Kris Bryant debuted his new swing at Werner Park.
The Chicago Cubs All-Star and former National League MVP began his major league rehabilitation assignment Monday with Iowa, using a two-handed finish aimed to take pressure off his left shoulder.
Bryant landed on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation in late July. During his time away, he began experimenting with a different ending to the swing that has produced 105 big league home runs.
“I’ve always done a one-hand finish through my swing since I was probably 4 and picked up a bat,” Bryant said. “Just adding a two-hand finish puts less stress on my shoulder. And I actually feel like it might help me become a better hitter so that’s exciting. We’ll see how it works in actual games.”
Bryant went 0 for 3, walked once and scored twice as Iowa’s designated hitter in a 7-6 loss to Omaha that mathematically kept the Storm Chasers alive in the playoff race in the American Northern Division.
The game at Werner was Bryant’s first with Iowa since 2015, when he was called up after seven games and became the National League’s Rookie of the Year. The following season, the former first-round draft pick – No. 2 overall – claimed MVP honors as the Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908.
Bryant was batting .276 with 11 homers and 44 runs batted in through 76 games when he was sidelined last month. The 26-year-old slugger out of Las Vegas has been eagerly awaiting to return in recent days.
“It feels good to be back on the field,” he said. “It stinks not being able to play. It’s good to take some time and really get my shoulder right. I feel good. The team’s playing well so that’s always good, too.”
Chicago owns the NL’s best record and holds slim leads over St. Louis and Milwaukee in the Central Division race. Bryant said that has at least made his boring rehab work tolerable over the last few weeks.
“That’s definitely made this whole process easier, knowing that we’re still at the top and the team’s doing fine,” he said. “We have a really good group of guys that play all over and guys stepping up when we need them to. That’s made it a lot easier and going to make it a whole lot more fun to get back.”
Bryant said he’s doing a number of things to strengthen his shoulder – workouts he will continue to use to keep the inflammation from returning. He credited the Cubs training staff for helping him get back.
“I take pride in being on the field and being a guy that plays every day,” he said. “But when you have to go down and you can’t play because of injury, it’s tough. You want to rush yourself back and get out there quick. But you don’t want to compromise your health in the process. That was tough for me.”
Bryant headed back to Des Moines with Iowa after the game. He expects to return to Chicago soon.
The minor league outings will allow the Cubs slugger to getting his timing back at the plate. He began the assignment in Omaha Monday because, with the Chasers being an American League affiliate, he was able to DH. Iowa faces Oklahoma City, an NL club, in Des Moines, meaning he’ll have to play in the field.
“Obviously, you’d love to start off with a game at home with your home affiliate and stuff like that,” Bryant said. “But this actually worked out good in that Des Moines is a quick drive down the road.”
The infielder/outfielder wasn’t the only big leaguer appearing in Monday’s game. Chicago starter Tyler Chatwood struggled with his command, walking five batters in 4 1/3 innings. And Kansas City outfielder Jorge Soler began a rehab stint with Omaha and drove in the go-ahead run in a four-run eighth inning.
Bryant and Soler are former teammates in the Cubs organization and played together for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies in 2014. Bryant clubbed 43 homers over two levels that summer and was named the Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America, the first of three straight major honors he earned.
He is the second former MVP to make a rehab appearance at Werner Park in the stadium’s eight-year history. Former Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton played for Round Rock in Omaha during the 2015 season.
Missing a month of this summer will keep Bryant out of any awards conversations this year, but he’s eager to return for the stretch run. He expects to get in about 15 Triple-A at-bats — maybe less — before going to Chicago, calling this a see-how-you-feel period while he tests out his new swing in game action.
“It, honestly, feels really good,” Bryant said. “The whole idea behind finishing with two hands is so that I don’t put stress on my shoulder. In the game, it might be different. I might go back to what I’ve always done. But just limiting the amount of swings that I actually do that with is going to be good for me.”