Cubs pondering World Series return for slugger Schwarber

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CHICAGO (AP) Kyle Schwarber smiled and held his arms in the air,
his teammates spraying him with champagne. The Chicago Cubs had
just won their first NL pennant in 71 years, and the slugger was at
the heart of the party.

Well, the party in Arizona, at least.

Moments after Chicago closed out the NL Championship Series at an
electric Wrigley Field, the biggest question for the Cubs shifted
all the way across the country to Mesa, where Schwarber is making
an impressive comeback from major left knee surgery in April.

Game 1 of the World Series is Tuesday night in Cleveland, and the
Cubs say Schwarber is a possibility for the showdown with the
Indians.

”We’re not ruling anything out or anything in at this point, and
we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves, either,” president of
baseball operations Theo Epstein said.

The 23-year-old Schwarber went 0 for 3 with a walk while serving as
the designated hitter for the Solar Sox on Saturday night in the
Arizona Fall League. He watched the Cubs’ clinching 5-0 victory
over the Dodgers on a tablet in the dugout between at-bats, and
then was soaked by a couple of his teammates after the game.

”A really good day for me personally,” Schwarber said.

There were no games in the Arizona Fall League on Sunday, and a
spokesman for the Cubs said it was a scheduled off day for
Schwarber. There was no word on the plan for the slugger for Mesa’s
game against the Surprise Saguaros on Monday afternoon.

Schwarber was ruled out for the year after he tore two knee
ligaments in an outfield collision with Dexter Fowler in Chicago’s
third game of the season. But he had an encouraging checkup with
Dr. Daniel Cooper last Monday in Dallas, clearing the way for the
Cubs to take a closer look at the catcher/outfielder.

If Schwarber has no setbacks in Arizona, the possibility of putting
his powerful lefty swing on the World Series roster might be too
tempting for Epstein to resist, even if returning for the Fall
Classic after so much time off seems like a daunting task.

Schwarber hit .333 with a franchise-record five homers in nine
playoff games last year, and the Indians had 10 right-handers on
their staff for the NLCS against Toronto.

”Playing an American League team in their stadium, being able to
utilize a designated hitter and a quality hitter in Schwarber, it
would be a big boost for us,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. ”If he’s
ready, obviously. Nobody wants to see a guy as important as
Schwarber is to this organization go down again. But if he’s
capable, if he’s in a position strength-wise to be able to help us
in that situation, obviously that would be huge for our team.”

Schwarber grounded out to first in his first at-bat with Mesa on
Saturday night. He bounced to second in the third, walked in the
sixth and was robbed of extra bases on a diving catch by center
fielder Noel Cuevas in the eighth.

”I felt like I put in two good at-bats,” Schwarber said. ”The
first two I chased a little bit, a little antsy up at the plate as
expected. But once it started getting back to being normal baseball
again, it started slowing down.”

Most importantly for the Cubs, Schwarber said he felt fine.

”I have full confidence in my knee,” he said. ”My knee doesn’t
bother me. It was my hands that hurt the worst. I’ve got about
eight blisters on them. I guess I should have kept rubbing a bat or
something.”

Schwarber was selected by Chicago with the fourth overall pick in
the 2014 amateur draft out of Indiana University. He made his major
league debut last June, part of a wave of bright young talent that
helped the once-downtrodden franchise blossom into one of
baseball’s top clubs.

He hit .246 with 16 homers and 43 RBIs in 69 games last year. He
stayed around the team after he got hurt this April, making the
most of Wrigley’s revamped home clubhouse and earning praise from
manager Joe Maddon and his teammates for the way he attacked his
rehab.

”It wouldn’t surprise me if he is ready,” Arrieta said. ”It’s
just in a moment like that, it’s different than working out and
being in the training room and being a hundred percent there. Not
that he can’t be a hundred percent, it’s just a little scary
situation for me. But if he’s ready to go, having that bat, that’s
hard to turn away if it’s ready.”