Javier Baez poked a low, outside pitch into left-center field for a double Thursday that he wouldn't have come close to hitting in past seasons.
But Baez's achievement nearly was obscured somewhat when he limped three steps out of the batter's box and eventually signaled for medical attention after his two-run double off the Padres' Jordan Lyles in the second inning of the Cubs' 10-4 victory at Sloan Park.
The concerns of Cubs fans were alleviated when Baez later was diagnosed with a left hamstring cramp that could allow him to return as soon as Saturday, and the incident now could be just another lesson in his development as a complete player.
"I drink water during the (pre-game) workouts," said Baez, who declared he was 100 percent after receiving treatment from the medical staff. "But outside of the workouts, it's obviously important and I haven't been drinking a lot of water."
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Throughout his career, Baez, 25, has taken major steps to correct flaws since the Cubs selected him in the first round of the 2011 draft. Questions about his fielding after committing 44 errors at shortstop at Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee in 2013 gradually were quelled, and he made a smooth transition to second base after Addison Russell took over for veteran Starlin Castro in August 2015.
Baez's defensive excellence became complete in 2017, especially after he played 26 consecutive errorless games in place of an injured Russell at shortstop in August and September.
His elite play gave him the confidence to aim for a Gold Glove Award at second base as his major defensive goal.
But he could take his biggest strides at the plate as he has curbed some of the wildness in his swing after accumulating 95 strikeouts in 213 at-bats as a rookie in 2014.
"He's not an enigma," manager Joe Maddon said last month. "I just think he's young. The thing with Javy is this – he has cut down on those areas and has become a magnificent defender. He needs to take his defensive mind and apply it on offense. He sees things defensively. He's so naturally reactive out there he has a good feel for it."
Baez has put a major emphasis on pitch selection this year. He admitted he was looking for a fastball when Lyles threw him a curve Thursday, but he was able to make contact and hit the ball just past a diving Manuel Margot.
Plate discipline became a major priority this winter for Baez, who achieved career-highs with 23 home runs and 75 RBIs but has seen his strikeout rate drop from 44.6 percent in 2014 to 25.6 percent in 2016 and 30.7 percent last season.
"I've been doing a lot better, seeing the ball a lot better," Baez said. "My swing is the same. My stance is a little different, but my approach is the same. As long as I don't jump to the ball, I'll be good."
Maddon would like Baez to find a rhythm at the plate similar to his defense and be able to adjust to various pitch speeds.
"That's the hardest part as a hitter," Maddon said. "Defensively, he can roll out of bed and be magnificent. As he learns to play the game offensively, it's going to keep getting better. I think you're going to see a magnificent offensive player before it's over. And for me, it's all about organizing the strike zone. Once he organizes the zone, what not to swing at, he's going to take off."