The Rundown: Bryant Answers Dad’s Home Run Request, How Cubs Fare Against Knucklers

Kris Bryant didn’t give his dad much time to admire the fifth-longest home run in Fenway history (Statcast era), but it’s not as though there was any doubt the ball was destined for Lansdowne St. from the time it left the bat. Even so, the hit’s 107 mph exit velocity had nothing on the speed with which Mike Bryant leaped from his aisle seat.

“I texted him before the game and asked him to hit me a dinger,” Mike said. “That ball was over the scoreboard at Wrigley!”

The realization of a dream 58 years in the making meant that, even among a surprisingly Cubs-heavy crowd, one group was cheering louder than any other. Which is why it was so easy for the slugger to find his family in the stands when he crossed home plate.

“That’s probably the only time I’ve ever actually seen my family in the stands,” Bryant said after the game. “I was like, ‘Oh, there he is. Proud dad.'”

Cubs face knuckleball Saturday

The way they flutter and float with no rhyme or reason, knuckleballs are fun as hell to watch…when you’re watching from the stands or your living room. But when you’re at the plate and trying to do damage against the pitch, it can be like trying to catch a mosquito with a pair of chopsticks.

And while it’s bad enough that the knuckler’s movement is unpredictable, the dearth of its practitioners means there’s really no way for hitters to grow accustomed to it. If that’s even possible. Same thing for catchers, which is why Doug Mirabelli hung onto his job so long. Heck, the Red Sox had to bring him back after trading him to San Diego because Josh Bard proved ineffective at catching Tim Wakefield.

While neither Wake nor Mirabelli will be part of Saturday’s battery, knuckleballer Steven Wright will be on the bump for Boston. The 32-year-old righty spent parts of nine seasons in the minors, getting cups of coffee in 2013 and 2014 before logging nine starts in 2015 and then breaking through for 156.2 innings across 24 starts last season. With a fastball that sits mid-80’s and a curve that comes in nearly 20 ticks slower, the mid-70’s knuckler accounts for about 80 percent of his offerings.

So how can we expect the Cubs to fare against the freaky-deaky stuff? That’s a question we can’t really answer until the game gets underway, though their history against soft-tossing junk-ballers hasn’t been the best. Remember Bronson Arroyo? Ugh. Much like the aged Reds starter, Wright’s got a pretty ugly line on the young season. As The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham reports, though, some tweaks could lead to better results

Steven Wright, who starts Saturday, has an 8.66 earned average and 2.01 WHIP through four games. But some delivery changes led to better command in his last bullpen session. A more energetic motion has added movement to the knuckleball. None of the Cubs players have faced Wright, which should be to his advantage.

According to my unofficial research, the Cubs have combined for fewer than 100 at-bats against floaters and have posted a meager .179 batting average (15-for-84) against it. That includes a 22 percent whiff rate, which is actually not as bad as I’d imagined. Of course, those numbers all come from only four hitters, with Ben Zobrist (51 ABs) making up the vast majority of the sample. Jason Heyward, Miguel Montero, and Jon Jay have all seen the knuckler as well.

Expect to see all those lefty batters in the lineup Saturday. Not only will their handedness give them a better look at Wright’s delivery, but Montero has been Lackey’s caddy this year and Jay has had a hot bat in general. As for the young guys who have yet to face anyone like Wright in their MLB careers, they’ll just have to follow the rules on hitting knucklers.

“Look up around the eyes and hope it doesn’t sink,” a hitting instructor tells me. “Swing hard and decisive and hope you run into it.”

Sounds like a plan.

More news and notes

  • Nats place Adam Eaton on 10-day DL with left knee strain
  • Noah Syndergaard cleared after biceps issue
  • No surgery for MadBum
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