CHICAGO – (Wire Service Report) – Kyle Schwarber is testing his readiness in the Arizona Fall League to potentially join the Chicago Cubs’ roster in the World Series. The Cubs consider Schwarber, who set a franchise record with five postseason home runs in 2015, a longshot to play for the first time since he tore knee ligaments and was placed on the 60-day disabled list on April 8.
“Kyle, yeah, that’s kind of a surprise because I — that just came up,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before the team took batting practice at Wrigley Field before Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, and almost the same time the Cubs announced Schwarber was activated from the DL.
Schwarber, who joined the Mesa Solar Sox officially on Saturday, has been traveling with the team and rehabbing, but medical clearance from his surgeon and Cubs’ team doctors came Monday. On Wednesday night, he left the Cubs to fly to Arizona, missing the possibility of a celebration with his teammates for the opportunity to be part of the team again when the World Series begins Tuesday night in Cleveland.
“I’ve been talking to him often,” Maddon said. “I watch him in the weight room, training room there, running the treadmill, they’re doing the ellipticals, whatever … he’s doing really well. So he comes in the dugout, I say ‘man, you look really good, next spring training is right around the corner. And I’m trying to keep him pumped up about that. Then all of a sudden a couple days ago he goes for a checkup and the doctor said, ‘hey, he can hit.'”
Schwarber worked out on the field with the Cubs in Los Angeles, running figure-8 shapes on grass and making cuts to change direction.
“That was really a surprise to me and all of us,” Maddon said.
If the Cubs finish off the NLCS, there are many decisions looming. Team president Theo Epstein was the first to hear from Schwarber after his appointment in Dallas last week and said Schwarber forced the decision by progressing “beyond what we reasonably could have expected.”
Schwarber came up as a catcher but is likely to be limited to pinch-hitting or playing designated hitter at Cleveland. The Ohio native was 4 for 5 with a home run in his first MLB start, which came at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
“We’re not ruling anything in,” Epstein said Saturday night. “We’re not ruling anything out.”
A rule in the AFL allows for players with no more than two years experience to be assigned a taxi squad designation. That means Schwarber will be able to play two games per day and accumulate at-bats, testing his leg and getting live at-bats — albeit against relatively weak pitching.
The last time Schwarber spoke publicly about his return in August he said “spring training is the focus, but I’m going to grind as hard as I can to get back.”
Maddon said the entire organization was surprised.
“We’re going to explore that,” Maddon said. “It’s up to us to get to the next moment in order to see if that can actually work out or not. So, we’re just trying to be prudent, a little foresight, see how he’s going to play in fall league and see where that takes us.”
The roster options for the Cubs could come down to sacrificing one of Maddon’s cherished winning philosophies — defense wins — to add a big bat. Outfielder Albert Almora Jr. started in right field Saturday in place of Jason Heyward, who was batting .071 entering Game 6. Pitcher Rob Zastryzny has not appeared in a playoff game. And while Chris Coghlan can play six or seven spots on the field, including all three outfield spots, he’s a career .063 batter in the playoffs.
Maddon said the Cubs know there is “a chance” Schwarber could be ready next week. But until he’s tested on the field, attaching a percentage likelihood to having him on the roster won’t happen.
“He’s hit the ball well,” Maddon said. “The movement kind of stuff, running and change of direction has all gone well. His arm’s fine. Again, I don’t know to what extent we would be able to use him or not, but right now we’re just trying to explore all possibilities.”