CHICAGO — For the next three games of this World Series, Kyle Schwarber’s work in the outfield will be confined to the few minutes he spent standing there during a workout on Thursday afternoon. That’s when doctors ruled that the risk for re-injuring his surgically repaired knee was too great to clear the Cubs slugger for action in the field.
Instead, Schwarber will serve as a dangerous pinch hitter off the bench against the Indians in Games 3, 4 and 5. If the series shifts back to Cleveland, he again can serve as the designated hitter.
“It was a long shot at the most,” he said. “You know, obviously I want to be out there for my teammates and everything, it’s just the competitor inside me. But facts are facts. I just can’t physically do it.”
Schwarber, 23, has spent the last 10 days or so redefining the bounds of what he can do physically. He had missed all but the first three games of the season after suffering torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee in a collision with centerfielder Dexter Fowler. He underwent what was thought to be season-ending surgery, only to make a surprise recovery just in time for the World Series.
Hitters often need a full spring training to get up to speed, but after seeing only four days of live pitching, Schwarber is 3-for-7 with two walks and two RBIs in the World Series. The performance has left teammates in awe and tempted the Cubs to at least inquire about the possibility of using Schwarber in leftfield, allowing them to keep his bat in the lineup without use of the designated hitter.
Cubs president Theo Epstein said the answer from team doctors was unequivocal.
Said Epstein: “Medically, the doctors were very convinced that there’s just too much risk in playing the outfield because of the dynamic actions involved — the instantaneous reactions, the need to cut in the outfield, the dynamic, athletic movements that are unanticipated in the outfield, your instinct in reacting to balls — that just aren’t the case when you’re running the bases.”
Schwarber initially tried to make a case to play the field. “He pushed back at first and had a lot of questions for the doctor and did a lot of rationalizing,” Epstein said. “In the end, he accepted the judgment and I think appreciates that the doctors and the organization and everyone around him, we’re all looking out for his long-term interests and balancing it against the short term.”
In the long term, Schwarber is expected to be a key bat in the Cubs’ future. In the short term, he will pinch hit, with the Cubs gladly taking any contribution from a phenom who was supposed to be lost for the year.
“This was not supposed to happen, based on everything I’ve heard all year, the severity of his injury,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But then you have to take into consideration the human being and the people surrounding him and the fact that he had the desire to do it, and we had the people there to work with him.”
Schwarber, who likely will receive a thunderous ovation for his performance in the World Series, has been just as impressive when he has chosen not to swing the bat. Despite his rust, his batting eye is in midseason form.
“It’s just absolutely remarkable what he did over those first two games,” Epstein said.
Cubs fans have held Schwarber in high regard since his strong rookie season spilled into a breakout performance in last year’s postseason. Earlier this year, Epstein said Wrigley Field was “deafening” during the home opener, when a newly injured Schwarber walked onto the field with one crutch.
With the Cubs hosting a World Series game for the first time since 1945 on Friday night, he is expected to hear it again.
Said Schwarber: “I’ll definitely soak it in.”
Kyle Schwarber has the highest postseason OPS ever among players with at least 40 plate appearances, but he’ll be limited to pinch-hitting appearances in the next three games at Wrigley Field. The top five postseason OPS:
Kyle Schwarber, Cubs 1.274
Willie Aikens, Royals1.215
Lou Gehrig, Yankees 1.214
Babe Ruth, Red Sox, Yankees 1.214
Source: ESPN Stats & Information