CHICAGO -- Despite not beginning the season in the major leagues, Kris Bryant has 12 home runs and leads the Chicago Cubs in runs batted in with 49 -- and the team is still two games away from the halfway point (the 81st game) of the schedule.
What should really make opposing pitchers uneasy is that the rookie slugger has had some struggles and hasn’t had a sustained hot streak yet.
According to Cubs manager Joe Maddon, a hot stretch is coming. He expects it sooner rather than later.
“He’s made a lot of adjustments on the major league level, and that’s not easy to do,” Maddon said. “I’m really impressed. For a first-year guy to be pitched at the way he is really speaks a lot about what the other team thinks of him.
“He’s gonna get like spring-training hot, like you saw him this year. He’s gonna do that again this season at some point. It’s just an experience thing.”
Bryant provided a preview Saturday night with a fireworks display worthy of the Fourth of July. He slugged two home runs, including a grand slam, in the first two innings of the Cubs’ 7-2 victory over the Miami Marlins at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs had planned a postgame fireworks show, but Bryant got things started well before dusk. In the first inning, he crushed the first pitch he saw from Marlins starter Jarred Cosart (1-4) over the left-field bleachers and onto Waveland Avenue for a 2-0 lead. Then in the second, with two out and the bases loaded, he cranked a 3-1 pitch from Cosart (a 96 mph fastball) into the left-field bleachers for a grand slam and a 7-0 lead.
Bryant is the first Cubs rookie to hit two grand slams -- the other was on June 17 at Cleveland -- since Billy Williams did it in 1961. It also was Bryant’s second multihomer game of the season. The first came on June 22 against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley.
“The first at-bat, I swung at the first pitch, I got a good pitch to hit and I tried to be aggressive there with a runner in scoring position,” he said. “Then the second one, bases loaded, not trying to do too much. I obviously wasn’t thinking home run or anything like that, but worked the count, got a 3-1 count, a pretty good count to hit in, and got a pitch to hit.”
The two homers and six RBIs were more than enough support to make Clayton Richard’s return to the majors a success. Richard (1-0) allowed two runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. His last major-league appearance was on June 21, 2013, with the San Diego Padres. He left that start against the Dodgers after throwing just two pitches and soon underwent acromioclavicular (AC) joint surgery. Then, in February 2014, he had thoracic outlet surgery. He missed nearly all of the 2014 season before making his first appearance of the year on Aug. 10 in the minor leagues.
This season, Richard made 10 starts in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor-league system before he was traded to the Cubs on Friday for cash considerations.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I missed it. It was a great deal of fun. My family got to be here. You can’t beat that.”
On almost any other night, Richard would have been the big story. But Bryant’s outsized accomplishments have a way of overshadowing just about everything. The crowd of 37,898 showed its appreciation by demanding he come out for a curtain call following the second homer.
“Those are always fun,” he said. “It means you’re doing something good.”
Bryant, who had nine homers in spring training this season, agrees with his manager that a hot streak is imminent.
“I feel that way every time I step up to the plate,” he said. “That’s a good feeling to have, but, obviously, doing that in spring training gives me the confidence I can do that here, and do it any time.”