Confident Bryant tells doubters to 'bring it'

Coming off down '18, Cubs third baseman homers in first spring at-bat

February 23rd, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- admits that he read some of the negative takes over the offseason about his struggles last season. The Cubs star heard rumblings that some fans wanted him traded. He read opinions about whether his power would return. Each item he saw was filed away internally and used as fuel in his workouts.

In the first inning on Saturday, Bryant had a message for anyone still doubting that he has the ability to return to MVP-level production in 2019. During his first Cactus League at-bat of the year, the third baseman launched a pitch from Brewers right-hander high over the left-field fence and onto the berm at Sloan Park for a two-run home run.

"Keep them coming. Bring it," Bryant said. "It's, 'What have you done for me lately?' And last year I didn't really do anything. And sure, it was warranted, but boy did it motivate me this year. I'm excited."

All eyes have been on Bryant behind the scenes this spring, given the left shoulder troubles that robbed him of his typical power last season. The former National League Most Valuable Player Award winner arrived to Spring Training healthy and with no restrictions, and he scrapped the two-handed swing that he used last summer to alleviate discomfort.

In the first inning on Saturday, Bryant put all his offseason work on display in the form of the homer to left. He followed that up with a hard-hit single to left in the bottom of the third against Milwaukee reliever Bobby Wahl. To drive a pair of pitches with authority to the pull side had to not only be great for the Cubs' fans who packed into the team's spring home, but for everyone in the home dugout.

"It's exciting. He's so talented and, again, he is very young," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after watching one of Bryant's batting-practice sessions earlier this week. "These guys still have not reached the pole of their full development. So, I'm excited about watching him, because he's really shown up with a great mind-set."

That mindset is to keep doing all he can to turn the page on last year.

"Absolutely," Bryant said. "It's nice for me to kind of just move on and focus on this year and not worry about anything else, because at the end of the day, I know how good I am and what I bring to the table. And there's no doubt about that."

Maddon offers condolences

Before fielding any questions on Saturday morning, Maddon took a moment to offer his condolences to the family and friends of long-time Boston Globe reporter Nick Cafardo and comedian Brody Stevens, both of whom died earlier this week. Stevens' death in particular hit Cubs camp hard, as he was a lifelong friend of Mike Borzello (associate pitching, catching and strategy coach) and has spent a lot of time around the team over the years.

"I really want to extend my sympathies to Nick Cafardo's family," Maddon said. "I did know Nick pretty well when I was working over in the AL East. Great guy. He was very kind to me always. I know his reputation is stellar. He's going to be missed. It's really awful the way that all happened. ... And, of course, our friend Brody."

The Cubs had been anticipating Stevens coming to Spring Training next week.

"That one's really difficult to wrap our minds around," Maddon said. "He's always been a fixture during Spring Training. He played ball at Arizona State. Everyone talks about how funny he was, but he was just a nice, nice man. Great heart. Kind heart. And we're really going to miss the conversations. So, we want to extend our sympathies to his family as well."

Worth noting

• MLB announced Friday that it will use a 20-second pitch clock throughout Spring Training. Maddon felt this was an appropriate time to experiment with the concept and the manager noted that he is in favor of looking for ways to improve the pace (not length) of games.

"I don't think it's a length of the game issue, to me," Maddon said. "I'm on board with the pace of the game issue. The length of the game never has bothered me. As a kid, I prayed for extra innings. I wanted to watch baseball. But, you also want to watch baseball be baseball. And that's, 'Let's go.' I'm not even saying the ball in play. I'm just saying get the next pitch thrown. I think that's wise."

• The Cubs' main five starters will begin their part in Cactus League play after this weekend.

(Monday) will get things started, followed by (Tuesday), (Wednesday), (Thursday) and (Friday).

Up next

Right-hander is scheduled to start for the Cubs on Sunday, when the Giants play host to a 2:05 p.m. CT Cactus League tilt in Scottsdale, Ariz. Chatwood is being built up as a starter, but his most realistic path to the Opening Day roster is via a relief role. Lefty is slated to start for San Francisco.