Cubs hope Bryant stays hot vs. Reds

CHICAGO — Whatever the hitch was in Kris Bryant‘s swing, it is no longer an issue.

In the Chicago Cubs‘ weekend series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Bryant tied for the second-highest on-base percentage in club history (.867) over three games. He collected nine hits and three walks, and he was hit by a pitch.

And he didn’t let up Monday in the series opener against the Cincinnati Reds.

Bryant went 2-for-4 with a double, a home run, two runs and two RBIs in Chicago’s 15-5 win over Cincinnati. The homer was his 22nd of the season, and it gave him home runs in consecutive games for the first time since Aug. 22-23, 2016.

The Cubs hope he can continue that success Tuesday against the Reds in the second game of the four-game set.

Chicago manager Joe Maddon likes the positive direction of Bryant’s batting average, which has risen from .264 in late July to its current .296.

“He looked more like K.B.,” Maddon said. “He’s staying longer through the ball right now. There’s a different posture and stance. When you get to the point of contact, that bat is flat long through the strike zone. It’s not in and out.”

Bryant has reached base in 16 of 20 plate appearances in his last four games. He has hit safely in a season-high-tying 11 consecutive games, compiling a .465 average in that span.

“It’s a special stretch,” teammate Anthony Rizzo said following the Monday victory. “It’s a matter of time before he keeps doing what he’s doing. It’s fun to watch.”

Bryant’s hot bat comes at the right time as the Cubs are without Willson Contreras for the foreseeable future. The catcher is on the disabled list with a right hamstring strain sustained while running to first base last Wednesday.

Contreras was batting .274 with 21 homers and 70 RBIs when he was sidelined.

The Cubs and Reds meet for the 11th time this season on Tuesday. Cincinnati sends right-hander Luis Castillo (2-5, 3.73 ERA) against Chicago right-hander Kyle Hendricks (4-4, 3.70 ERA).

Castillo is one of three rookie pitchers currently in the Reds’ rotation. The Reds’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2016, the 24-year-old Dominican is displaying maturity beyond his years.

“I can’t say enough good things about Luis, it was like playing a video game back there really,” Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart said after a recent Castillo victory. “I felt like I was making up stuff and he was throwing it like it was nothing, like he had been doing it like he had 10 years in the big leagues.”

Castillo will make his 11th major league appearance, all starts, and first against the Cubs. He recorded quality starts in five of his past seven outings.

In his last start on Thursday against the San Diego Padres, he allowed three runs on six hits while striking out four and walking three in a six-plus-inning outing. He got a no-decision in a 10-3 Reds victory.

Hendricks’ last start was Wednesday at San Francisco, and he lasted just 4 2/3 innings while throwing 96 pitches in a Cubs 3-1 loss. He gave up one run on five hits and three walks, and he struck out five.

Hendricks is 4-1 with a 3.81 ERA in nine career starts against the Reds. He earned the win against Cincinnati on May 17, when he allowed six hits and two runs in six innings. He is 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA vs. the Reds in five career starts at home.

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