Back from injury, Matt Duffy feels in a good place with Cubs
Cubs fans have endured a roller coaster with Matt Duffy this season.
The veteran infielder made the Opening Day roster but flew under the radar before emerging as a key contributor for this group in late April and throughout May.
But then a back issue popped up and he struggled to work through that, ultimately landing on the 60-day IL.
Duffy made his return to the Cubs Friday afternoon, starting and hitting 5th in the lineup — right behind the core of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Báez.
He was out of the lineup Saturday but was double-switched into the game in the 6th inning. The Cubs aren’t looking to overextend him after missing so much time.
Duffy feels like he’s in a good spot health-wise right now. He has found a 45-50 minute pregame routine that works for him and he likes how his back has been recovering over the last couple of weeks between his rehab stint and first few days back with the big-league club.
“The days I have completely off, the following day I actually feel worse than if I were to play in a game,” Duffy said.
He has dealt with back injuries in the past, but nothing of this magnitude during a season. Part of the reason this particular issue lasted so long was because Duffy was trying to push himself to return to the field as quickly as possible.
“[I was] not being completely honest with how I was feeling with myself,” he said. “I wanted to feel good so bad that I was comparing myself to how I felt when I came out of the game in St. Louis [on May 22] vs. how I felt when I’m fully healthy. When I compare the two, compared to how I felt in St. Louis, I feel great.
“But compared to how I feel when I’m healthy, it’s like, no, I don’t feel good. But I would continue to push through and try to work through that feeling and just hope that it would hold up. I wasn’t being completely honest with how I felt.
“To the staff’s credit, we eventually pivoted and made it quicker than it could’ve been. Any time you have a bunch of setbacks, you start to risk a season or worse. The way something feels when you have setback after setback, it’s like your body starts forgetting what it feels like to be healthy. Things can drag on.”
For Duffy, the mental part was almost as difficult as the physical. He had to teach himself to be patient with his back injury and try not to overdo it.
He was feeling good and with the team when they began a series in New York in the middle of June but experienced a setback when he took too many groundballs and swings.
“I would work myself until I felt bad,” he said.
Duffy’s return to the Cubs represents a big boost for the lineup. His stat line — .269 average, .717 OPS — is understated for the impact he provides.
His high-contact approach at the plate has been a refreshing addition to a Cubs offense that features a lot of sluggers. When the lineup was firing on all cylinders during a 19-8 run in May, it was due to the diversity up and down the batting order in the type of hitters. Duffy and Nico Hoerner provided the contact and full-field approach while Báez, Bryant and others provided the thump.
That said, Duffy understands he’s only one person and he can’t be a savior for the Cubs offense all by himself.
“If I could be a reminder that there’s other ways to produce other than slug, I think that’s good,” Duffy said. “On any given day, you’re gonna need a different set of tools to beat a pitcher or a team. If you have a veteran guy who could command the ball and maybe has plus stuff, the slug just might not be there that day. On the flip side, you got a guy that’s throwing balls all over the middle of the plate and it’s a day that, hey, we’re gonna slug.
“But I’m just gonna try to do whatever I can to help the team. If I’m trying to slug or trying to hit home runs, that’s just not my game. I try to stay away from that. I don’t think my success rate is very good trying to hit homers in my career.
“I just stick with what I can do. If that rubs off on guys, great.”