Szczur leads reserves, catalyzes Cubs' offense

Starting in leadoff spot, center fielder hits two HRs for first time in career

Szczur leads reserves, catalyzes Cubs' offense

CHICAGO -- How good are the Cubs that they can give a few of their regulars the day off and post a 13-2 victory over the Cardinals? They're really good.

Matt Szczur, making his third start in center field, posted his first career multihomer game, driving in three runs, while rookie Willson Contreras belted a three-run homer, Javier Baez hit a two-run blast and Jorge Soler added a solo shot to power the Cubs to their 11th straight win.

Manager Joe Maddon likes to treat Friday day games like Sundays and give the veterans a breather. Szczur was pumped.

"It's great [Maddon] has the faith in me, and it's awesome to see my name in the lineup," Szczur said. "It was exciting to get to the ballpark today."

Of course, Dexter Fowler, the Cubs' regular center fielder and leadoff man, got some teasing about being replaced. Szczur knows he'll probably be on the bench Saturday.

"I know my role," Szczur said. "I'm going to stay in my lane. I show up to work every day and I try to be the best every day, no matter where I'm positioned at or what spot I'm in."

Getting spot starts also helps when Maddon calls on Szczur off the bench. Szczur is tied for second in the National League in pinch-hits with 12. In 20 starts since the All-Star break, Szczur is batting .455 (15-for-33) with four doubles, two homers, and 10 runs.

Maddon on win vs. Cards, streak

"What that does for his self-confidence is incredible," Maddon said. "I knew he'd be ready to play -- not that anyone else would not be -- but give this guy the opportunity and he's going to do whatever he can to take advantage of it. He stirred it up for the entire group."

Szczur began this season with three home runs in 134 at-bats from 2014-15; he now has four in '16. He's worked hard, and he dealt with being optioned to the Minor Leagues six times last season.

"I've always grinded," Szczur said. "That's a good character trait I have. I've never been handed anything. I've always grinded through high school and college.

"For me, I always looked at [being sent down] as a positive; I never tried to be negative. When I would go down, I'd take the positive out of it and want to produce. I would tell myself, 'Hey, you're going down to get better and get more [at-bats].'"

Where did the power come from? Szczur credited Kevin Wilson, a hitting coach who worked with him in the offseason in New Jersey, and also Cubs hitting coaches John Mallee and Eric Hinske.

Nobody on the Cubs roster is counting how many wins they have.

"[Catcher David Ross] and I were talking the other day, and the only reason I knew we'd won eight or nine straight was that my wife said something about it," Szczur said. "The good thing about that is we don't look at yesterday. We don't care about what happened yesterday. We come to the ballpark ready to win that day. That really helps us out. We don't dwell on the past. You can be upset about your last at-bat, your last day, whatever. For us, I feel we show up ready to win every day."

Szczur learned that attitude starring for the Villanova football team.

"We didn't care about what happened last week. We came to win every day," Szczur said of his 2009 national championship team. "The veteran guys here bring that attitude. You hear 'Rossy' every day say, 'Turn the page,' because you have to turn the page. Get over what you did yesterday and look at what you can do today."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.