Why Matt Mervis and Christopher Morel are in tough spots as Chicago Cubs try to get their anemic offense on track – The Denver Post
Chicago Cubs first baseman Matt Mervis got the pitch he wanted.
He worked a 2-0 count against Los Angeles Angels starter Jaime Barria in the fifth inning Wednesday when a slider from the right-hander caught too much of the zone. Mervis smoked the ball, pulling it to right field with the hardest-hit ball — 110.1 mph — any player either team produced in the game.
Mervis, though, had nothing to show for the great contact.
Despite the .750 expected batting average on the 300-foot line drive, Angels right fielder Mickey Moniak hauled it in to keep the runner at first. The frustrating sequence epitomized the struggles Mervis has experienced through his first 22 major-league games and, more broadly, the Cubs’ maddening offensive inconsistency.
Mervis finished 0-for-3 with a strikeout in the Cubs’ 6-2 loss. He hasn’t been able to get going since the Cubs promoted him May 5 after he conquered Triple-A pitching in the first month of the season.
Manager David Ross has tried to put Mervis in good situations, looking for ideal pitching matchups and trying to limit exposure to tough left-handers that the lefty slugger saw too frequently after his call up.
Mervis’ clutch two-run double off a left-hander in Tuesday’s loss snapped an 0-for-17 stretch with seven strikeouts. The Cubs hope that type of hit, followed by his barreled line out, in back-to-back games can get Mervis going.
“I definitely think big hits can build confidence and that’s what springboards all that stuff,” Ross said Wednesday. “But you’ve got to consistently build upon that.
“Stack a couple of those together, stack up a 1-for-3 with a walk and a 2-for-4 and let that start to trend in the right direction. Focus on the positive that you’ve done and focus on your at-bat in that moment and not focus on you the last time he got out. I think a short memory as hitters and in the major leagues is really important as a whole.”
Hitting coach Dustin Kelly lauded Mervis’ pregame work and said he’s doing all the right things in an effort to acclimate to the challenges of big-league pitching, even as the results (.183/.256/.296) haven’t been there.
“We’re trying to reiterate to him that this is still your game, you’re the same player,” Kelly told the Tribune. “This is you and what you do best and we’re going to try and continue to stick to that. Obviously there’s some challenges, especially him coming up with a little bit of notoriety. People knew who he was. The power is real. All of that is real and guys have treated him like he’s a power threat in our lineup.
“Him dialing it down and realizing I need to get my pitch in my spot and be aggressive to it but also realizing that people aren’t going to leave you 2-1 breaking balls right down the middle of the zone for you to hammer into the seats.”
The Cubs are in a tough position of trying to dig out from their 26-35 record while getting Mervis and Christopher Morel on track.
Since hitting nine home runs in his first 12 games, Morel is 2-for-29 with no extra-base hits, four walks and 12 strikeouts. Mervis’ and Morel’s struggles are more pronounced within an anemic offense. Trying to continue both players’ development at the big-league level becomes harder when no one is producing around them.
Morel’s lack of a regular defensive position doesn’t help either. Although nine of his starts have come as the Cubs designated hitter, Morel hasn’t gotten comfortable in that role. The added time to think about his at-bats on the bench has worked against him.
Morel told the Tribune he’s willing to help the Cubs in any way and wants to find a good routine as the DH. At some point, the Cubs could have Morel focus on one position, whether in the infield or outfield, and hone the defensive side of his game at a singular spot rather than moving him around the field.
A slumping Patrick Wisdom seemingly opens a defensive spot for Morel. However, the Cubs’ emphasis on defense and Morel’s unreliable throws from third base dating back to 2022 have made them reluctant to play him there. The team doesn’t trust his arm, evidenced by zero starts at the position this year.
Kelly, in his first season as hitting coach, has seen firsthand Mervis and Morel adjust to tough stretches in the minors when serving as the organization’s minor-league hitting coordinator the previous two years.
“We always talked about having confidence and understanding who you are and sticking to your strengths,” Kelly said. “And when you see little things that start to pile up and hopefully we can get a couple more of those wins like winning pitches. We’re not just necessarily looking at the outcome.”
It was unrealistic to consider either player a savior for the offense when they were brought up. Needing to rack up wins and find good matchups to deploy Mervis and Morel to rebuild their confidence is a difficult combination.
Better consistency from veteran players in the Cubs lineup would go a long way in lessening the duo’ burden and pressure to deliver.