GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Cubs slugger Javy Baez was back in the lineup Saturday against the Indians for the first time since jamming his thumb sliding head first into first base on Wednesday, starting in center field.
Baez, who said the thumb was never bad enough to keep him from playing (though the club chose to be cautious), handled Michael Brantley’s drive to the warning track in the first made an even tougher catch over his shoulder at the wall on Yan Gomes drive in the fourth, and in between threw out Will Venable trying to stretch a single in the second.
The most significant part of the whole thing was probably the reminder he got from staff and the incident itself about the perils of sliding into first – or anywhere else head first.
“I know it’s not a good thing for any hitter. You will hurt yourself probably 60 percent of the time when you do that,” said Baez, who also drew a walk against Indians ace Corey Kluber. “At that moment I didn’t think about it. It was just my reaction. But I learned it can be pretty dangerous.”
La Stella update
Manager Joe Maddon said backup infielder Tommy La Stella, who has been battling a calf injury for the last two weeks, has plenty of time to get ready for the season – which opens in barely two weeks.
Of course, Maddon was asked about the lefty-hitting bench player after he lined three “singles” in four at-bats in a minor-league game Saturday (through he wasn’t allowed to run to first).
“The guy’s been sitting around for a week and he goes out there and hits line drives all over the place,” said Maddon, who estimates a return to Cactus League action by midweek. “We’ve just got to keep him on the field more consistently because he’s a very valuable player.”
La Stella missed most of last season because of an oblique injury.
Pitching prospect Pierce Johnson, who was cut from camp Friday, pitched four scoreless innings against the Indians’ big-league lineup Saturday night, allowing just three hits, without a walk, and striking out two. He left with a 1-0 lead against former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber.
Addison Russell singled twice in three at-bats against Kluber, and Kris Bryant doubled in the second and singled home a run in the third against the Indians ace.
Other injury updates
Outfielder Matt Szczur (oblique) could be on a similar schedule as La Stella after playing in the same game Saturday. Szczur was sidelined three weeks.
Veteran outfield Shane Victorino, a potentially key bench candidate, remains at least several days away from returning from a sore calf that has kept him sidelined the last two weeks.
But Maddon said the former All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner doesn’t need a lot of game time or to prove much.
“We know what he’s capable of doing,” Maddon said. “So all I’m looking at with him is good health.”
Royals at Cubs, Mesa, Ariz., 3:05 p.m., ch. 9, 670-AM, Ian Kennedy vs. Jon Lester. Note: The Cubs’ follow that with their lone off day of the spring, Monday.