A nail in his car tire saved Frank Schwindel from making an unnecessary trip to Iowa.
Schwindel arrived at Wrigley Field on Sunday and began getting loose before the Chicago Cubs’ 7-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers when he received the news that he had been optioned to Triple A. The Cubs hoped the move would allow Schwindel, 30, to get locked in and recapture what made him successful during two stellar months to close last season.
Schwindel would have made the six-hour drive Sunday to join the Iowa Cubs in Des Moines. However, he had discovered the nail in his tire en route to Wrigley for Sunday’s game. The auto shop he planned to use wasn’t taking any more appointments for the day and all other options were closed, so Schwindel figured he would get the tire fixed Monday morning and then drive to Des Moines.
Instead, he got a call late Sunday after the loss that the Cubs had recalled him for their West Coast trip. A Cubs fan spotted Schwindel on a Monday morning flight to San Diego. Others recognized him at the airport, prompting one to tell Schwindel, “I hope you’re back up there soon.”
“It was pretty funny,” Schwindel said Monday at Petco Park. “I took a couple selfies. I told them: ‘Don’t say anything, I’m playing tonight.’ … It’s been a crazy 24 hours.”
Schwindel started at first base in the No. 5 spot in the order and struck out three times in the 6-0 victory against the Padres. Alfonso Rivas pinch hit for Schwindel in the eighth, drawing a walk.
Schwindel does not lose his final minor-league option because he has not spent the minimum 20 days in the minors this season. The Cubs were able to bring him back immediately without a minimum stint in the minors because he replaced right-hander David Robertson, who went on the injured list without an injury distinction.
Players can go on the IL under those circumstances when it relates to COVID-19. Right-hander Marcus Stroman was scratched from his scheduled Sunday start and also placed on the IL without a reason.
The Cubs also optioned right-hander Adrian Sampson to Triple A and selected the contract of left-hander Conner Menez. Right-hander Mark Leiter Jr., infielder Ildemaro Vargas and catcher P.J. Higgins are on the taxi squad and with the team in San Diego.
Schwindel acknowledged he wasn’t thrilled about being optioned but understood why the Cubs did it.
“I mean, it made sense,” he said. “I haven’t been playing up to what I expect, to what anybody else expects. But it happens. Even the best of hitters, it’s part of the game, grinding through the tough times and get back on track and get back to doing things I’m good at and just go from there.
“But it’s just another opportunity to prove myself now.”
After missing time in spring training because of back tightness, Schwindel has struggled to get going. He had a .209/.250/.308 slash line entering Monday with a 62 OPS+, five extra-base hits, 21 strikeouts and five walks. His strikeout rate was nearly 7% higher than last year while his walk rate had dipped by 1.5%.
“He’s played almost every game, and hitting in the middle of our lineup, he knows what he’s capable of and we know what he’s capable of,” manager David Ross said Monday. “We have a lot of confidence and faith in him. The fact that we were going to send him down was for the betterment of him (in the long term), probably not us as much.”
Three metrics highlight Schwindel’s struggles and contrast what made him so effective last year: strikeout-to-walk rate, slugging numbers against fastballs and hard-hit contact.
“I think for me, it takes one good game to kind of take a deep breath and get it going from there,” Schwindel said. “I had some good swings as of late, not so much luck from it. But I feel like I’ve been building on better last couple games, at least feeling-wise.”
Schwindel became known last year for his ability to put the ball in play and limit strikeouts. He racked up hits and made a lot of contact in the zone (87.8% contact rate). Through 25 games this season, Schwindel’s in-zone contact rate had dropped to 82.8%.
When he is putting the ball in play, his hard-hit percentage had dropped 12.2% from last year. Despite seeing slightly more pitches per plate appearance, his strikeout-to-walk ratio had jumped from 2.25 in 2021 to 4.20.
He is no longer feasting on fastballs either. He hit .338 with a .685 slugging percentage in 2021 versus fastballs, yielding 11 of his 13 home runs and 10 doubles. Schwindel is seeing the same percentage of fastballs this season but isn’t doing damage. He owns a .244 average and .333 slugging percentage while whiffing 27.6% of the time against fastballs.
All of those deficiencies have contributed to Schwindel’s offensive woes.
“It’s just getting back to not missing my pitches and swinging at strikes in the zone,” he said, “which I kind of got away from trying to chase hits and trying to make something happen instead of letting pitches come to me. But it’s all part of the learning process.
“What comes first, hits or confidence? Which is a tough question to answer. It’s just hard to take a step back and try not to chase the hits, chase the pitches outside the zone to try and get a guy in.”
Schwindel could give the Cubs something to think about if he starts to get on track while Stroman and Robertson are sidelined. There might not be enough time to change the organization’s mind about the big-picture benefit of giving him at-bats in a lower-stress environment.
Ross didn’t want to predict what would happen with Schwindel when those future roster decisions must be made.
“Sometimes these little moments and how things work out are funny,” Ross said. “He could carry us for the next week and he’s not going anywhere. … I know one thing about Frank, he’s going to give his best in everything we ask him to do.”