Cubs notebook: Willson Contreras update, a huge game for the bullpen and Javy Báez keeping things light
When Willson Contreras took himself out of Friday night’s loss, it was easy for Cubs fans to fear the worst.
But the Cubs got good news on their All-Star catcher and that right thigh tightness Saturday morning.
“Willson feels better today,” David Ross said. “A little bit sore. Talked to him — feels like he could play if he needed to. I don’t think that’s in his best interest right now.
“But we’ll give him a day to get treatment, go through a little bit of routine, let the trainers test him out as he gets loosened up and see where we’re at. Felt like it was a little bit of good news.”
Tony Wolters was in the lineup Saturday as Contreras’ replacement and picked up his first hit as a Cub in the 3-2 victory.
The Cubs felt good enough about the injury report that they did not add another catcher to the roster, though P.J. Higgins is in Cincinnati with the taxi squad.
Oh, and the coaching staff has a bunch of ex-catchers on it, including Mike Napoli.
“We’ll activate Nap mid-game,” Ross joked.
If anything happens to Wolters this weekend, Contreras could be pressed into action but the Cubs will take a big-picture view for one of their most important players.
As of pregame Saturday, Ross wasn’t ready to make a final determination on Contreras’ status for Sunday’s game.
“We’ll see. It’s a quick turnaround with a day game tomorrow,” Ross said. “If he feels really good, maybe we would push that. But we’ll try to be smart. He’s gonna have a heavy workload; he’s a guy we’re gonna lean on all year.
“We’ll be as smart as possible with that. But if he’s telling me he’s ready to go, then I’ll play him.”
A huge game for the bullpen
The Cubs bullpen has showed out in a big way to open the series with the Reds.
They played the role of stopper Friday night to give the offense a chance to mount a rally in the 9th. Then they carried that over to Saturday to keep the game tight and then close out the lead in a 3-2 win.
Craig Kimbrel worked around back-to-back hits to open the bottom of the 9th inning but notched a pair of strikeouts looking and then induced former Cub Nick Castellanos to ground out.
Kimbrel, Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin, Dan Winkler and Rex Brothers combined to strike out 8 batters in 5 shutout innings Saturday.
“The bullpen held strong,” Ross said. “Really big of Craig to lock it down there on the end, not crumbling under adversity and doing what he does. I thought all around it was a really nice win for us.”
Over the last two games, the Cubs bullpen has not allowed a run over 9.2 innings while striking out 18 against 0 walks.
Prior to Saturday’s game, the Cubs called up prospect Keegan Thompson as another reliever. Left-hander Kyle Ryan was optioned down to Triple-A Iowa as a corresponding move.
Thompson — a 26-year-old right-hander — was the Cubs’ 3rd round draft pick in 2017 out of Auburn University. He ranked No. 16 on Marquee Sports Network’s preseason Top 20 prospects list.
Thompson has a career 3.46 ERA in 35 minor league outings working mostly as a starter. He has not pitched above the Double-A level but was in spring training with the major league team and turned some heads.
“Keegan threw the ball extremely well — opened a lot of eyes in spring,” Ross said. “I saw a strike-thrower with real stuff. Pitchability, controlled the strike zone in and out, up/down, great secondary stuff. He’s got a starter’s mix, which is really good for the bullpen especially.
“… I was impressed. He hasn’t spent a lot of time in the bullpen in his career, but he’ll adjust to that pretty seamlessly, I think.”
The Cubs bullpen has had to account for 9.2 innings so far this weekend and Thompson affords Ross a potential long-relief option this weekend.
Ryan pitched 0.2 innings in Friday night’s game, allowing 2 hits and recorded a strikeout. He has not permitted a run in 2 big league appearances this season.
Javy keeping things light
Javy Báez has never shied away from having fun on the field, especially on the defensive end.
One such instance came on Sunday when he helped communicate with Nico Hoerner for a very El Mago-esque play on a popup. He let Hoerner know the hitter was not running out of the box, so the Cubs were able to get a double play.
Báez said he’s always commenting to his teammates on popups.
“Every fly ball that’s hit to the infield, the ball is in the air and I’m talking to them like, ‘do you have it? Are you sure?’” he said. “Sometimes they’re laughing before they catch the ball. It’s not about making them have fun but being focused too.”
Báez is also hoping to carry that type of communication over to other facets of the game as the Cubs are still working to find their stride as a team this season.
The Cubs are off to an 11-15 start on the year and Báez believes a key to the team becoming more consistent is playing as a cohesive unit.
“Having the same plan as a team, competing and learning something every day,” he said. “I think we just gotta play as a team, which we are. Things aren’t going our way this month but it’s just one month and we still got five more to go. Hopefully we get that good communication as a team and we take off.”