty Bryan Garcia. The pitch started outside but ran back over the middle and Bryant sent a sinking liner to right. This time, Detroit outfielder Nomar Mazara made a lunging last-second grab for an out on a play with a 55 percent catch probability.

“That was just a nice, easy swing,” Ross said. “He just touched the baseball and it jumped off his bat and carried all the way to the shoe tips out there in right.”

Bryant also drew a walk in the fifth and later scored from third on a looping fly ball from that dropped into shallow center for an unlikely single. That helped spark a decisive, two-run rally for the Cubs.

After a rough week, Bryant did not miss a step.

“When you have a lot of expectation on you, especially in a year like this,” Heyward said, “to get hit or have some health stuff, [to] take some time to yourself to get right, and come back and step up for us tonight, it was huge. It was huge to jump out to that lead.”