Joe Maddon knows that Kyle Schwarber isn’t the traditional major-league leadoff man, but the Cubs manager never has shied away from being unconventional.
Schwarber, who surprisingly returned from two torn knee ligaments to make a big impact in Chicago’s World Series win last postseason, has only eight plate appearances as a leadoff man during parts of two seasons with the Cubs. He primarily has hit second, but there’s a method to Maddon’s madness. He envisions Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist hitting behind Schwarber.
“There’s pause involved there,” Maddon told MLB.com. “If you don’t want to pitch to [Schwarber], the guys coming up behind are pretty interesting. It’s formidable so it’s uncomfortable from the other side.”
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Just don’t expect the 235-pound Schwarber to resemble Rickey Henderson on the basepaths, especially after the knee injury.
“I’d prefer that he subscribe to the Brian Downing method of leading off,” said Maddon, referring to the part-time leadoff man from the 1970s/1980s/1990s who stole 27 bases in his career.
While Schwarber could lead off often, he is unlikely to do so against tough left-handed pitchers. Plus, he will be rested occasionally —especially early in the season – as he works his way back from the knee injury and because Maddon also needs to regularly get Javier Baez and Zobrist into the lineup. On those days, Zobrist or center fielder Jon Jay figure to be atop the lineup.