Cubs GM, manager see tale of early struggles as a glove story

ST. LOUIS — Even with their Gold Glove right fielder on the disabled list and their All-Star shortstop sidelined again Friday, the Cubs opened their weekend series against the Cardinals hoping their slumping fielding would show signs of improvement.

“That’s what I’m looking for,” manager Joe Maddon said.

It certainly didn’t figure to get worse than it has been in recent days.

“It goes to show you: You think of defense as sort of constant,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “These guys have really good defensive ability. But clearly as a team it’s been like anything else. We’re definitely in a down rut right now defensively that we need to get out of.”

Third baseman Jeimer Candelario can't handle a hot shot by Aledmys Diaz in the second inning Friday. It was scored a hit.

The Cubs, who allowed eight unearned runs in the previous five games, rank in the middle of the pack in the majors in several defensive metrics, including turning batted balls into outs. They led the majors by a wide margin in that category last year.

“Borderline spectacular” is what Hoyer called last year’s performance. “Not only was it clean, but we also made big plays at big times, and it just felt like that happened a lot.

“And this year we’ve made a lot of mistakes. We haven’t really made those big defensive plays. I don’t have an explanation for that. We have the same players. I think it’s going to happen. But it hasn’t yet. That was the backbone of our team last year, and we just need to get back to that point.”

Getting Jason Heyward back in right field, possibly at home Tuesday, when he’s eligible to return from the disabled list, should help. He swung a bat Thursday for the first time since jamming his right index finger while making a sliding catch
May 5 and said it went well.

Shortstop Addison Russell played catch but was out of the lineup for a second straight game because of a sore shoulder.

“I just wanted to be a little bit overly cautious with it,” Maddon said.

Russell could be facing a move to the disabled list if the shoulder continues to bother him.

But the team’s fielding slump doesn’t seem to have much to do with those players being out of the lineup.

“Just not giving that team extra outs is really important to us,” Maddon said. “We’ve lost some really close games recently, and you always can [point] to one or two plays in a close game. We’re just not seeing that level of defense that we’re accustomed to.

“But I’m totally confident we will [improve] because we’re young and not hurt.”

NOTES: Kris Bryant was a last-minute scratch from the lineup because of a stomach illness. Jon Jay, who took Bryant’s spot in the lineup, left the game in the second inning because of back spasms. He’ll be re-evaluated Saturday.

• The Cubs’ official Twitter account whined about the Sun-Times’ story on Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers’ flap for feeling “targeted” and being ejected from Wrigley Field on April 19 after he failed to produce the e-ticket he said he used to get into the game. “Anyone else you want us to let in without a ticket?” tweeted the team that once invited him to lead the seventh-inning stretch.

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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