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Why David Ross believes Willson Contreras is capable of being Cubs’ leadoff hitter

3 years agoAndy Martinez

David Ross faced a dilemma.

After the Cubs traded Joc Pederson to the Braves on Thursday, his go-to leadoff hitter against right-handed hitters was gone.

“I don’t know when I look at our team that I know who exactly in my mind jumps out to fit in that leadoff spot,” Ross admitted prior to Saturday’s game against the Diamondbacks.

One of the biggest sticking points for a leadoff hitter for Ross was having someone who was both mentally and physically ready to have an extra plate appearance a game.

So, Friday night, he spoke with Willson Contreras, the Cubs’ leadoff hitter against lefties and talked to him about leading off against Zac Gallen and righties moving forward. Ross liked Contreras’ approach leading off against lefties and felt he was the natural fit.

“I think that’s the main thing I look for,” Ross said. “That extra at-bat hasn’t affected him in the least. That’s what I want: someone that has the consistent at-bat.

“He’s a tough at-bat, he’s a good at-bat, he’s taking his walks the more he’s at the top of the lineup, which has been a positive for me.”

Contreras was ready for the challenge, and he showed it Saturday leading off against Gallen. He was 3-for-4 in the game, reaching base 4 times, but, most importantly, he made the most of his extra at-bat.

Tied at 2 with 2 outs in the 9th and a runner at first, Contreras crushed the second pitch he saw against Joakim Soria for a home run, sparking the Cubs to a thrilling, come-from-behind win over the Diamondbacks.

“To be honest I wasn’t overthinking the situation,” Contreras said. “I went up there to take one more at-bat and hopefully do something good for the team. It was a nice spot to be in.”

That at-bat was exactly why Ross likes Contreras in the leadoff spot. He kept his approach simple and looked for his pitch to hit.

“Of course, I wasn’t expecting to hit a homer,” Contreras said. “I feel really good to do some small thing to help this team to win.”

The All-Star break helped Contreras stay fresh and ready for this opportunity.

“It was really refreshing on my body,” Contreras said. “I was playing with some soreness in some part of my body, which is fine, which is part of the sport, part of baseball. Having those four days off helped me a lot.”

That’s another reason why Ross feels he’s ready for the challenge of setting the tone atop the Cubs’ lineup.

“For him to get his legs underneath him with the All-Star break and come through like he did tonight, it’s just nice to see,” Ross said. “I think that’s a type of right-handed hitter he’s capable of being. He’s pretty darn good in the box.”

It put the bow on a strong win and a strong performance from the Cubs’ new leadoff hitter.

“I think he’s staying true to who he is, even guys making good pitches, he did a nice job of staying within himself,” Ross said. “That’s what Willson’s capable of.”

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