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Bryant will bat leadoff for Cubs

A few days ago the big question in Mesa, Ariz., was whether Kris Bryant would make it through spring training in a Cubs uniform.

After Bryant met with manager David Ross on Wednesday morning, the question was whether Bryant would be the Cubs next leadoff man.

The answer, Ross later revealed, was yes.

“My goal is to put the best players and the best at-bats in the top of the order,” Ross said. “Kris Bryant is a really good at-bat, gets on base, probably one of our best baserunners. His baseball IQ is extremely high. So when you talk about putting the best players in baseball at the top of the order, that’s our best player, and I want to put him at the top.”

Bryant, who typically hit second or third in the lineup for the first five years of his career, said he would embrace the new role.

“I led off my whole junior year in college and I won every college award — first-team All-American, the Golden Spikes Award,” he said, referring to the honor given to the best amateur player in the nation.

So he likes leading off?

“It’s fine,” he said. “I look at the two-hole as another leadoff hitter too. So you can interchange those. The past three years we really haven’t had someone who was stuck in the leadoff hole and stayed there.

“I think we totally took Dexter (Fowler) for granted while he was here. I certainly did. He was up there working great at-bats and he was always on base, had a high on-base percentage. That showed in the numbers after (he left).

“We’ve had so much turnover and guys trying out (in the spot), you don’t get that consistency. If I need to be the guy that’s up there that’s going to be consistent and be on base, I’ll be that guy.”

Ross also hinted that Anthony Rizzo would bat second, calling Bryant-Rizzo “a good 1-2 punch at the top.”

So Rizzo is batting second?

“Maybe,” Ross said with a grin.

That would make “Bryzzo” the new Daily Double — the nickname broadcaster Harry Caray coined for the 1-2 hitters Bob Dernier and Ryne Sandberg in 1984.

“Listen, I’ve thought this thing to death,” Ross said of his lineups. “And I’m still thinking about it.”

Bryant asked to be the first hitter during a live batting practice session Tuesday against Tyler Chatwood. Bryant doesn’t know whether he’ll lead off in the Cactus League opener Saturday against the A’s.

Bryant has led off only seven times in his career, going 9-for-28 (.321) with a .387 on-base percentage. He has a .398 career OBP in the No. 2 hole, his most frequent spot, and a .361 OBP in the third spot, where the team’s best hitter usually resides.

Cubs leadoff hitters were last in the majors in 2019 with a .294 OBP after finishing second in that category in 2018 (.366), when they won 95 games.

“That leadoff spot has been a real thing around here since Dexter left,” Ross said. “The way (Bryant has) handled all the situations he’s been in in his career and risen to the occasion a lot of the times, he can handle that. … I would hate to be on the other side and look at that big boy step in the box and lead things off with what he can do.”

Bryant conceded it’s different than leading off in college and said he might ask some veteran leadoff men, like Fowler, for some advice if he’s inserted there.

“The biggest thing with hitting at the top of the order is that fifth at-bat,” he said. “I want that fifth at-bat, and I’ve done that for five years, now going on six years. So I have the right mindset to do it.”

Ross said he will stick with the lineup and won’t move Bryant if he struggles at the outset.

“That screams panic when you start to change all that,” Ross said.

Bryant said he’s willing to do anything he’s asked and always has been. He also is willing to play center field more often if asked.

“Sometimes that’s misinterpreted or not looked at enough,” he said of his willingness to move around, adding “I love center field.”

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