After playing in all 166 games last season, regular season and playoffs, Cubs All-Star shortstop Dansby Swanson said he was “going crazy” while on the injured list for just over two weeks with a left heel contusion.
“I feel like I’ve essentially been an assistant coach for the last couple of weeks. He’s driven me crazy,” said Swanson, who collected two of the Cubs’ 15 hits, scored one run, drove in another and reached base three times in a rain-delayed 8-6 win over the Cardinals Saturday.
With the emergence of Mike Tauchman in center field and a dominant Cody Bellinger playing more first base recently, first baseman Jared Young was selected to Triple-A to make room on the roster for Swanson’s return from IL.
“Dansby is really important to our success,” said manager David Ross. “He sees a lot. He’s very aware of his surroundings, how the game is moving.”
Both Swanson’s wife and her coach think he might have a future as a coach, but his return to the field strengthens the Cubs’ home defense (47-51) while lightening the workload on double play partner Nico Hoerner.
Returning to second base after replacing Swanson shortly, Hoerner shrugged off a slow July offense by reaching base four times, scoring three times, with an encouraging double thrown to the shuffled left field wall.
“With Dansby back, it was really clear today how he stretches the lineup, pushing some of those other guys down,” said Ross. “It’s starting to feel like the offense is going really, really deep again.”
Even with Nick Madrigal continuing a rehab assignment this weekend, Swanson’s sixth-hitting Saturday pushed the Cubs closer to their best lineup during a late-July stretch in which the clubhouse can at least theoretically pin some hope on being able to keep this group of players together at the trade deadline.
“Today was a perfect example of us trying to show what we’re capable of,” said reliever Michael Fulmer, who opened the game on Saturday. “Our offense has been outstanding since the All-Star break, obviously, and I think a large part of our success is due to them.”
“Every game, every moment obviously matters,” Swanson said when asked if there was an added benefit to being sidelined during a crucial stretch. “So, in that regard, no. But overall, I love to compete and I love hanging out with guys. Sometimes it stinks when you’re on the side and not able to be out there.
Swanson could be found pre-game testing his heel by running bases over the previous two days, which Ross says was the final step to feeling comfortable enough to activate it. But Swanson has hinted that his left foot is something he should at least be aware of as he makes his comeback.
Since hitting the first pitch he saw that day for a double into right field, Swanson’s more cautious gate on the basepaths was visible from the get-go. But in making a backhand short hop pick on a 105 mph bullet from Tyler O’Neill’s bat in the seventh, Swanson showed no ill effect.
“I’ve always had a good feel for the pace control I need, so I’m going to be smart about myself,” said Swanson. “With a heel injury, any type of movement, any type of course, I had to build all the way. I wouldn’t be out there if I didn’t feel capable of being a productive baseball player.
With Saturday’s performance, Swanson increased his season line to .261/.347/.413 with 10 home runs in his first 84 games in a Cub uniform.
Swanson joked of his comeback success: “Swing hard in case you hit it, that’s the motto. The hitting staff did a great job of keeping me fit and in the flow of the type of play when it came to the offense. Definitely nice to be able to get off to a good start.”