Cubs’ Contreras suspended 2 games, appeals; Lackey fined
Major League Baseball suspended Cubs catcher Willson Contreras for two games Saturday for the conduct that led to his ejection in the game Friday against the Cardinals.
Contreras and Cubs starter John Lackey, who also was ejected, were fined an undisclosed amount, as well.
Contreras, who’s appealing the suspension, started Saturday, batting cleanup and playing catcher.
Plate umpire Jordan Baker ejected both players in the fifth inning. Lackey thought he struck out Carlos Martinez, but the pitch was called a ball. Lackey argued and was ejected after Martinez singled to drive in a run. Contreras threw his mask down in anger, and it bounced off Baker’s leg.
Manager Joe Maddon said Contreras needs to check some of his emotions in the heat of the moment.
“He’s emotional,” Maddon said. “We’re all working on attempting to help him curb that a bit. But you don’t want to take it all away, either. That’s a big part of why he’s so good.”
Contreras shook hands with Baker before the game Saturday.
“You’re a catcher,” Maddon said. “You’re working in front of these guys all the time. I really believe you’ll see a nice progression with him. He’s still going to get upset at times. But not zero to 60 like that.”
Contreras has been one of the best offensive players on the Cubs, so his bat will be missed at some point during the final stretch of the season.
As for Lackey, Maddon said he’d never try to make him curb his emotions.
“It’s impossible,” Maddon said to laughs. “I’m being honest. Willson’s in his early 20s; Johnny’s almost 40. He’s a dad with kids. I would never tell him what to do.”
Russell returns with homer
Addison Russell put an exclamation point on his return to the Cubs.
Activated from the disabled list before the game, Russell came off the bench as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning and blasted a home run to deep left field.
It was his first at-bat in 45 days after going on the disabled list in early August with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
“[Maddon] told me, ‘Just be ready today; you may get to pinch-hit,’ ” Russell said. “And it definitely worked out today.”
Russell received a standing ovation when he came to the plate, was greeted by jubilant teammates in the dugout, then came out for a curtain call.
The homer was Russell’s 11th, his first as a pinch hitter and the fifth pinch-hit homer for the Cubs this season. More important, Russell said his foot was pain-free.
Russell stayed in the game at shortstop in the ninth inning, and Javy Baez moved over to second base. Maddon reiterated before the game that Russell would return to shortstop despite Baez’s stellar play there the last six weeks.
Baez had made a compelling case to take over the role.
For one, he’s not coming off a foot injury this late in the season. He has a better arm and has shown great range. Baez has made only five errors since Aug. 3 and provides bursts of energy with the plays he makes on defense and on the basepaths.
His Gold Glove-worthy defense has saved the Cubs from giving up runs and losing games these last six weeks as they’ve held on to the National League Central lead.
On offense, Baez came in Saturday with a .290/.340/.503 slash line since Russell’s injury. He also has added eight homers, 27 RBI and six stolen bases.
But team president Theo Epstein and Maddon have left no doubt about where they want Russell to play.
“We’re a damn good defensive unit when Addy is at short and Javy is at second,” Epstein said. “I don’t think you could go wrong with how you throw those guys out there. But that’s how we’ve been, and that’s how we’ll be for the rest of this season.”
Russell said Baez’s play has made it a little easier to miss all that time.
“Javy plays a great shortstop, a great second base,” he said. “He is definitely fun to watch, and I enjoy watching him play. But as for the shortstop’s perspective, I’m happy to be back out there.”
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