ST. LOUIS — Kris Bryant had a confession to make.
“I’m not a good debut-er,” he admitted before Tuesday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Two days after Bryant’s clunker-and-a-half in the Cubs’ 4-3 Opening Night defeat at Busch Stadium, the reigning National League MVP could only smile — and maybe wince a little — at his latest debut gone bad.
It wasn’t bad enough that Bryant struck out swinging three straight times off bedeviling starting pitcher Carlos Martinez. No, he had to take it to the next level of disaster in the eighth inning — with the bases loaded and the Cubs trailing by one run — by popping out meekly off reliever Seung Hwan Oh.
What a night to forget.
“It’s not fair when [Martinez] throws 100 miles an hour the first game,” Bryant said. “You should tell him to slow down.”
If Martinez had walked the ball to home plate and placed it on a tee for Bryant, would the slugger have fared any better? Probably not, according to his tale of debut-ing woe.
“First game in the bigs, first game in pro ball, rookie ball, first game in short-season [A ball] — I’ve never had a good debut,” he said.
That’s not entirely true. For example: Bryant hit a home run in his first game with AAA Iowa, in 2014 against the El Paso Chihuahuas. Don’t you just want to say “El Paso Chihuahuas” over and over now? But back to the point: Not all of Bryant’s debuts have been case studies in abject humiliation. He also homered in his first game with AA Tennessee, at the start of the 2014 season.
Yet there have indeed been some prodigious failures — none worse than Bryant’s very first game as a professional, in rookie ball in 2013. The Cubs’ hotshot No. 1 draft pick went hitless in that game, but he didn’t go errorless. Matter of fact, he committed three of them.
Later that same week, Bryant nearly one-upped (one-downed?) himself in his first game with the club’s short-season A-ball team in Boise. Would you believe 0-for-5 with five strikeouts? Any undrafted yutz could’ve done that.
What goes through a young player’s mind after a night like that?
“That it can only go up from there,” Bryant said. “It’s obviously not the way you want to start off your professional career. Maybe it’s a good thing, because then it can only get better from there.”
He has a point. Bryant’s big-league debut didn’t exactly go swimmingly, as you might recall. He went 0-for-4 in a loss to the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field, striking out three times against James Shields. Five months later, he was in the home stretch of a Rookie of the Year campaign.
Bryant was hitless with two strikeouts in the 2016 opener against the Los Angeles Angels. Oh, well. It obviously didn’t stop him from becoming MVP.
Speaking of MVPs, raise your hand if you saw Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper’s 2016 struggles coming after his MVP season the year before. No one? Right. Exactly no one could’ve predicted Harper’s batting average would plummet from .330 to .243.
But these things happen sometimes. Probably not to Bryant, though. Concerned? Of course not. The Cubs barely have a front leg out of the starting gate.
“We’re going through this ride all over again,” he said, “hopefully another 180-plus games. It’s a grind. We’re already in grind mode, I feel like. I’ve always been that way — good games or bad games, grinding it.”
Something tells us he’ll come around eventually.
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