Kyle Schwarber has worn out his welcome, and he's wearing out opposing pitchers in the process.
Schwarber continued forcing the Cubs' hand on Thursday, homering twice and finishing 3-for-4 with four RBI to complete a series sweep of the Brewers. Schwarber had three of the team's 11 hits in a 9-2 win, the Cubs' 13th win in their last 14 games.
Schwarber was originally recalled in mid-July to serve as an extra catcher with Miguel Montero on the shelf, but the team kept Schwarber around last week when Montero was activated from the disabled list. Cubs manager Joe Maddon said the team was compelled to keep Schwarber in the majors for his hitting ability.
After seeing Schwarber single-handedly defeat his team Thursday, Brewers manager Craig Counsell understood why.
"He's a really good, young hitter," Counsell said. "I think the best thing you can say about him is he's stepped into the league and he's already a guy you have to look out for when he's coming around again. He's established himself quickly as a middle-of-the-order type presence and somebody you have to manage around. He's obviously got big power, and anybody like that you're going to have to be careful with."
That's not just lip service. The 22-year-old has batted .330/.420/.621 with eight homers, 25 RBI and 26 runs scored in 31 games with the club this year. His bat is good enough that the Cubs have tolerated his subpar catching defense for 16 of those games.
And with Starlin Castro's move to the bench, Schwarber should continue to see regular playing time going forward. Chris Coghlan, who entered the season with just two appearances at second base, was recently shoehorned into the keystone in part to make room for Schwarber in left field. Addison Russell slid over to his natural position of shortstop with Castro's benching.
Schwarber has the pedigree -- he was the No. 4 overall pick in last year's MLB Draft -- the production and, now, the opportunity. He appears to be the latest Cubs prospect to arrive in the majors for good.
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Back Spasms Sideline Gray
Sonny Gray didn't pitch Thursday, and it's uncertain when he will next take the mound.
Gray was a late scratch from his scheduled Thursday start after back spasms encountered Wednesday night didn't subside. Jesse Chavez started against the Blue Jays in his place, taking a 4-2 loss.
"I mean everybody has little minor aches and pains, and everybody has dealt with some back issues," Melvin said. "But not this severe to where he can't start today. We'll monitor him and see how he feels in Baltimore. We'll get him in there when we feel it's the proper time to get him in there. At this point we're not sure."
That start won't come Friday. Melvin already ruled out the right-hander from a possible start in the series opener against the Orioles.
It doesn't seem as though the injury is terribly serious or a continuation of a prior injury -- Melvin said he didn't know of any previous back issues for Gray -- so the 25-year-old shouldn't be sidelined for long. Stay tuned over the weekend for updates.
Bird's The Word
The Mets have a parakeet, so the Yankees decided to get a Bird of their own.
The Yanks promoted first base prospect Greg Bird on Thursday to help jumpstart an offense that had scored nine runs in its previous seven games. Not coincidentally, the team was 1-6 in that span.
Bird was immediately inserted into the lineup and went 0-for-5 with a couple hard outs in the Yankees win. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said the 22-year-old has good offensive potential.
"You hear people use the term professional hitter," Girardi said. "He knows how to hit the ball to all fields, he knows how to drive the ball, he knows how to drive in runs."
Bird was hitting .277/.356/.469 with 12 homers and 52 RBI before his promotion, including a .301/.353/.500 slash line in 34 games at Triple-A. During spring, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Bird was "by far" the best pure hitter in the team's minors.
With Alex Rodriguez serving as designated hitter as Mark Teixeira manning first base, it's unclear how often Bird might find his way into the lineup -- Teixeira sat out Thursday -- but the Yankees certainly didn't promote him to sit. With his upside and the friendly confines for left-handed hitters, Bird is worth grabbing as a flyer in deeper mixed leagues in case the power translates to the majors.
National League Quick Hits: Lucas Duda (back) was out of the Mets' lineup for a third straight game on Thursday. He's aiming to return for the Mets' weekend series against the Pirates ... The Marlins are open to a waiver trade of Martin Prado, but a deal doesn't seem likely. The 31-year-old is signed through 2016 and he's hitting a passable .270/.315/.353 through 88 games ... Per the San Francisco Chronicle, the Giants have made the Phillies an offer for Chase Utley. The Giants are trying to fill the void when Joe Panik went down with an injury earlier this month ... Billy Hamilton had a big game Thursday, going 4-for-4 with a home run, two RBI, four runs scored and a stolen base. Hamilton had just five hits in his previous 31 at-bats.
American League Quick Hits: Cole Hamels (groin) is hoping to return to the Rangers' rotation on Monday after missing his turn Thursday. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said the team will "know more when he throws this weekend" ... Michael Pineda (forearm) will begin a minor league rehab assignment Sunday with Double-A Trenton. He's expected to throw around 45 pitches as he returns from a Grade 1 flexor muscle strain in his right forearm, the first of a few rehab starts he's expected to make before returning ... Edwin Encarnacion on Thursday missed his fourth straight game with a left middle finger injury. Despite sitting out for the stretch, Encarnacion is expected to be ready for the start of the series against the Yankees ... The Twins placed Phil Hughes on the 15-day disabled list Thursday with a back injury. Perhaps a few weeks off could help the 29-year-old, who owns a 4.49 ERA in 144 1/3 innings this year after a breakout 2014 season ... Josh Hamilton (knee) will undergo an MRI on Friday. The outfielder was a late scratch Wednesday and missed Thursday's game with soreness in his left knee.