Cubs Slugger Kyle Schwarber Not Medically Cleared to Play Defense

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CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after hitting an RBI single to score Ben Zobrist #18 (not pictured) during the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

CLEVELAND, OH – OCTOBER 26: Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after hitting an RBI single to score Ben Zobrist #18 (not pictured) during the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Kyle Schwarber has been an incredible — borderline miraculous, even — World Series story for the Chicago Cubs.

The 23-year-old, aside from five plate appearances in April, missed most of the season following surgery for a torn ACL and LCL in his left knee. Surprisingly, he returned to the Cubs’ lineup as the designated hitter just in time for the start of the World Series. He’s been one of Chicago’s best offensive producers, batting .429 with three hits and two RBIs in Games 1 and 2.

But starting Friday night, there will be a gaping hole in Chicago’s lineup. That’s because Schwarber — the Cubs’ all-time postseason leader in home runs when he had five in last year’s playoffs — has not been cleared medically by doctors to resume playing in the outfield with that surgically repaired knee. World Series Games 3, 4 and 5 are at Wrigley Field in Chicago, and the designated hitter position isn’t an option at a National League ballpark.

Schwarber underwent the major surgery in April.

That means for the next three games, Schwarber, who is clear to hit and run the bases, only would be available to pinch hit, meaning he likely would get no more than one at-bat per game. It could be a blow for a team trying to win its first World Series since 1908.

Schwarber, though, remained upbeat on Thursday.

“It’s not disappointing at all,” Schwarber said, speaking to the media after the Cubs’ off-day workout at Wrigley Field. “It was a long shot at the most. Obviously, I want to be out there for my teammates and everything. It’s just the competitor inside of me. Facts are facts. I just can’t physically do it. So I’m going to be ready at any time during the game to go out there and have a pinch hit.”

In Game 2 on Wednesday night, Schwarber was a key player in helping the Cubs even the series at a game apiece with two hits and two RBIs. In Game 1, the second-year player hit a hard and deep double in the fourth inning for his first hit in 2016 — making him the first non-pitcher to get his first hit of the entire season during the World Series.

Even though it’s only been two games, Schwarber has had more at-bats in this year’s World Series (seven) than he did all during the regular season (four).

It’s been an improbable road for Schwarber to get to this point. In April, he suffered the knee injury when he collided with center fielder Dexter Fowler in the third game of the regular season. He was expected to miss the rest of the year.

Only days ago, Schwarber was in the other end of the country, participating in Arizona’s Fall League. When he was cleared to play in the World Series, the Cubs sent him to Cleveland in a private jet from Mesa, Arizona. When he landed in Ohio, he went straight to Progressive Field.

On Tuesday, before Game 1, Schwarber expressed how happy he was to be back with his team, saying he’d probably cry at some point that day. So even though he’s not cleared to play outfield, Schwarber will take what plate appearances he can get.

“This was just kind of a, ‘What if?'” Schwarber said on Thursday. “I wanted to give it a shot. We talked to the doctor. We got his opinion, and you’ve got to respect the opinion of the doctor. He’s got the best interest for me. He’s kind of detached. He voiced his opinion, and we listened to it. And in respect to the part about the pinch hitting, it’s fine. It’s going to be another at-bat, and I’m going to be locked in for that.”